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Overly-Vague Statements About Protein

Updated on February 9, 2015
Protein in the diet is not required for protein creation, but, amino acids are. The body must break down dietary protein before use. Amino acids can be consumed directly, and are not required to be in the form of a protein to be used by the body.
Protein in the diet is not required for protein creation, but, amino acids are. The body must break down dietary protein before use. Amino acids can be consumed directly, and are not required to be in the form of a protein to be used by the body.

Statement 1: You "Need" Protein

For starters, this is outright false. The human body does not require protein ingestion, it requires amino acids that are taken up by cells in the human body wherein the cell itself manufactures protein(s) to be used by the human body from the raw ingredients that it took in from the bloodstream. The body creates an "amino acid pool" that is measurable in the sera (blood) of the person in question.

The body takes in the amino acids it requires from the bloodstream for use. Although proteins are the form that amino acids typically are in when a human ingests them, protein is a product created by typically complex organization of amino acids and is not required to be ingested for most if not all humans. The breakdown of protein into its constituent amino acids is typically done by the liver (the liver can be overwhelmed by excessive protein ingestion) and the byproducts of this breakdown process--ammonia and urea--are removed by the kidneys (which can be overwhelmed as well). This is likely why a low-protein diet seems to be quite therapeutic in the management/treatment of those with kidney disorders and/or diseases.

The consumption of animal muscle is not required to meet protein requirements for bodily functions. Actually, it may very well be harmful in many ways: many, many studies show animal muscle consumption increases diabetes risk.
The consumption of animal muscle is not required to meet protein requirements for bodily functions. Actually, it may very well be harmful in many ways: many, many studies show animal muscle consumption increases diabetes risk.

Statement 2: You Need to Focus on Protein or You Will Not Get Enough

Kwashiorkor is the name of protein deficiency despite adequate calorie intake, and is almost unheard of. Have you heard of someone with this disease? It is characterized by distension of the belly and swelling of internal organs. If there is a whole plant food that does not provide adequate protein when consumed in adequate amounts to meet calorie needs, I am not aware of it.

Every single commonly-eaten produce product commonly-available at grocery stores (e.g. corn, carrots, celery, berries, and bananas) provides adequate protein. There are even elite athletes that eat a diet of almost entirely fruits with a bit of grains, two types of plant foods that are some of the lowest in protein; some of them eat almost 100% fruit, which has typically the least amount of protein per calorie of all plant products. Most plant products provide at least 8% of their calories from protein (some over 30%!). If there is a study proving that 8% of calories from protein in a calorie-sufficient diet is considered "protein deficient" (or even sub optimal) I am not aware of it. Please comment if you have a link to such a study, and I will likely promptly review said study and respond accordingly.

There are rumors that diets "low" (the 10% provided by most plants being seen as "low") in protein will lead to loss of lean muscle mass if one has a fair amount of muscle already, or, will stunt the growth of new, lean, muscle mass in a strength training regimen. Yet, there appears to be no solid proof of this that I am aware of. Again, if you are privy to such information, please let me know.

Have you met anyone with, or even heard of Kwashiorkor before today?

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Most if not all plant foods provide enough protein even for high-tier athletes.
Most if not all plant foods provide enough protein even for high-tier athletes.

Statement 3: A Meal That Lacks Animal Muscle Tissue (Meat) is Nutritionally Inadequate

If anything, a meal high in animal muscle tissue is one of the least nutritionally adequate. As previously stated, merely eating enough food to meet caloric needs in almost every single case will provide sufficient amino acids to repair and build new bodily tissues as well as maintain metabolic processes, even in the case of extreme athletic strain, such as the intense amounts of training done for many hours per week by professional, endurance athletes. When one forgoes the consumption of animal products, one is merely "skipping the middleman" and going directly to the source of the 9 essential amino acids: plants!

