Long Reading: If you’re concerned about the amount of protein in your diet, you’re sure to eat too much.
Do you get enough protein? The question asks its own answer: If you are concerned about the amount of protein in your diet, surely you eat more than enough. This is a contradiction of our new protein obsession. For many people, the protein has become a sort of secular separation: it instantly appoints any food with a halo of health and goodness. On the gym menu where I go, niçoise salad is now regrouped as “high protein tuna”. It comes without large plants or olives – those are the elements that add flavor only, and who needs it?
At Pinterest, a lifestyle sharing site, you can now choose “protein” as one of your interests in life, along with “cute animals” and “inspirational quotations.” In 2017, there were 64 million Google searches for “protein”. Anxiety about protein is one of the things that drives a person to drink a bottle of beige-coated beige and call it a lunch.
You just need to visit the Western supermarket today to see that many people consider protein a kind of universal elixir – one of the food companies adds to everything you can. “When the box says” protein “, shoppers would say” I’ll take it “is the title of the 2013 article in The Wall Street Journal.In addition to protein balls everywhere, protein bars and creature briquette, you can now buy protein noodles, protein breads, protein biscuits , And even protein-rich foods such as cheese and yogurt, are sold in protein-backed versions, which may be the strangest of what can be “protein water” – fresh fruit-flavored beverages filled with whey protein, As if normal water was not healthy enough.
About half of UK consumers seem to be looking to add “extra protein” to their diets, according to market research from the Weetabix brand of fodder, which has also taken more protein. The trial version of Weetabix – a pack containing 24 packages costing more than the same package from Weetabix – is worth £ 50 million in sales each year.
Somehow, there is nothing strange in the fact that we see that protein values, because it is. Along with fats and carbohydrates, which is one of the three main nutrients, arguably the most important. We can survive without carbohydrates, but fat and protein are essential. Protein is the only large nutrient containing nitrogen, without which we can not grow or reproduce. There are nine amino acid proteins – the building blocks of human tissue – that we can only get from food. Without it, we can not grow healthy hair, nails, bones or strong muscles, and weaken our immune system. A child who lacks a bio-protein in the first five years of his life will suffer from stunting and sometimes wasting, as the continuing alarming state of malnutrition in the developing world reminds us.
So the trick is not that we should crave protein, but our concern about protein has become very acute at a time when the average person in developed countries enjoys a protein protein in his diet – at least according to official guidelines, which recommends a minimum of 0.8 g protein Daily per kilogram of body weight. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) data for 2015, the average person in the United States and Canada gets 90 grams a day, almost double the recommended amount (based on a presumed natural weight of 62 kilograms). The average European is not far from 85 grams of protein per day, the average Chinese person consumes 75 grams.
When we look for extra protein to sprinkle over our diets, most of us in rich countries decide “a problem that does not exist,” says David L. Katz, an American physician and public health scientist who is director of Yale University. – Griffin Prevention Research Center. In his latest book, The Truth About Food, Katz notes that while “protein legends tend to spread the idea that more is better,” there are serious concerns that consuming large amounts of protein over a lifetime can damage the liver. Kidneys and skeletons.
The current protein mania has come partly because many people are now looking at carbohydrates or fat (and sometimes both) with distrust. In the current nutrition wars, a protein emerged as the last permanent nutrient left. But the “full fixation of nutrients” is “boondoggle” which was disastrous for public health, Lee Katz said. “First they told us to cut the fat, but instead of the beans and the lentils, we ate the skimmed food.” Then the food marketers heard a message about cutting carbohydrates and sold us fast food instead of protein. “When we talk about protein,” Katz said, In the separation of nutrients from their food source “.
Yet we are still trying to get more protein. In this world of abundance, humans seem to seek eternal search for one safe substance that we can consume in limitless amounts without gaining weight. This is the attraction of your Diet Cook.
We are concerned about the protein to eat already high diets in meat, soybeans, sugars, super-processed foods, and their doses with more meat, soybeans, sugary molds, and super-processed foods, because these products are marketed to us as “protein” Although many of these products are not particularly high in protein.
There is something contradictory about the worship of our collective protein. When we pay good money for protein-fortified foods, we hope this will improve our health (although this is defined). However, our individual quest for protein – as an unfettered nutrient whose existence outweighs all other considerations – can lead us to act as if we have forgotten everything we know about food.
