The importance of protein

The main source of protein is our diet. We eat proteins from animals and plants. We break them down into their amino acid components and then rebuild them into our body proteins.

The main source of protein is our diet. We eat proteins from animals and plants. We break them down into their amino acid components and then rebuild them into our body proteins.

The importance of  protein

by Dr. Larry Wilson — 

Proteins are the most amazing group of molecules in the human body. They are made up of incredibly complex chains of smaller molecules, called amino acids. These strings of amino acids are then folded into complicated shapes to create millions of critical body components.

Proteins include virtually all hormones, such as insulin and progesterone. Hemoglobin, a blood protein, carries oxygen to the cells. Heat shock proteins help rebuild our cells after stress. Transferrin and other transport proteins bind to minerals and carry them through the body. Muscle protein is responsible for our ability to move. Proteins such as RNA and DNA in the nuclei of our cells are responsible for the genetic code.

Proteins are also essential for the body structure. Bone forms in a protein matrix. Other structural proteins include collagen, cartilage, elastin and keratin, which form the skin. Thousands of enzymes, all of which are proteins, facilitate every chemical reaction in the body. Proteins may also be converted to sugar or fat to be used as fuel. Adequate protein helps maintain a good energy level, stabilizes blood sugar, assists adrenal and thyroid activity, helps control weight and assists bowel function.

Where do we get proteins?

The main source of protein is our diet. We eat proteins from animals and plants. We break them down into their amino acid components and then rebuild them into our body proteins. Protein-containing foods can be divided into three groups:

• Concentrated protein foods include red meats, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, cheese, yogurt and beans. Others are wheat germ, brewer’s yeast and nutritional yeast, which each contain about 20 percent protein or more.

Meats, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, yogurt, soy and peanuts are considered “complete proteins.” This is a useful, but not absolutely true, concept, meaning that these proteins contain a good balance of all the essential amino acids our bodies need.

Our bodies require about 22 amino acids for health and well-being. Of these, 10 or so are considered “essential.” This means we need to ingest them in our diet. We don’t need to eat the other 12 or so proteins because we can convert the essential ones into the others.

A person who does not eat complete protein foods must eat a variety of less complete protein foods in order to obtain all the required amino acids. Otherwise, deficiency symptoms, some of them irreversible, will begin to appear.

Proteins also are often classed in terms of their overall biological quality. Eggs, for example, are not only inexpensive, but they are considered among the highest biological quality of protein. To some degree, however, this depends on how the egg is prepared and its freshness.

• Medium-protein foods include grains such as rice, wheat, oats, millet and barley. These contain 6 to 14 percent protein and are considered incomplete proteins, meaning they should be combined with other protein foods to provide complete protein. Unfortunately, modern hybrid grains often contain much less protein than the grains that were grown 100 years ago or earlier. Wheat, for example, used to have 12 to 14 percent protein and now contains 6 percent, in many instances. Even today’s organically grown grains are hybrids.

• Low-protein foods include fruits, vegetables and juices. These contain less than 5 percent protein.

Protein supplements

One possible source of protein is supplements. These include protein powders, protein bars and drinks, meal replacements, hydrolyzed or predigested protein, and amino acid supplements. Let us discuss these products in more detail.

Most protein powders, drinks and bars are made from soy protein, albumin (egg), whey (cow or goat milk), casein (milk), goat milk (Goteine), rice, yeast or fish. Some are of a much better quality and more nutritious than others. For instance, soy powder is usually a refined by-product of soy oil manufacture and contains fewer healthy ingredients.

Whey protein, especially goat whey, is considered excellent, as are some egg and fish (Seacure) protein powders. Animal sources are generally more complete proteins. Nutritional and brewer’s yeasts are good sources of protein that also contain the selenium, chromium and B-complex vitamins most people need. Rice or even oat protein sources are good alternatives, if you are allergic to many protein foods. However, they are less complete proteins.

Hydrolyzed (predigested) protein and amino acids — Some protein supplements such as Bragg’s Liquid Aminos contain predigested protein. This means the protein has been broken down into its amino acids by a chemical process, so it requires much less digestion. These forms of protein often are made from soy. Unfortunately, hydrolyzed protein always contains monosodium glutamate or MSG, a harmful food chemical. Seacure is a predigested fish product that does not contain MSG.