The only reason any creature in the animal kingdom is able to acquire the 9 essential amino acids is because they either ate a plant (the things that CREATE those amino acids) or ate an animal that ate a plant. There is no known animal to my knowledge that can create one of the 9 essential amino acids endogenously (internally). Plant foods are typically higher in nutrition per calorie as well, making it easier to meet the RDA for each specific vitamin/mineral. A 3-year study done on 16,000 people showed that at least 1/3 of them did not meet the RDA for 5 nutrients. With the high prevalence of animal muscle consumption by Americans, if said foodstuff was nutritionally dense, one would expect any dietary deficiency to be almost non-existent, yet, deficiency is actually borderline ubiquitous.

Keep in mind the RDA is based on avoiding pathological states, not optimizing health. Basically, the bare minimum is not likely the best, and at least half of the people studied did not get even the bare minimum RDA for Vitamin E, and even LESS for Vitamin D. Although admittedly the latter deficiency is likely due to the distance of the US from the equator in combination with most of one's day spent indoors, since Vitamin D is more like a hormone than a vitamin and is produced by the skin when exposed to UV rays, typically from the sun.

The overarching message here is that without specific information to back up a claim, a vague claim is basically worthless. Notice how when people talk about protein, they almost never give real-world examples to back up the reasoning behind their statement? Often times something is repeated so often many believe it MUST be true and it is rarely challenged. There is a lot of misunderstanding with regards to protein, and, it is fairly obvious why: almost none of them are based on either real-world facts or observations. To put it quickly: as long as you are not eating highly-processed and/or junk foods, you are getting enough protein as long as you are getting enough calories. If there is data out there to prove otherwise, please provide it. Thanks for reading and have a great day!

Cast your vote for Evidence-Based Eating


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    • d.william profile image


      3 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      Great article: My favorite line is...."Often times something is repeated so often many believe it MUST be true and it is rarely challenged. "

      This is especially true of the false beliefs that such "natural" foods as eggs, real butter, GMO free foods, etc.., are worse for people than their artificially produced substitutions.

      Meat is a non essential and a throwback from the stone age. Eating any animal is unnecessary, and often worse for your health than a diet of vegetables/fruits/nuts/grains,etc..(including "organic" eggs, cheese, non dairy milks, yogurt)

      I am one of those people with a physical allergy to beef and any beef product. I choose not to eat meat because most meat products in this country are tainted with GMO foods that are fed to the animals they slaughter to feed the general public.

      My diet consists of organic foods, and non GMO products that are imported from countries that ban GMO products.

      As a registered nurse for over 40 years it is evident to me that most nutritionists have been 'mis-taught' about the basics of nutrition. Informed folks like you are a rarity in this country - good to see it in print.

    • ZRadach profile imageAUTHOR

      Zachary Radach 

      3 years ago from Houston

      what is worth noticing here, is that of all of my hubs this got the most comments, and the most views.

      i frequently give "calls to action" to post a link to a study that may disprove any one of my claims.

      yet... nada. zilch. nothing.

      goes to show how much people "know" about protein, eh? funny how silent they are when confronted with actual knowledge.

      i assume that THEY assume that the typical hearsay and myth parroting of supposed "facts" and "information" that is rampant in western cultures on this subject will not go over well... and they would probably be right.

    • DreamerMeg profile image


      3 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Interesting. I am starting to eat more fat, including coconut oil and coconut milk.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Actually, I have. I knew someone that had allergies and basically couldn't eat anything in a box, bag or can. I also write Life at Boomer Lake in the local newspaper.

    • ZRadach profile imageAUTHOR

      Zachary Radach 

      3 years ago from Houston

      almost nobody requires meat... there are some super-rare cases, but you probably have never met anyone in your life that fits that situation.

      also: you live in Stillwater, which is neat... I went to school @ OSU.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Since I pretty much gave up meat, I have found myself healthier with a lot more pep and stamina. Some people might require meat, but I feel so much better without it.

    • ZRadach profile imageAUTHOR

      Zachary Radach 

      3 years ago from Houston

      Also, I'm not sure if you really got what I was saying here, in the sense that you are kind of doing what I was talking about, wherein you are just talking about hearsay. Keep in mind I'm not calling you a liar, what I am saying is you don't talk about the studies you are talking about you just say "there are studies" as though you are supposed to take your word for it

      That's not how truth works, nor is it how the scientific method works.

