OPINION: Protein Should NOT be a Food Group

OPINION: Protein should not be a food group since labeling it this way creates an unhealthy obsession with so-called protein rich foods when it makes absolutely no difference where we derive amino acids to synthesize proteins in our bodies, and excess protein increases the risk of diseases.

Protein rich foods are not necessary considering human infants survive, thrive, and double their weight on breast milk alone which contains less than one percent protein, and every food that we eat contains the amino acids necessary for protein synthesis.

A simple breakdown of how protein is derived and synthesized is important to know to change the conversation about protein.

  • Proteins are chains of amino acids bound together with weak hydrogen bonds.
  • Hydrogen bonds are easily broken, and proteins are denatured by small changes in pH level, when heated, or with acids leaving only the amino acids.
  • Our bodies synthesize protein from amino acids in our own cells and liver and are regulated by our DNA and RNA.

Every whole food that we eat, from carrots to animal flesh, contains all 20 of the amino acids and all nine essential amino acids that humans must derive from their diet to synthesize protein.

A review of the amino acid composition of foods shows that all foods contain all amino acids, and gram for gram brown rice is almost indistinguishable from chicken.

One doesn’t need to eat protein to get protein, we just need to ensure that we get enough amino acids and calories to synthesize proteins, and our bodies are not concerned where those amino acids come from.

Yet most Americans eat more than twice the amount of protein rich foods than is needed to derive enough amino acids for our bodies to denature and then synthesize them to sustain life and thrive.

Though many are concerned about protein deficiency, it is unheard of in the western world unless a person is gravely ill or perhaps experiencing elderly frailty wherein one is not able to derive enough calories from their diets from not being able to eat or metabolize food.

Understanding how amino acids are broken down and proteins are synthesized, knowing that all foods contain all amino acids, and observing that we are getting too much protein and won’t become protein deficient, should help change the conversation around protein and our unhealthy obsession with it. Especially given the fact that overconsumption of protein leads to disease.

Finally, an observation of the world around us, along with a little critical thinking, makes it obvious that the largest mammals on the planet, and the 4,000 plus herbivorous species somehow get enough protein eating only plants!

More info from Dr. Christopher Gardner, Stanford: