What's the Big Deal About Animal Protein?
Why is animal protein bad for us? Haven't we always been told that protein is essential for growth, energy and muscle strength. Isn't it a well known fact that we need protein to stay healthy, vibrant and strong? Have we really been misled all these years? Surely, it seems impossible to believe that such 'good quality' food could making our disease worse.
I know that many people are very confused on this issue so I thought I would try and make it a tad clearer for you. We are constantly receiving conflicting and contradictory messages of what we should and shouldn't be eating. The Paleo and Wahls diet have informed us that eating red meat is fine as long as it is grass fed. Both diets, however, do not allow dairy.
Then we have the Swank and OMS diets, both of which advocate keeping saturated fats to an absolute minimum. Dr. Jelinek (OMS) has made it clear that all meat is not on the menu for himself and his community of followers. Even grass fed meat still has saturated fat in it. The Swank and OMS diets also advise people with MS to steer clear of any dairy products. So, absolutely no animal products except fish of course which contains high levels of the essential healthy fats.
As many of you will know, I also do not include animal products in my diet. The MS diet is completely free of all dairy, meat and saturated fat from animals. This was not a fly by night decision but one based on much research and personal experience. I noticed that when I gave up animal protein, I had more energy, my mind was clearer and I had more energy. My MS Symptoms also improved. So what is it about animal protein that effects us so negatively? I will be exploring this, in depth, over the next few blog posts. Let's first take a look at how much animal protein Western Society is consuming every day.
The Typical Diet Western Diet
The Daily Menu
Have a think about what you (if you are not on the ms diet) and your family eat on a weekly basis.
- Breakfast: Perhaps you will have cereal with full fat milk every morning accompanied by a few cups of coffee with yet more milk. You may have a fry up of eggs, bacon and sausages some mornings.
- Mid-Morning Snack: You may have a yoghurt, some fruit or a chocolate bar. If you are trying to watch your weight, you may down one of the increasingly popular protein drinks.
- Lunch: All about bread, cheese, processed meat or perhaps last night's meaty left overs.
- Afternoon Snack: Consists of a sweets, chocolates, biscuits or if you are trying to get in your 5 a day, a piece of fruit.
- Dinner: Always contains some type of meat. If it doesn't contain meat, it's not a balanced meal, right? This is usually smothered in some creamy sauce an accompanied by vegetables laden with butter and cheese.
I don't think I'm exaggerating here. In fact, this is pretty much what my husband used to eat before we started the MS diet. I used to get the look of disapproval if meat wasn't part of the evening menu. Thankfully he has cut his meat consumption right down to once a week. He has definitely noticed the difference in how he feels.
If you look at the typical western diet, it is composed mainly of four things: Meat, Dairy, Sugar and Wheat. We all want fast, convenient, tasty food and these four food groups are heavily made use of in the fast food industry and very well promoted in supermarkets. Yes, there may be a small salad here and there or a piece of fruit in-between a Big Mac and a Pizza but predominately, we are consuming way too much animal protein. Here are some interesting statistics from the super size me website:
- Each day, 1 in 4 Americans visits a fast food restaurant.
- In the U.S., more than 1,000,000 animals are eaten in an hour.
- In 1972, we spent 3 billion a year on fast food - today we spend more than $110 billion
Another growing avenue of animal protein consumption is protein drinks. So, hypothetically, if you enjoyed these and were were hungry, you wouldn't buy a sandwich. Instead you would pick up a protein drink that would keep your tummy nice and full, your energy levels high and your weight down. A recent BBC article on protein drinks, states that protein intake depends on weight, with a recommended intake figure of 0.8g protein per kg of weight per day often cited. Over the course of a day, the average man should be eating around 55g of protein, while a woman needs 45g, says the British Dietetic Association.
However, In the UK the mean intake for men is 86.5g per day, with women consuming 65g, says nutritionist Dr Helen Crawley. The CDC says "most adults in the United States get more than enough protein to meet their needs". The obvious problem is that we are getting way too much animal protein on a daily basis and it is causing havoc with our health.
What is Inherently Bad about Animal Protein?
The China Study
George Jelinek describes protein in one of his recent podcasts as 'really quite harmful to human health'. He bases this statement on the huge amount of research that has been done on this topic. One such study is the China Study. This is the largest and most comprehensive study ever done on nutrition and it revealed some startling results.
Dr. Campbell compared the typical Western diet with that of rural and urban China. He found that, typically, Americans eat animal protein on a daily basis whereas the rural Chinese had a diet composed of vegetables, rice and fish. In America, 15-16% of the total calories consumed comes from protein and over 80% comes from animal based foods. However, in rural China, only 9-10% of the total calories consumed comes from protein and only 10% of the protein comes from animal based foods. He then compared the rate of disease between the two populations. He discovered that Americans had extremely high rates of diseases such as cancer, heart disease and autoimmune diseases whereas in rural China they were virtually unheard of.