* * *
The severity of our protein mania can only be understood as part of a wider series of diet battles dating back half a century. If we are thirsting for protein as if it were water, it may be because other nutrients – fats and carbohydrates – have been converted into toxicity in the common mind.
Official dietary guidelines in the United States and the United Kingdom still insist that a healthy diet depends on a lot of carbohydrates with limited amounts of fat, especially saturated fats. The reason for this low-fat advice is the study of the historic Seven States, which was conducted in the 1950s by American physicist Anciz Keyes. Based on his observations on the healthy Mediterranean population who eats olive oil, Keys argued that affluent Westerners would suffer fewer cases of heart disease if they could reduce the consumption of saturated fats such as those found in butter, fat and meat.
But as explained in the modern supermarket, the low-fat diet often ended up being a diet with high sugar and high-refining carbohydrates, which was not what nutritionists originally thought. In recent years, low-carb orthodoxy has been subjected to a ferocious attack. In 2015, a meta-analysis by a team of Canadian researchers concluded that saturated fat intake was not associated with an increased risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, or death from heart disease. Anti-sugar activists such as Gary Taubes, the author of The Case Against Sugar, have argued that the real cause of our current diet-related illness is not actually saturated fats, but refined carbohydrates.
While low-fat diets and carbists continue to highlight it, the protein comes out as the only safe thing most people feel they can still trust, whether for weight loss or public health. We have to eat something, after all.
The current protein fetish is just the latest manifestation of a much larger phenomenon referred to by Michael Bolan as “nutritional” about 10 years ago. For decades now, there has been a tendency to think about what we eat and drink in terms of nutrients, rather than the real full ingredients in all their complexity. Here comes a mix of diet alternatives and smart marketing. It does not matter whether we are on “low fat” or “low carb” or “high protein” – we make the same old mistakes about nutrition in a new form.
* * *
For a while, at the kitchen table, next to a tractor of rice and flour, there was another tray made of black plastic, much larger than others. The label “source of high quality proteins” is in capital letters. In much smaller letters, he said: “I prepared to mix the protein powder with sweeteners” and included three types of whey protein: whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate and water-soluble whey protein. When I opened it, I smelled a fake vanilla in the air and saw white powder and a black plastic scoop.
This odorless high-protein whey protein is something I, as a food writer, never thought of in the kitchen. Made a muscular aesthetic to fill my heart sink. I’m also not a fan of artificial sweeteners, which I think they do not do any favors to the palate or intestinal bacteria. What’s more, I think most people should be able to get the nutrients we need from a balanced diet, not through dietary supplements.
But nothing forces you to bend your own principles like paternity. I turned to whey protein in a state of moderate desperation for my very young son, who plays competitive sports five or six days a week. Three square meals in addition to several snacks just scratched the surface of his appetite, and was sometimes almost crying with hunger by dinner. My conversations with other sports parents suggest that it is not uncommon to be at least obsessed with the amount of protein their children eat. We grumble that protein bars are a useless rip-off – and then buy another pack of them.
Protein means different things to different people. For some, it symbolizes “weight loss” while others mean “muscle”. To me it looked like a magic filler that might help my son to be less brighter.
I had read studies that suggest that the protein is more filler or saturation of the three big nutrients, and wondered whether more protein in breakfast is the solution. I tried it on homemade waffles made with almonds and hidden eggs (at this stage it did not satisfy full eggs) and the improvement in energy levels was dramatic. It was a short step to make it from the juices of half a tablespoon of whey protein with milk, bananas or frozen berries. Although I’m not comfortable with the powder, I can honestly see the difference in the levels of convenience. When the box was empty, I did not replace it, but I still watch the amount of protein my son is eating.
Having “adequate” protein in your diet to meet your basic needs does not necessarily have the same amount of good health. When I asked David Katz about the amount of protein that a person should consume, he said some people might actually need more than the minimum recommendation of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight – including athletes like my son. The problem is that once you think that more protein will be better automatically, it may be difficult to know when to stop. The idea that protein is synonymous with healthy eating causes many people to eat in disturbed, unhealthy ways, both body and mind.
A few years ago, Sarah Sheppard, a 30-year-old British sports journalist, realized she was a protein obsessed. On a typical day, they ate three or four protein bars, boiled eggs, meat, fish, and non-starchy vegetables, plus a few proteins. Almost the only carbohydrates in its diet came from protein rods and tremors. She reached a point where she had little energy in the evening because of the lack of calories in her body she stopped coming out.