A much more expensive type of protein supplement is a pure amino acid made by fungal organisms grown in a laboratory. These supplements usually come in capsule form and are called free-form amino acids.

Meal replacements — Protein powders are sold either as meal replacements or intended to be added to a meal. Meal replacements contain extra vitamins, minerals and usually a sweetener. Products designed to be added to food or drink usually contain fewer sweeteners or added vitamins.

If you use protein powder as a meal, be sure to buy a product that is enriched with vitamins and minerals — otherwise, you are getting a very incomplete meal. Refrain from replacing more than one meal a day with a protein powder or bar. Protein powders and bars make good snacks — although goat cheese, leftover chicken, seeds, nuts, nut butters and other natural foods also make excellent snacks. and they are often more nutritious and less expensive.

Beware of bars, powders and meal replacements that are high in sugars. These products often contain a lot of added sugar because otherwise the product would not taste good. Any of the following on a label indicates a high-sugar substance: sugar, corn syrup, fructose, glucose, lactose, liquid sugar, honey or fruit juices.

If you use the powder as a meal replacement, some amount of carbohydrate is often acceptable. If you are adding it to food, beware of how many carbohydrates, especially sugar, you are adding to your food with your protein powder. Avoid all products containing Nutrasweet or Equal. Stevia, xylitol, mannitol or sorbitol are more healthful sweeteners. Even better, stay with protein foods, rather than meal replacements.

Other additives — Many protein powders, bars and drinks contain natural or artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and perhaps a dozen other chemicals. This is yet another reason to eat real food, rather than chemical concoctions.

Protein supplements may be helpful at times. However, they are never a substitute for real foods, which contain many other nutrients.

Animal versus vegetable

A few people may do well on a strict vegetarian diet, but most vegetarians do not satisfy their bodies’ protein needs. Eventually, they develop deficiencies that can be very challenging to reverse.

I became very depleted after five years on a vegetarian diet. Dr. Bernard Jensen, one of my teachers, stated that “there is bad meat, but meat is not bad.” Vegetarian proteins are higher in copper and lower in zinc, which is not helpful for most people. They also tend to be of lower overall quality, in terms of their amino acid content.

Animal protein is an excellent source of vitamin B-12, zinc, iron, niacin, carnitine, taurine, alpha-lipoic acid and other vital nutrients. These are not present or are less biologically available in vegetable proteins. Deficiencies can take years to develop and are not always easy to correct.

Vegetarians should at least eat eggs for their high-quality protein, particularly the sulfur-containing amino acids. These are so important today for eliminating the toxic metals and synthetic chemicals to which we are all exposed. I cannot emphasize enough the body’s need for the sulfur-containing amino acids found in greater abundance in animal proteins such as eggs and meats. One need not eat beef, and I do not recommend pork, ham or bacon. However, lamb and natural chicken, turkey, eggs and small fish are excellent protein foods.

Cholesterol and bone loss

The argument to avoid animal protein due to its cholesterol content is not valid for most people. High blood cholesterol is a stress indicator and may indicate liver toxicity or dysfunction. Most cholesterol is manufactured within the body. A number of my clients who ate pure vegetarian diets had high cholesterol, although they ingested none of it.

Cholesterol, in fact, is a very important substance. It is the raw material with which our bodies create stress hormones. The ideal level is somewhere between 180 and 220 mg. Less than this often indicates poorer health. To avoid heart disease, reducing excess homocysteine, mineral deficiencies, toxic metals, infections and inflammation is much more important than concern about excess cholesterol.

Also, reasonable protein intake of between about 40 and 80 grams per day does not deplete the bones of calcium. Bone loss is due to many factors, particularly trace mineral deficiencies and, at times, lead toxicity.

