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Protein myth

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Protein myth

February 13, 2024, 4:13 PM IST 

There are many myths related to protein in our society propagated, knowingly or unknowingly, by many in the food and healthcare industries. These myths include the belief that

The human body needs a lot of protein. Protein is hard to find in food
Plant protein is somehow inferior to animal protein and doesn’t contain all amino acids.

Even the United State’s Food & Drug Administration (FDA), in its MyPlate guidelines, suggests the need for special foods to consume protein, as implied in their recommendations below.

The problem with this MyPlate recommendation is that fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy all contain protein, creating a misconception that special foods are necessary. The past head of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health criticized these guidelines as “utterly ridiculous.”

Here are some facts pointing to the opposite conclusion:

– The human body needs very little protein, as evidenced by the low protein content in mother’s milk, which fuels newborns who are at the fastest growth stage of their life.

– All proteins are made up of 20 amino acids in a chain configuration. Our body is able to make 11 but the remaining nine amino acids have to be consumed. For that reason they are called essential. It has been a long held myth that some of these nine are absent from some plant foods. For example it was believed that rice does not have lysine and beans do not have methionine. It is for this reason it was recommended that grains and beans should be combined in a balanced diet.

We now know that plant proteins contain all essential amino acids, but their distribution varies among food groups. Eating from all five food groups ensures no deficiency. However it is still a good idea to combine beans & legumes with grains as in daal-chawal (legume-rice) or Idli or Khichri.

-Protein is abundantly found in plant foods. For example, as a percentage of total calories, rice has 7%, watermelon 8%, guava 14%, romaine lettuce 19%, and spinach 30%. Potatoes have a similar protein content to mother’s milk at 5-6%.

History of Protein

Protein was discovered in 1839 by German scientist Gerardus Johannes Mulder and named for the Greek word Proteios, meaning “of prime importance.” The US Government, in 1947, established the minimum protein requirement for humans at 5-6% of total calories, They were so concerned about protein deficiency (due to popular beliefs that physical labor and gym enthusiasts need more protein) that they wanted to include 98% of the population in their Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) and therefore recommended a high figure of 8-10 percent of total calories requirement which amounted to 0.8 gram per kilogram of body weight. This amounts to 48 grams (240 calories) for a person weighing 60 kilograms or 10% (assuming 2,400 total calories a day). We did not know until 1899 that plant foods also have protein. For a long time plant protein was considered inferior to animal protein because it was believed to lack all essential amino acids which is incorrect.

Human Proteome Project (2011-Now)

Most people know about a project called the “Human Genome Project” which was undertaken in 1990. Few are aware of “Human Proteome Project” that was undertaken a few years later to map all the proteins in human body. The science emerging from this ongoing project is called Proteomics. For reasons unknown to me, the findings of the Proteome project are not picked up by the mass media or social media much. I believe it may have something to do with its potential impact on the food industry especially meat, poultry and dairy. Here is what we now know about proteins in the human body:

  • Most humans need very little protein, only about 8% of their total calories.
  • An average adult body produces around 250 grams of new proteins daily and breaks down a similar amount due to wear and tear.
  • The body efficiently recycles spent proteins into amino acids for new protein synthesis, but certain proteins like nails, hair, and dead skin cannot be recycled, resulting in a 15% shortfall from the daily requirement for individuals burning 2,400 calories, equivalent to 36 grams.
  • The US Government’s conservative recommendation of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight covers 98% of the population, potentially leading to overconsumption by 97% of the population, statistically speaking.
  • Excessive protein, especially from animal sources, can be harmful to the liver and kidneys, shortening their healthy lifespan.
  • Periodic protein absence as during fasting, promotes autophagy (the recycling of dead and damaged cells). Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi received the 2016 Nobel Prize for his discoveries.
  • Prolonged protein absence (9-10 days) can contribute to building immunity against major diseases like cancer as acknowledged by the 2018 Nobel Prize given to Dr. Tasuku Honjo. Practices like the Navratri fast among Hindus and Peryushan fast among Jains share this health objective.
  • Individuals who perform intense workouts or manual labor obtain extra protein through increased calorie consumption, eliminating the need for richer protein foods as the body efficiently recycles most excess spent protein generated during exercise.

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) or Minimum

The food industry in its zeal to sell more animal food, distorted the minimum and recommended guidelines established by the US government and somehow the recommended amount was labeled as the minimum. Even leading universities, which are now mostly governed by Food and Drug Industries, are guilty of these distortions as you can see by performing a google search on “protein”. Until recently this search revealed that these distortions appear on prestigious web sites such as Healthline, WebMD and Harvard Health, which I quote below:

“The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The RDA is the amount of a nutrient you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements. In a sense, it’s the minimum amount you need to keep from getting sick — not the specific amount you are supposed to eat every day.”

The above statement was a total lie. The site has now been revised and shows a lower recommendation of 0.8 gram per kilogram only. It may surprise you to note that there is not a single recorded case of protein deficiency in the civilized world. Ninety seven percent of all Americans eat too much protein while at the same time 97% of all American diets are deficient in dietary fiber. Fiber is not found in any animal food or ultra-processed food. The nutrient of concern therefore should be fiber and not protein. Sadly press coverages on dangers of excessive protein consumption do not exist and the topic is conveniently ignored by mass media. This is in spite of doctors such as Dr. Colin Campbell (Cornel University), Dr Christopher Gardner (Stanford University) and Dr.Janice Stanger (UCLA) speaking about it at major conferences and in various documentaries and YouTube videos.