Shephard’s protein obsession began when her injury forced her to give up jogging. After she started doing boxing and circles with a new boss, she told her she should take more protein to help prevent future injuries. At first, the new Sheppard system was low carboid and the high protein was great. Lost weight, gained muscle and became one of many people in the gym holding a neat bottle of protein shaking like an amulet.
However, she noticed that her thoughts about protein became obsessed. Given the choice between an apple and a protein bar, she always chose the protein bar, although on a rational level, she knew that a piece of fresh fruit with fiber and vitamins had a lot to recommend on a snack equipped. While finally asking for help from a sports nutritionist, he said he had not seen anyone with an intensive fitness system with low carbohydrate content. They consumed 150 grams of protein per day, about 2.5 grams per kilogram of body weight, well above the recommended upper limit for bodybuilders by the American Academy of Nutrition and Diet.
Sheppard slowly regained herself into a more balanced diet that included a range of complex carbohydrates such as oats and brown rice. Despite her apprehension, she did not gain weight. When I spoke to her, Shepard ate a balanced diet for more than two years without any bad effects, and was somewhat puzzling about how she drifted to protein stabilization.
Encouraged by protein-rich food marketers, many people talk about whether we have reached our daily goal for “macro”, but we do not talk too much about what is too much. Adding more protein can add to our harmful needs for people with kidney or liver problems inherent, where the body can struggle to treat excess.
In 2017, there were exciting headlines around the world when Megan Hoffford, a 25-year-old Australian bodybuilder, died after eating large amounts of protein drinks and supplements. Heford did not realize that she was suffering from a condition called urea cycle disorder, which meant her body could not normally represent the protein. Defenders of high-protein diets immediately attacked the cover of the story, noting that the case of Haford was rare and that her death was not caused by the protein itself. This was true, but it is also true that an important minority of the population is not recommended to eat a high-protein diet. For 4.3% or so of people in the UK who suffer from chronic kidney disease, a large amount of proteins from red meat can damage kidney function.
Above and beyond its long-term excesses on the body, protein stabilization can become a form of eating disorder. Three years ago, American psychologist Richard Asherio decided to study men in Los Angeles who are involved in the excessive use of protein powders and other supplements such as caffeine. He conducted a survey of about 200 active men who use exercise supplements, and found that the use of proteins, for many of them, has become “a different kind of troubled food” that threatens their health.
These men felt under intense pressure to achieve objects that were not only thin, but that showed an ideal ratio of fat to muscle. Three per cent of the sample group was admitted to hospital as a result of the use of excessive dietary supplements, yet the additions are still viewed as healthy. Eating disorders have complex causes: Achiro told me that men who were taking excessive protein supplements were also unhappy with the body, low self-esteem and feeling insecure about their own masculinity.
But they did not help the fact that the culture they lived told them that when they replaced most of their meals with protein, what they did was normal. Asheiro found it difficult for these men to realize that their relationship with protein might become a problem, because those living in Western society were prepared to offer a protein-rich diet as the top of healthy eating.
* * *
By 2001, Arla Foods, a large European dairy dairy with Danish headquarters, used all whey in Denmark. The company realized that it would have to look further to meet the unsatisfactory demand for whey protein. Arla signed a contract with SanCor, an Argentinean dairy company, to build the giant whey protein plant in the town of Porteña, north of Buenos Aires. When you ask for “warm protein dumplings” with blue berries in the gym, the odds are that the protein may come from a plant like this.
David Jenkins, a track and Scottish tracker and silver medalist at the Munich Olympics, was the first to introduce the idea of marketing whey protein as an “improved recovery” for athletes called ProOptibol. It was launched in health food stores in Southern California and Hawaii in early 1988. Initially it was a popular product that was popular with cyclists and athletes. The formula for this original whey protein was called WPC 75. It was a by-product of the Golden Cheese Company, based in Corona, California – a huge factory that produced Monterey Jack and other American cheeses.
Within a few decades, whey protein went from waste to an ambitious lifestyle optimizer. Whey is the remaining aquatic stuff during cheese making after clotting. In traditional dairy farms, it was well used in anything from making bread to pickles, but in the vast American cheese factories of the postwar years it has been seen as an unwanted nuisance. In the United States, such as dairy plants in Wisconsin, cheese mills have thrown thousands of liters of whey in nearby rivers. In the 1970s, after local authorities imposed restrictions on the dumping of dairy products, cheese manufacturers realized they had to find a way to use this disturbing rift. Quality whey powders – known as “popcorn whey” – were bad, and were mostly used to feed pigs. The main technique that made whey protein possible was to develop ultrafiltration techniques to pre-concentrate on whey before drying. This was when he began making whey protein on an industrial scale.
