The American protein mantra

Proteins are chains of amino acids, and there are hundreds of thousands of different kinds of them, including enzymes, hormones, structural tissues and transport molecules.

by Dr. Thomas Lodi — 

Living in America, we are not only obsessed with eating and drinking protein, we also have begun to supplement non-protein foods, such as fruit, with protein powders.

Considered to be the most fundamental and sacred of all nutrients, protein was discovered by the Dutch chemist Gerhard Mulder (1839). Upon discovering these nitrogen-containing substances, he used the Greek word proteios (“the first quality”) to name them proteins. Cultural bias has powerfully influenced the “science” of nutrition, all the way back to the initial discovery of this biological nutrient.

Proteins are chains of amino acids, and there are hundreds of thousands of different kinds of them, including enzymes, hormones, structural tissues and transport molecules. Only eight amino acids are considered “essential” — meaning that we must obtain them through diet. All other proteins can be synthesized from those eight.

The obvious question then arises: “How much protein do we need?” In order to answer that without bias, let’s first inquire of Mother Nature. The most rapid growth spurt in the life of a mammal occurs just after birth. In order to ensure that infants’ bodies can double and triple in size, nature provides each species with a unique formula, called milk. Rats have 49 percent protein in their milk, cats 40 percent, cows 15 percent, and humans the least at 5 percent.

The World Health Organization, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Research Council say that at the very maximum, we need to derive only 8 percent of our calories from protein. If this is true, it is clear that plants can easily satisfy those requirements for humans.

However, in spite of having discovered that humans needed only 48.5 grams of protein per day, a German scientist, Carl Voit (1831-1908), proclaimed that good health required 118 grams of protein per day. One of his protégés, W.O. Atwater (1844-1907), organized the first nutritional research laboratory at the USDA and defined the caloric equivalence of proteins (4 cal/gm), carbohydrates (4 cal/gm) and fats (8.9 cal/gm). As director of the USDA, he recommended 125 grams of protein per day.

At this time, if one were rich, they ate meat; but if they were poor, they ate plants. As a result, the burgeoning science of nutrition, so deeply rooted in cultural elitism, believed it as factual that the lower classes were lazy and less intelligent, and that these “deficient qualities” were due to a lack of protein in their diet.

Meat and dairy products have long been synonymous with protein. This is a myth. For example, the percentage of protein calories in asparagus is 32 percent, broccoli 36 percent, kale 40 percent, lean beef 32 percent and pork chops 23 percent.

In 1982, Francis Lappe issued an almost completely new 10th anniversary edition of her very influential book, Diet for a Small Planet. This book had been responsible, in large part, for perpetuating the myth that it is extremely difficult to obtain high-quality protein from plants alone. In previous editions, she stated that in order to get “complete protein” from plants, one had to carefully choose and combine specific types of plants.

In her 10th edition, regarding obtaining high-quality protein from plants, she concluded, “With a healthy, varied diet, concern about protein complementarity is not necessary … if people are getting enough calories, they are virtually certain of getting enough protein.”

What happens to excess protein? Unlike carbohydrates, protein cannot be stored in the body. The protein the kidneys fail to eliminate is absorbed by the lymphatic system. Excess animal protein that is not expelled from the body can result in osteoporosis, cancer and kidney disease.

Plant protein does not have these dire consequences for humans. The high-fat content associated with animal protein, such as that found in meat, milk and eggs, compounds the deleterious effects of animal protein, often resulting in heart disease and cerebral vascular disease.

An overwhelming number of peer-reviewed articles in highly respected scientific journals attest to these statements. “Less is more!”


Thomas Lodi, M.D.(H), was formally trained in internal medicine and in many alternative modalities. For the past 10 years he has narrowed his focus to integrative oncology and is licensed in Arizona as a homeopathic medical doctor. He is the founder of An Oasis of Healing in Mesa, Ariz. 480-834-5414.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 25, Number 5, October/November 2006.

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