Having highlighted Vegetables & Fruits (in Part 1), we move on to Proteins - which should ideally form a little more than a quarter of a ‘healthy and balanced plate’. Thousands of proteins make up the enzymes that power zillions of chemical reactions and the haemoglobin that carries oxygen in our blood. These muscle-building nutrients come from varied sources. In traditional societies, depending on the region where man lived, meat consumption varied between 10 to 20% of total food consumed. In societies that were renowned for people routinely crossing the age of 100, it was much less - at around 7 to 10% ( the exception being islanders or coastal populations, which relied heavily on seafood). Unfortunately, with increasing industrialisation and higher incomes, the consumption of meat, milk and eggs is growing by leaps and bounds. Meat now accounts for about 18 per cent of dietary protein and 23 per cent of dietary fat, with much higher skews in developed countries, higher income groups and urban areas. Recommendations on how much protein is required vary substantially. The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day. In terms of source of calories, the Institute recommends that 10 to 35 percent should come from proteins. However, too much of a good thing can be bad. Protein intake must be governed by needs and not fads. The higher end of the scale should be reserved for the growing-up years, and for seniors who are prone to muscle-loss. According to the highly acclaimed ‘DASH’ (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which strikes at the root causes of heart disease, the more prudent recommendation is closer to 18 % of calories consumed. In addition to the quantity, the quality of proteins is key. Since meats contain all essential amino acids (which our body cannot synthesise), it is important to consume the ‘right’ kind of meats. There is a huge difference between eating ‘wild’ or ‘range-fed’ lean meats - which are healthy, and meat produced in the most inhumane way through ‘factory-farming’ methods. The latter kinds of meats are positively toxic - loaded as these are with growth hormones, steroids, antibiotics and toxins that flood into the body of the traumatised animals due to the inhumane ‘growing’ and killing methods. Red meats together with dairy products are also the main source of saturated fat, and have negative effects on ‘bad’ cholesterol levels. By staying in the body a longer time, red meats can fester, thereby putting strain on the digestive system. Following a high-protein diet for a long period of time can also weaken the bones. The digestion of protein releases acids into the bloodstream, which the body usually neutralises with calcium - and some of this may be pulled from bones. The raging debates regarding meat consumption are fortunately finally coming to a conclusion. Red meats, highly processed meats and Cantonese-style salted fish are now convincingly associated with increased risk of Chronic diseases (Non-Communicable Diseases), especially heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes, and several cancers. Processed meats include varieties that are smoked, salted or cured by the addition of preservatives. The evidence is conclusive for cancers of the colo-rectum and nasopharynx. According to the non-profit organisation, the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF), ‘since the mid-1990s, the results of studies have strengthened the evidence on red meat and processed meat as causes of colorectal cancer … the evidence on poultry, fish and eggs is generally insubstantial’. It’s time – and it should never be too late - to switch back to healthy, high quality lean proteins.
Tip of the Week
There’s no need to go overboard on proteins. Though some studies show the benefits of high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets in the short term, avoiding fruits and whole grains means that we miss out on key aspects of a preventative diet that should include large doses of healthful fibre, vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients. Some high-protein foods are healthier than others because of what comes along with the protein: for example, type of fat, beneficial fibre or hidden salt. The ‘package deal’ determines how good it is for our health. All high-salt and salt-preserved foods, as also high-saturated fat and trans-fat foods, or overly-fried and char-grilled foods potentially lead to increased blood pressure, higher cholesterol levels and risk of cancer, and hence must be minimized, if not completely eliminated, from the diet.
Nature’s Wonder Food(s) of the Week: Chronic Disease Taming Foods – Part 2 - Proteins
As mentioned in Part 1, a well balanced, varied and wholesome diet, which is alkalising, mainly plant based and whenever possible fresh and organic, is indeed the best for overall health. When combined with a healthy activity level, the eating of traditional locally available foods tends to work well to cultivate the right kind of immunity enhancing micro-flora in the gut. High quality protein foods are not only good choices for disease prevention, they may also help with weight control. The clear preference should be for plant based proteins, fermented products and lean white meats. Some examples are: lean white turkey or chicken, fish and seafood, beans (black, kidney, mung or pinto), peas, eggs, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Sprouted grains and beans are also an excellent source of proteins. Lentils are not only an amazing source of protein, they also offer carbohydrates and fibre. When it comes to dairy, whey protein and yoghurt are at the top of the charts. However, if fresh organic ‘raw’ milk is not available, products made from nuts or beans – such as fermented soya products (miso & tempeh), as also ‘non-dairy milks’, can be considered. In addition to complete proteins, soya foods (tempeh, tofu, edamame) also offer benefits of fibre and healthy fats. Seafood, which includes fish (salmon, tuna, trout) and shellfish (crab, mussels, oysters) has good quality protein and minerals - with an added bonus of being a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids (heart-healthy fat). For vegetarians, similar benefits may be obtained from Hemp seeds. For Vegans, Spirulina and Chlorella offer excellent nutrition along with a 70% protein content. Quinoa, amaranth, bulgar, brown rice, wheat germ and oat bran offer up to 9 gm per cup of high quality protein (versus the 18 gm per cup from lentils).
To be continued: In Part 3 we will cover some other foods that can help prevent chronic diseases.
For Education purposes only; always consult a Healthcare Practitioner for medical conditions