Mad cow and hoof-and-mouth diseases

Mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalitis) is apparently due to the use of Phosmet, an organophosphate pesticide sprayed along the spinal columns of cows to kill fleas, or for other reasons. The pesticide bonds with manganese and damages prions. If the cows are fed diets high in manganese, the symptoms appear. The symptoms are identical to a condition called “manganese madness.” This theory best explains recent British and French outbreaks of mad cow disease. However, the pesticide’s manufacturer blocked efforts to publicize this theory regarding the cause of the disease.

Hoof-and-mouth disease, caused by nutritional deficiencies, is not a human disease and poses no danger to humans. This was proven in the 1920s by Sir Albert Howard, a famous British soil scientist. For scientific references on these two conditions, visit

Protein summary

Which proteins to eat? — Excellent protein foods include natural beef, lamb, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, nut butters, beans with grains, cheese, fish, or a quality protein powder, bar or tablets. Eggs from free-range chickens are higher in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in cholesterol.

I do not recommend spirulina, which is rich in protein but somewhat toxic; commercial peanut butter, which may be moldy; or pork, ham or bacon as they may be more toxic and may contain parasites. Also, avoid processed meats such as commercial bologna, salami, jerky and canned meats, as they often contain many chemical additives. Fresh is always best, when available.

Proteins such as RNA and DNA in the nuclei of our cells are responsible for the genetic code.

Proteins such as RNA and DNA in the nuclei of our cells are responsible for the genetic code.

Twice a week, you may have pintos, black beans, lentils, split peas and other dried beans. I do not recommend soy protein unless it is in a fermented form such as tofu or tempeh.

Three times a week, you may have white fish, cod, salmon, sardines, flounder and other small fish. Avoid tuna, swordfish and shellfish, as these usually are high in mercury and other toxic metals.

Wheat germ, brewer’s yeast and milks (dairy and non-dairy) are also protein sources — if you ingest enough of them. If wheat germ or brewer’s yeast are your sole proteins at a meal, eat at least a tablespoon or more of them. If milk is one of your protein foods, drink a large glass. A little milk on cereal, for example, does not count as a serving of protein.

Many people are sensitive to cows’ milk dairy products even if they have no symptoms when eating them. All cows today are hybrids and their milk is not as high a quality food as it was even 50 years ago. Butter is an exception, as it is digested as a fat. Most everyone is better off with goat milk, goat cheese, goat whey or goat protein powder, instead. Some people do not tolerate goat products, either, especially if their intestines are not in excellent shape.

How much? — Many people do not eat enough protein. While 60 to 80 grams of protein are often adequate, many people eat less than 40 grams/day. A good rule of thumb is to have at least two protein-containing meals daily. At each meal, most adults need two to five ounces of a concentrated protein food.

Whole protein foods are best — Whole foods are nutritionally superior to protein powders or bars. This means that eating eggs is preferable to egg protein powder. Tofu is superior to soy protein isolate. Whole foods provide high-quality fats or oils, as well as many vitamins and minerals. Whole foods are less processed, which means they contain fewer chemical additives and more intact nutrients. Natural foods are also often less expensive, as you are not paying for processing.

Organically grown or raised is always best — Organic foods have less pesticide residues and a much higher mineral and vitamin content. Organic meat and eggs are lower in fat and cholesterol and much cleaner, healthier products overall. Seek out organic protein sources whenever possible.

Protein digestion — Protein is one of the more difficult foods to digest; if it is not digested, it rots or putrefies in the intestines. Putre-faction produces harmful chemicals. If a protein food or supplement causes gas or bloating, discontinue its use or take digestive enzymes to make sure you tolerate and digest it well.

I recommend digestive enzymes such as pancreatin, ox bile or others for almost everyone, at least for a while. Have sit-down, relaxed meals. Eat slowly and chew thoroughly. Sit for at least five minutes after you finish eating to allow digestion to begin before returning to other activities.


Dr. Lawrence Wilson has a medical degree and has been in the health field for 25 years. His books include Nutritional Balancing and Hair Mineral Analysis, Legal Guidelines for Unlicensed Practitioners, Healing Ourselves and Manual of Sauna Therapy and The Real Self. He also co-authored Toxic Metals in Human Health and Disease and contributed to The Dangers of Socialized Medicine. or 928-445-7690.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 24, Number 6, December 2005/January 2006.

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