There is nothing in the medium tub of whey protein that indicates it came from cheese, not to mention the cow. Whey makers assume that consumers want to be as close to flavor as possible, to keep the illusion as a kind of magic dose for humans. But in its unadorned form, whey differs greatly in flavor. There are two types of whey: sweet whey made with rennet cheese such as cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, and acidic whey made from cheese like cheese. Cheddar serum has a tendency to taste the carton, whey mozzarella is milky and whey of cheese can be sour or remember cabbage saute. But in the final product, all these flavors are equal and hidden in the smell of chocolate, artificial vanilla or salted caramel.
Produced whey protein is a commodity that travels around the world in 100 kg bags, generating enormous profits, in coordination with global value chains (GVCs). Due to the changing patterns of supply and demand, the protein shakes an athlete in Tokyo drinks after the weights have been raised on a farm in Norway. It is called the “lowest” whey powder and is mostly shipped to Asia, where it is manufactured in infant formula. High-quality whey, which is called WPC 80 because it contains 80% protein, helps to transport protein fuel. The whey protein market has now become a complex and highly competitive global trade and is expected to reach $ 14.5 billion by 2023, more than half of the world market price in breakfast cereals.
* * *
I wandered around London at lunchtime a few weeks ago and found myself walking on Bread Street, near St Paul’s Cathedral, which in the Middle Ages was the site of the city’s bread market. After I stopped Bread Street, I came across a branch of Protein House, which claims to be selling “the coolest proteins you’ll ever taste.” These mixes include names such as Strawberry Warrior, Vegan Coffee Pump and Berry-Yatric, which must be the most annoying of all names. Protein House also sells protein foods like “blues balls” and random steams of meat.
From Bread Street to Protein Haus – This summarizes how our eating habits have changed in modern times. When I was at Protein Haus staring at piles of cooked chicken, slabs of salmon and rows of whey protein shakes protein and vegetable protein, it suddenly happened to me how crazy it is that we should treat all these “protein” substances differently if they were somehow identical. A scoop of highly processed whey is not, in fact, the same as grilled salmon slices, either in nutrition or in the experience of ingestion. Salmon – even the cultivated species – will be high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B-12, while whey protein is low in vitamins and minerals (excluding calcium) and fat free. The only thing common among these foods is that they tend to be first fuel and later fun (if they exist at all).
At the same time, our chilling of protein as an ideal nutrient tends to ignore how we produce the protein we eat, or what the environmental consequences of that production are. Of 90g proteins eaten by the average American each day, two-thirds of the protein is made up of animal products.
The irony of Britain’s protein obsession is that we do not produce much of it in reality. In fact, only 3% of arable land is given in Europe for protein crops such as legumes, and Europe imports more than two-thirds of animal feed. Much of the protein consumed in Europe is meat that is collected on substances that actually originate in South America or the United States as soybean oil or other oilseeds and must be shipped worldwide. As long as we consume protein largely from animal sources, it is likely that our obsession with protein is bad for the planet.
At the end of September, at the Aldborg Food Festival in Suffolk, she had lunch with Nick Saltarch, who runs Woodmaid, a company that works with British farmers to produce locally grown beans. Tells me that he feels that our obsession with protein foods has gone so far that we sometimes can not recognize the real protein when we really have it.
Plant proteins like lentils and peas tend to be considered “low quality” compared to meat, eggs and dairy products. But Christopher Gardner, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, argued that this “qualitative” argument was misleading. His great discovery was that all plant sources of protein – from peanuts to indamy grains – contained all the essential amino acids. It is recognized that they contain smaller concentrations of amino acids than meat or eggs, but in the context of a plentiful and varied diet, it does not matter.
The problem is partly that beans and lentils do not fit into our perception of the tunnel about what protein is. Pulses such as lentils contain about 25% protein but also 25% carbohydrates – making it difficult to classify them into the ideological categories of modern nutrition. Is lentils a protein (good) or a carbohydrate (bad)?
When Saltmars takes his product range to food fairs, he finds that bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts will sometimes pick up a can of peas and say “Oh pea!” – because pea protein has become fashionable as a vegetarian alternative to whey. “But when they see that it also contains carbohydrates, they put it back,” he said.
