By Jonathan Carp, MD and Founder/CEO of Miracle Noodle
In the last blog, I’ve talked about the 7 critical facts about carbohydrates. Now I’m going to talk about another macronutrient that people are talking about when it comes to health and weight loss: protein.
Before I talk about protein, take note that I’m not a vegan though there are often weeks that go by that I am and so everything that’s in this blog is intended to speak to the science of the matter and not from any ethical perspective.
In the recent years, vegans have made a lot of movies and documentaries on animal-based diets like Forks Over Knives, What The Health, and Cowspiracy. These videos are trying to promote veganism and a lot of these people are doing it for reasons beyond science. If that's your belief system, then that's okay, too.
I believe there are ethical ways of eating animals, but I also agree that our society is consuming way too much animal protein
Here are the reasons why you should consider reducing your animal protein intake:
- When you increase the amount of protein, you are, by definition, decreasing the ratio of fat and carbohydrate.
We have three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Increasing your intake of protein decreases the ratio of fat and carbohydrates.
When it comes to animal protein intake, we are used to eating a portion of animal protein in every single meal, but that is something that has never really been done in human history, for the most part. Most communities around the world never really ate meat in every meal.
Meat is a luxury, and if we're increasing the amount of animal protein that we eat, that means we're getting less healthy fats and less healthy carbohydrates. And when you look at things on a perspective of looking at these three ratios, it’s certainly better for you to get more healthy fats and healthy carbohydrates than increasing levels of animal protein. And you'll get to understanding the reasons why that is as we go through the other steps.
- Studies have shown that increasing the amount of animal protein actually increases your weight.
There may be lots of reasons for this, one of which could be that the meat that you are eating is loaded with antibiotics. Antibiotics given to animals cause them to gain weight. This could be due to the fact that antibiotics ruin the gut microbiome and as a result of ruining the gut microbiome, their metabolism is altered.
We've seen in humans how altering metabolism can lead to weight gain. That's why people who are on chronic antibiotics can sometimes have weight control issues, because of the damage to the gut microbiome. But in general terms, when you look at the studies, it seems to be that when you increase the amount of animal protein in your diet, there's actually an increase in weight.
One of those studies actually showed that regardless of caloric intake, people still gained weight if they had a higher percentage of animal protein to carbohydrates and fat. So this is something to consider when you’re aiming for weight loss because it can help you shed pounds if you reduce the amount of animal protein in your diet.
- It increases insulin resistance.
Insulin is a hormone that has important functions for the body. It allows you to use sugar from carbs that you consume for energy. It also controls your blood sugar levels, so it won’t get too high or too low. But when your insulin levels remain consistently high, your cells stop responding to it—a condition called insulin resistance.
A study conducted by Seventh Day Adventists links animal protein intake to insulin resistance. Before they did this study, they were able to find that increased protein does lead to insulin resistance, but they weren't sure of the difference between plant protein and animal protein, and so they studied Seventh Day Adventists who were mostly vegetarians to see if there was any change in the insulin resistance depending on plant protein versus animal protein.
And sure enough, they found that you're getting insulin resistance as a result of consuming animal protein, but not plant protein.
- It increases insulin levels.
The interesting thing about increasing insulin levels is that we've always known that, for example, cheese raises insulin levels to a great deal, but we also know now that just animal protein in general raises insulin levels. What’s alarming about this?
We have to keep in mind that there is a connection between obesity, and diabetes, and cancer. It looks like this: your fat in your body is generally not just sitting there; it is active, it's a metabolically active part of your body, which means it releases chemicals and hormones. And when there's obesity, it releases cytokines, which is a type of inflammation in your body. And when you have inflammation in your body, it causes insulin resistance.
When you have insulin resistance, your body is trying to compensate because it's not getting the chemicals where it needs to go, and so it releases even more insulin. This is a vicious cycle where your body has to continually try to produce insulin when there is this background level of inflammation that's causing some of the resistance. Elevated levels of insulin in your body have also been associated with all kinds of different health problems, especially cancer.
There are several cancers in the human body that have been linked to high levels of insulin in the blood. What makes this additionally troublesome is that a lot of people will counter with the reasoning that this is just a consequence of eating sugar or other different factors, and it's not necessarily a consequence of the levels of insulin, but what's causing the insulin to go up.