      What I am saying is that if it really is true, you can make predictions and have data to back you up. Yet you didn't give any studies, you just said "there are studies." That's what I am talking about, in a sense of just taking the rumor/hearsay's opinion as fact instead of looking at what actually happened or looking at the data yourself. Also, looking at the data without at least some experience in doing so is a setup for failure. Just like it would have been potentially poor judgement if I was alive when Einstein was alive to have said that special relativity was flawed--which is true, and was later discovered--but would have been kind of a lucky guess if I didn't actually have a firm grasp of physics. Even if it proves to be correct at a later date that "vegetarianism definitely leads to deleterious health," it wouldn't be because current studies prove that to be the case, it would be sheer luck of the draw, since right now, the preponderance of evidence points the other way, particularly for males.

      Thanks or reading anyhow! Have a wonderful day! =D

    • ZRadach profile imageAUTHOR

      Zachary Radach 

      3 years ago from Houston

      Well, these studies can be misleading if you don't know what is going on. For instance, epidemiological evidence (mere observation) is one of the weakest forms of evidence in the scientific field... typically it is a setup to fund further studies. For instance, people with bigger feet tend to have, on average, a larger vocabulary because they are likely to be older if you studied a group of persons from 3 to 20 years old. And yet, obviously the size of one's feet does not determine one's vocabulary... but an a 18 year old, on average, will have a far larger vocabulary than a 4 year old, and larger feet. This is confusing correlation with causation.

      I have read only 1 or 2 studies that talk about vegetarians having poor health, and I know of two, both were observational. And if you read into the actual study and not the abstract, you will find a vegetarian diet often comes AFTER a health issue, particularly a mental health issue.

      I also read nothing about controlling for variables. Meaning age, sex, socioeconomic status, et al. Controlling for variables is important. Also many vegetarians and vegans do not like meat or do it for ethical reasons so they don't know about things such as b12 until it's too late. (B12 is ubiquitous in nature, but the bacteria that creates B12 for, say, a cow is not something humans come in contact with anymore. Cows do not eat meat, yet, they require B12. Cows and horses are strict vegans, yet their diet has plenty of cobalamin, apparently... probably because of modern sanitation as well as accidentally eating bugs and soil while grazing. So basically a vegan will sometimes be like "oh noes the animals!" and stop eating animal products, but won't supplement b12. This is bad.)

      The studies also said that they were only less healthy ON AVERAGE, and doesn't even mention whether it meets statistical significance or not. Meanwhile, every study either proves a vegetarian lifestyle to be null or beneficial to one's overall longevity, all-cause mortality, and mood/affect. If you want to see what studies say, run it by me or an actual scientist because we read a lot of them and know what is going on. Some people just read the abstract and the plan-English parts of it not knowing the significance of the study and being unaware of experimenter bias, background bias, and other subtle nuances. Many studies are highly criticized to to lack of objectivity/bias and/or methodological flaws.