Some now avoid any meal or snack that can not be classified as a “protein” fix. But they are not among the millions of people whose protein deficiency is actually a real and urgent problem – and who do not tend to be pea protein at fitness shows.
* * *
The word protein is derived from the ancient Greek protoss, meaning first. When a Dutch scientist named GJ Mulder first introduced the term, in 1838, he suggested – quite rightly, as it turned out – that protein was crucial in all animal bodies. But new research suggests that protein is needed not only in the absolute sense, but in certain proportions to other nutrients in our diet.
By following the official guidelines, as we have seen, the average person can access more than enough protein for public health. It turns out that our puzzling obsession with protein may actually be one of the symptoms of a bigger problem in modern high-sugar diets: if we feel that we do not eat enough protein, it is because we eat more than anything else.
In 2005, two biologists named David Reubenheimer and Stephen Simpson proposed the “protein influence hypothesis”, arguing that protein could be the missing link in the obesity crisis. Since the 1960s, the absolute level of protein consumed by ordinary Westerners has not changed. What changes is the proportion of protein in our diet.
Because our total calorie intake has increased by 14%, the protein-to-carbohydrate ratio has decreased significantly. In 1961, the average American citizen received 14-15% of calories in protein, while today it is 12.5%. This does not seem like a big drop, but Raubenheimer and Simpson suggest that even a small decrease in protein percentage can have a significant impact on eating behavior – which leads us to over-eat.
Like many other animals, humans have what biologists call “dominant appetite” for protein. The biological motivation of the protein is so strong that cricket, which feels protein-free, will resort to cannibalism. When locusts lack protein, it explores different nutrients to correct the balance. Humans are not as cruel as cockroaches and not as wary as locusts. When they are granted access to a low protein diet and heavy in carbohydrates and fat, humans will indulge in trying to extract the protein they need.
If too many of us eat too much, it is partly because our bodies are looking for protein in a food-rich environment with wheat, refined oils and many kinds of sugar. As Raubenheimer and Simpson wrote in their stunning 2012 The Nature of Nutrition, “Dietary protein reduction through fats and carbohydrates leads to excessive consumption, possibly in some individuals, life stages and populations.” In other words, starvation is often clearly hidden.
The urgent question posed by this research is how we can restore protein to a healthy level. Our current protein craze – encouraged by the food sector and the whey protein industry – suggests that the answer is to increase our diet with an extra protein. But eating excess protein comes at its own cost, and the main reason is that it tends to shorten life.
The most effective way to concentrate protein in our diet, says Raubenheimer and Simpson, is to maintain stable protein levels (assuming we have enough) but with the reduction of “fat, sugar and other easily digestible carbohydrates”, allowing us access to the protein our bodies need Low calorie intake. But given that sugar is poured in everything from bread to sauce sauces, this solution will require radical restructuring of our food environment.
Our protein needs are not constant throughout human life: 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight may be enough for twenty things, but not eighty-eight. If anyone needs extra protein, it is not appropriate for young runners, but older people – especially those with low incomes – may struggle to buy or cook their own meals. Instead of protein bars for young and rich, we need omelets and chickpeas soup for the elderly and the poor. From the age of fifty onwards, we gradually lose muscle, and our protein requirements become higher, just as appetite tends to decline. The rates of protein malnutrition are alarmingly high among hospitalized elderly.
Most of those who can buy a “high protein” tuna plate are already enjoying good amino acid nutrition. By contrast, in these difficult times, many troubled food eaters are forced to starve in protein because of the economic conditions of their lives. Think of families that go to the chip store and buy chips without fish, or a person who lives on the standard standard on regular noodles until the next inspection comes. This is one reason why there is a huge market for delicious snacks that taste like the ghostly echo of fat and hearty meals of the past while consisting of a little but refined carbohydrates and oil: grilled chicken chips, roast tortilla chips. Research by Robbenheimer and Simpson suggests that the huge market for cheap snacks can be another show of a world – despite all those bars and jerks on the shelves – many are still hungry for protein.
Beyond the current protein fuss, there is a kernel of truth. The lack of protein is in fact part of the highly complex puzzle of what is wrong with modern diets. The problem is that the right question – do I get enough protein? – are put up by wrong people.
The next book, Bee Wilson, The Way We Eat Now: Strategies for Eating in a World of Change, will be published by Fourth Estate in March. So now at guardianbookshop.com
• Follow the long reading on Twitter on gdnlongread, or sign up for the weekly email that reads long here.