But now we know that what's happening is that insulin is also a growth factor, and when you have a growth factor like insulin in addition to the inflammation of obesity, you're getting something that's setting up the system for cancer. We also know that when you add insulin just to cell cultures, you actually get an oxidative damage to the DNA, which is something that can damage the DNA and lead to cancer.
Researchers have found that when you put a little bit of insulin on cells in a cell culture, you get oxidative damage to the DNA, and that the DNA actually becomes more sensitive to the damaging effect, which means you need even less after that to cause the damage. This is very troublesome.
We need to keep in mind that when we eat meat, we're actually raising the insulin levels, which leads to this whole set of other factors that are very damaging.
- Meat is generally raised in abominable conditions.
Most meats are raised in crowded and disgusting pens. If we really want to eat meat, we need to find clean sources of meat. Now, people on the vegan side who are into it for ethical reasons are going to say that there's no way that you can eat meat from an ethical perspective. But I believe that there are people who raise and kill animals humanely. They let them graze on the land and they give them a good life. They don't raise them with antibiotics. I believe this is very possible.
This is the kind of meat source that you should be searching out. Notice the fact that meat is so cheap. That’s really not the way it should be. The reason it's cheap is because the government gives subsidies for corn, soybeans, and all these things that they feed the cattle, and that lowers the price of the meat. But if you want high-quality meat, that’s going to be expensive.
- Long-lived populations around the world don't eat a lot of meat.
There’s a great book called The Blue Zones written by Dan Buettner that looked at the long-lived populations around the world. What he found was most of them ate a plant-based diet with very little meat.
Sardinians, residents of an island in Italy with an unusually high number of centenarians, are known to eat lean, plant-based diet. They would only eat meat on Sundays and special occasions. Similarly, one of Okinawans’ longevity secret is also eating a plant-based diet and eating meat only during special occasions.
- Mortality rates increase with meat consumption.
People out there who may be on a Paleo Diet and are eating a lot of protein may argue that if you're eating clean meat and you're doing everything else right, that's probably not the case.
But the result of several studies have been consistent and clear: the more meat that you eat, the higher the mortality rate. Even if you’re only eating clean-sourced meat that is grass-fed and humanely-raised, there is no historical precedent or studies that tell us this is healthy.
Given this fact and all these other factors I talked about when it comes to eating meat, you need to consider reducing the amount of meat that you consume.
Where to Get Your Proteins
A lot of people would ask, “If I don’t eat meat, where would I get my protein?”
You don't actually need a lot of protein. For the average sedentary man, you only need 56 grams of protein per day.
If you're eating a large quantity of greens, which I recommend, you’re going to get enough protein. I particularly recommend one pound of greens per day, with properly cooked beans. If you want to have a small size of meat once a day (about the same size as a deck of cards) or once every other day, that probably would be okay as well. But more than that is probably too much.
If you feel like you need to have a little bit of meat, get it from a very clean source. If you’ve gone several days without it and you just feel like you need it, don't worry about protein malnutrition as long as you're eating high-quality vegetables.
Are There Healthy Vegans?
I once heard a conversation between a body-hacking authority and a very popular doctor. They were commenting that they are no thriving vegans and that they've never met one. The statement that there are no healthy vegans out there bothers me because it’s simply not true.
There are thriving vegans out there. There are body-builder vegans out there and there's a football player that's vegan. While it can be observed that vegans are much skinnier than the general population, that doesn't mean they're not thriving.
I know many vegans and I've always given my patients the option of doing things on a vegan diet, or a non-vegan diet. As long as they get that one pound of greens per day and they reduce the amount of animal protein consumption, we've been able to reverse autoimmune diseases with astonishing success, and of course, achieve weight loss.
You don't necessarily have to be cut, chiseled, and muscle-bound to be thriving. I think the idea of health that we all have is a result of conditioning by people out there who act as health authorities and say there's a certain way that someone who is healthy should look. That's just not the case.
There are lots of ways of looking healthy because it's not necessarily 100% reflection on the outside. Remember that there are four pillars of health: nutrition, mental state, environmental influences, and movement and mechanics. All of these contribute to an overall state of health and wellness and when you exclude one, you are ignoring something that could potentially be the major determining factor in your health, your weight, and overall wellness.
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