Campbell then took his research a step further and compared the diets and disease rates of rural and urban China. He noted that when people moved from the country to the city, they were exposed to a more western style of eating. Fast food was now readily available and red meat was more affordable and available. The disease rate in the urban Chinese population was much higher than in rural China although still not yet on a par with America. Are you seeing the connection?
Blood Cholesterol level seems to be the key factor in increasing the proness to developing 'diseases of affluence'. These are, among others, cancer, heart disease and autoimmune diseases. Dr. Campbell calls blood cholesterol 'the strongest predictor of Western disease. Cholesetrol can be categorised into two groups Dietary cholesterol is present in the food we eat. It is only found in animal-based food. There is no way to measure how much dietary cholesterol you are consuming unless you kept notes of exactly what you ate and the amount of cholesterol in your food according to food labels.
The other type of cholesterol is blood cholesterol. This is made in the liver and is not the same as dietary cholesterol. Cholesterol is not actually bad, at the right levels. It helps to build your body's cells, amongst other important functions. But if your body has more cholesterol than it needs, the excess keeps circulating in your blood. Over time, circulating LDL cholesterol can enter your blood vessel walls and start to build up under the vessel lining.
According to the American heart association, cholesterol can't dissolve in the blood. It has to be transported to and from the cells by carriers called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as "bad" cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as "good" cholesterol. These two types of lipids, along with triglycerides make up your total cholesterol count. You can have your levels tested with simple blood test.
The saturated fat from animal proteins produces LDL cholesterol and good fats such as flaxseed oil, coconut oil, nuts and fish will eventually be translated into HDL cholesterol. Medical experts think that HDL tends to carry LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it's passed from the body. Some experts believe that HDL removes excess cholesterol from arterial plaque, slowing its buildup.
LDL Cholesterol and Disease
Dr. Campbell discovered that the more dietary cholesterol consumed from animal products, the higher blood cholesterol was and the higher the incidence of disease was in a certain population.
In America, the average blood cholesterol level is 215mg/dL and in China, the average was 127mg/dL with some counties being as low as 94mg/dL. The correlation in the China study was very clear. As blood cholesterol levels decreased from 170mg/dL to 90mg/dL, cancers of the liver, rectum, colon, lung, breast and leukemia decreased.
A recent study done in London looked at the relationship between cholesterol levels and MS progression. They found that raised cholesterol levels are associated with more active and severe disease (Barts & the London school of Medicine and Dentistry).
It seems that our levels of blood cholesterol have a direct impact on our health and well being. The lower your LDL blood cholestrol levels, the lower your chance of developing a serious disease. On the other side of the coin, the higher your HDL levels, the more you will be protected from disease progression.
And then there is Swank, my hero. Swank was definitely ahead of his time with his saturated fat and MS diet research. He knew there was a clear connection between animal protein and MS symptoms so he embarked on a 34 year study involving 144 MS patients. He advised them to eat a diet low in saturated fat which meant they needed to severely cut down animal product consumption. Some stuck to these recommendations and others did not. Towards the end of his study he noticed a few key things:
- 95% of the people who had started the low-saturated fat diet during the earlier stages of their disease remained only mildly disabled and only 5% had died of MS related complications.
- 80% of the people who hadn't stuck to the diet had died of MS related complications.
Swank's recommendation was that people with MS only have 15g or less of saturated fat a day. This translates into about a tablespoon of butter.
This remarkable study has given us first hand evidence of the dangers of animal protein and how it needs to be completely avoided if we want to have a good quality life.
Summing it all up
The reasons why high LDL blood cholesterol causes so many problems are complicated but also fairly straight forward. These bad fats get in the way of what our bodies are trying to do. They build up inside artery walls and clog up cells. They allow the blood-brain barrier to become more permeable so that activated, rogue immune cells can cross into the CNS and do damage. Eventually, our bodies can't function effectively anymore and systems start to shut down. They have been crying out to us, in various small ways, to cut down the amount of meat, milk and cheese we are eating. This could be in the form of fatigue or a relapse. However, if we don't heed these warning calls and carry on with our lavish consumption of animal protein, it may be too late when we do start taking notice.
I will leave you with a quote from Dr. Campbell, '“In the next ten years, one of the things you’re bound to hear is that animal protein is one of the most toxic nutrients of all that can be considered. Quite simply, the more you substitute plant foods for animal foods, the healthier you are likely to be.”
In the next part of this topic, I will be discussing animal protein alternatives and how vegetables and grains can be a much better source of protein.
I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this very important topic!