Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Protein Paradox: America, We've Got A Problem!

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Protein shakes, protein bars, protein powders. Protein seems to be stealing the attention these days when it comes to nutrition. But why the big protein push? Are we not getting enough? Do we need more? 

The answer is NO! PUT DOWN THE PROTEIN! We've gone overboard. When you over-consume protein and/or eat the wrong kinds of protein, you are setting yourself up for health problems. Let me explain...

On average, you should have about 50 grams of protein each day. Of course, this number goes up and down depending on your size, your sex, your activity level and whether you are pregnant or nursing, but for our purposes, it's an easy number to work with. Now here's the problem. America is protein poppin' like there's no tomorrow. The average American consumes almost 100 grams of protein each day. That's double the recommended amount! 

When you take in too much, the excess protein is not stored as protein, it's stored as fat OR is eliminated by the kidneys. When the protein leaves the body via the urine, it sucks calcium and other minerals from the bones and can put you at risk of kidney stones. Excess protein is not a good thing. If you're working hard to feed your body nutritious food, you don't want to unknowingly work against yourself by stripping your body of the minerals you just gave it.

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I know when I think of protein, meat and eggs are the first things to come to mind. But meat and eggs are not the ideal source of protein, nor are they the only source! Animal products are highly acidic foods. After your stomach digests them, the body is forced to neutralize itself. It does this by pulling minerals from your bones. Phosphates and calcium help bring the body back to a balanced state, though at the expense of your skeletal system. When this continues to happen over time, your chances of developing osteoporosis later in life are much greater.

Let's not forget that green vegetables are almost 50% protein, and on top of that, they give you a variety of phytonutrients and antioxidants, providing the perfect anti-cancer package! Just 2 cups of spinach provides you with a whopping 11 grams of protein! In addition to green vegetables, whole grains and seeds are great protein sources. One cup of brown rice is about 5 grams of protein, while 2 oz. of sunflower seeds is almost 7.5 grams of protein. Make a salad or other dish with all those ingredients, and you're well on your way to meeting the recommended daily value!

My brother Cale
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Now having grown up with a brother who also doubled as a professional athlete, I have a unique perspective into the mind of a man hell-bent on being BIG. Protein shakes were a regular part of Cale's day, and lots and lots of eggs graced his plate. Knowing what I know now, I can say with confidence that he was taking in way too much protein. 

The over-consumption of animal proteins especially leads to an increase in insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). In his book Super Immunity, Dr. Joel Fuhrman explains that 'IGF-1 is crucial for growth and development in childhood...but if levels remain high during adulthood, it speeds aging, reduces immune function and promotes cancer". To sum it up, higher protein intake from animal products has a direct link to cancer, especially breast, prostate and colon cancers. You might also find it interesting that higher IGF-1 levels have been linked to dementia, especially Alzheimer's disease.

Now does this mean you can never eat animal products? By all means, NO! I, for one, couldn't live without cheese. I mean, I've been to France. There's really no turning back. But Dr. Fuhrman suggests "that the combination of processed foods and animal products should comprise less than 10 percent of your total caloric intake". 

I'll leave you with Dr. Fuhrman's five simple rules for a powerful immune system:

1. Eat a large salad every day.

2. Eat at least a half-cup serving of beans/legumes in soup, salad, or another dish once daily.

3. Eat at least three fresh fruits a day, especially berries, pomegranate seeds, cherries, plums, oranges.

4. Eat at least one ounce of raw nuts and seeds a day.

5. Eat at least one large (double-size) serving of green vegetables daily, either raw, steamed, or in soups or stews.

If this laundry list looks like a foreign language to you, just pick one thing to start with! Changing your diet doesn't have to happen overnight. You're much more likely to stick to eating healthy if you ease into it. And remember, Whole Foods' salad bar makes rule #1 very easy to accomplish! You don't even have to chop anything up yourself! 

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