      This is a great example of a study that when read in plain english is different from when read by someone that understands the data in the parenthesis When read normalliy, you would think that it says read meat wasn't associated with heart disease or diabetes. But what it says is that for every 100g of red meat consumed per day risk of diabetes went up 16%. (that's what RR=1.16 means). Whereas it only took 50 grams of processed meat to raise diabetes risk by 19%, which is over double the effect. But 16% for sure isn't zero, is it? The heard disease one was 1.00, meaning there was absolutely NO effect. Another study that was being used to defend egg consumption said egg consumption was associated with less coronary artery calcium... 1% per egg per day. That's not much, and could easily be explained by saying that egg consumption just proves they were eating breakfast which is associated with better weight control, which could explain MORE than 1% of a reduction. Or, eggs could just be being eaten INSTEAD of the worse foods that others were eating. Like, eating an omlette instead of a poptart or something... merely the lesser of two evils. Keep in mind vegetarians and vegans are quite rare, so saying that "egg consumption versus no animal food consumption was proven to reduce coronary calcium buildup" is a non-sequiter. Also, all it would take is just a few of them to be vegetarians (highly associated with less coronary calcium buildup) that were ovo-vegetarians to throw the numbers off. I would say that if a vegan were to be given an egg every day, their calcium score would go UP. Remember, this is aggregated data, and is usually not controlled for confounding variables, but sometimes is. I fail to see how a 16% increase in diabetes from red meat (only 100grams per day at that, which is LESS than a 4 oz steak) is not considered to be significant, yet, a 1% decrease in coronary artery buildup from one egg PER DAY (not per week or month, per DAY) IS SIGNIFICANT. As you can see, they are just seeing what they want to see. What they say and what the numbers prove are at odds. Oh, and the egg study was trying to prove that eggs aren't "harmful," yet, that same study said that for every egg per day odds of diabetes went up 54%! Yeah, that's really harmless. Except diabetic complications happens to be one of the leading causes of death worldwide, particularly in america.

      Also, this has nothing to do with vegetarianism, lacto-ovo-vegetarianism, veganism, et al. What this has to do with is people masquerading as though they know what they are talking about when all they are doing is parroting hearsay. I was a bodybuilder for many years--only been vegan/vegetarian for about two--and there were lots of myths propagated in the community, typically fueled by industry not fact/truth.

      I have never seen an INTERVENTION study wherein a vegetarian or vegan diet had negative effects on anyone. Blood pressure usually goes down, and mood usually goes up almost immediately. Arachadonic acid is thought to be why animal products tend to lower serotonin levels which leads to a drop in mood.

      As you can see, I am well-read. I read hours of peer-reviewed studies per week. I started being a vegan NOT for ethical reasons (studies show that most people do, and so does my experience in talking to vegans/vegetarians) but because the research proved it to be a superior diet.

      I am a vegan and I run 5 or more miles at least 6 days per week. I have been and continue to be a low-level bodybuilder. My resting heart rate is about 42-45 bpm, and blood pressure is about 94-100/68-78 Those are some of the healthiest numbers... blood pressure only gets too low when you go under 90, and heart rate is only too low if is far below normal. Meaning if you have a 60 bpm heart rate and wake up with a heart rate like mine one day, maybe you should go to the hospital. But mine was developed over years of hard work and dedication.

      Keep in mind, always keep in mind, that to best assess a situation try to get rid of your assumptions and biases, and play devil's advocate for a bit. It's easy to get caught up in confirmation bias. One of the best quotes to help with this is "people like hearing good news about their bad habits." So all it takes is some news reporter to read the plain English part of that study i referenced to blast all over the internet "red meat not associated with heart disease or diabetes" for loads of people to hop on board, not knowing what the study actually says in the numbers and also not knowing about the dozens of other studies that prove the opposite (including that very study, without the general public even knowing it).

      How about this, you show me the studies you are talking about and I show you mine.

      Sound fair?

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 

      3 years ago from Jaipur

      Hi Zachary,

      Thanks for a good hub. Please write more hubs for the readers to enjoy. You can feel free to read my hubs, comment on those and rate . I have rated this article up and useful.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      3 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      If we don't challenge certain assumptions we'll never get to the truth. Some studies have found that vegetarians are less healthy than meat-eaters, others found the opposite. I do agree that meat is not the only source of protein, and the body is quite capable of joining together amino acid to make its own. Interesting article.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      3 years ago from USA

      You bring up some important points to consider. I was especially intrigued about the idea of thinking in terms of amino acid consumption instead of protein consumption.

    • ZRadach profile imageAUTHOR

      Zachary Radach 

      3 years ago from Houston

      thanks for that... I pulled it from a public domain google search and had no idea what it was... I find it to be more germane than I expected for it to be in any way diet-related.

      Thanks for the info, and thanks for reading! =D

    • hypnodoctor profile image


      3 years ago

      Just a heads-up, the first image you gave is an image of the structural formula of cholesterol, which has nothing to do with amino acids or proteins. Thought you should know.


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