Why is Animal Protein Harmful?

All animal protein comes with the IGF-1 hormone. This hormone helps animals grow rapidly. For example a 50 pound newborn calf becomes a 500 pound bull in 6 months. The IGF-1 hormone is very harmful in humans as it promotes growth of cancer cells which are already present in the body fluids of most people living in the civilized world.

To make my point I like to give an example of a popular fertilizer in the United States called “Miracle Grow”. This fertilizer makes lawn grow very lush and green. However the lawn does not grow any taller. The thickness of the lawn depends upon the variety of the grass. It would only rise few inches above the soil. But if there are any weeds in the lawn, miracle grow makes them grow very tall very fast. This is because the weeds do not have auto truncating mechanism in their genes. Similarly human body has a built in truncating mechanism dictated by our genes. Our ring finger cannot become longer than the middle finger. When we consume IGF-1 hormone, it expedites the growth but our body cannot grow disproportionately. However any cancer cells, that are present in our body, do grow rapidly in the presence of IGF-1 hormone. This is why cancer growth gets promoted upon consumption of the IGF-1 hormone that accompanies animal protein.

A study by Padambhushan Dr. Gopalan and Madhavan at the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad in 1967 had demonstrated that, in the presence of carcinogens and sufficient food, animal protein can cause cancer cells to grow (we will discuss this more when we discuss the dairy myth).

Studies also show associations between animal protein consumption and increased renal cancer cases, elevated LDL cholesterol and higher blood sugar levels.

Why is Excess Protein Harmful?

Of the three macronutrients that provide energy to sustain life, only protein has nitrogen. The others, carbohydrates and fat, are made up of only carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Our body has subcutaneous fat cells that can store an almost unlimited amount of fat; it can also store up to 2,000 calories of sugar but it has no provision to store protein.

When we eat more protein than needed, which most of us in the civilized world do, our body faces a problem: What do we do with that extra protein? The liver, which is the chemical factory in our body, removes the nitrogen from the protein and makes fat and ammonia (NH3). Ammonia is toxic, so the body combines it with water and converts it to uric acid.

The kidneys then filter it out as urine. This taxes two of our critical organs: the kidney and liver. This is a leading cause for kidney and liver failures at later stages in life in the civilized world. Additionally, when there is excess uric acid it crystallizes and the body tries to move it as far away as possible and deposits it into the big toe as uric acid crystals. This condition is called gout. Many French paintings from the Renaissance period show over weight royalties suffering from this disease.

As a society our protein consumption (from meat, eggs and dairy) has increased multi fold in the past seven decades after World War 2. This has led to the growth of many lifestyle diseases like Hypertension, Diabetes, Heart diseases, Strokes, Dementia, Kidney and Liver diseases.

Anti-Aging Benefits of Protein Restriction

Recent research in the anti-aging field suggests that of all the major factors helping with anti-aging, restrictions on protein consumption is the most important. It helps in many ways including

Improves immunity
Decreases Oxidative stress
Decreases Inflammation
Decreases Insulin Resistance
Decreases cancer promoting growth hormones

The latest book by Dr. Greger “How Not To Age” deals with this subject in detail and I highly recommend it.

Benefits of Occasional Protein Deficiency

The two Nobel prizes on fasting in 2016 and 2018 have demonstrated that absences of protein during fasting is very beneficial for human health. It leads to autophagy, whereby the body recycles its dead and damaged cells to get amino acids and make new cells. The net effect is that the body’s average cell age reduces. It is for this reason I recommend that one should keep Ekadashi and Navratri fasts. We will cover this subject in detail when we discuss the second pillar of health: Detoxification.

Personal Case History

The Protein myth has been so prevalent in our society that I am reminded of the 1950’s when my grandfather insisted that I drink a glass of milk every morning with an egg yolk (not to mention the sugar which was always added to milk in India in those days). While I hated drinking it, I had no choice in the matter. Little did my grandfather know that he was causing me harm. He had the best of intentions and, based on the prevalent wisdom at the time, he was doing the right thing.

Protein for Muscles?

Another misconception about protein is that eating protein builds muscles. If it was so easy, every man would look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Muscles develop when we exercise them. The famous gladiators of the Roman period 2,000 years ago, who had to fight for life every day, were all vegans. Please watch the documentary “The Game Changers”. This is also discussed in the documentary “Forks over Knives”.


In conclusion, the emphasis on protein consumption, especially from animal sources, has led to widespread misconceptions and health issues in our society. It is crucial to reevaluate dietary guidelines and focus on a balanced and plant-based approach for overall well-being.

Dr. Janice Stanger of UCLA: The Dangerous Truth About Protein

Dr. Christopher Gardner of Stanford University: Everything You Thought You Knew About Protein Is Wrong

Dr. John McDougall

Debunking The Cult of Animal Protein – with T.Colin Campbell

Animal Protein Turns On Cancer Genes: Dr. Colin Campbell

Why Having Too Much Protein Can Be Incredibly Harmful

To Read this article on Times of India click here

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