Food For Life – Protein and Health: Fact Or Fantasy

Accepted as a nutrient class in 1838, protein, it was discovered, was necessary for all forms of life. This started a fascination with protein and its role in the health and strength of man.

Protein is the building block of every cell of the body and is critical for cell growth and repair. It is essential for energy and is also needed in the manufacture of hormones, antibodies, and enzymes. In addition, it helps maintain the proper acid-alkali balance in the body. Is it any wonder that we are encouraged to eat the protein food source on our plate? The questions, though, are: How much protein do we need? Are there times our protein requirements increase? Is too much protein harmful? What is the best source of protein?

Authorities differ on how much protein is needed for the average adult. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that an individual needs 56 grams of protein a day. The United States National Research Council recommends a protein intake of one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. The World Health Organization recommends 0.45 to 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of ideal body weight. Using these figures and an ideal weight of 150 pounds, between 31 and 55 grams of protein per day would be recommended. (It should be noted that both agencies have been adjusting the requirements for protein downward despite objections from the meat and dairy industries.) The average American is ingesting two to four times as much protein as is recommended.

There are clearly times when the protein intake needs to be increased, such as during times of growth in infancy, childhood, and pregnancy; during times of injury when the body needs to repair cells; and during times of extreme exercise when muscle cells are being built. However, many studies on health and disease have linked too much protein, especially animal-based protein, to numerous health problems.

The standard American diet provides too much protein. One of the primary reasons for this is the large consumption of meat and animal products. Many diseases are greatly reduced when the protein source is plant based. Plant-based proteins are better for the body; most are a good source of fiber and protein, and plant-based proteins are much more economical to produce. Likewise, plant-based proteins do not contain the growth hormones that are so typical in animals sold for consumption. Plant-based proteins can provide all of the essential amino acids needed by man. Even the person on a totally vegetarian diet tends to get more protein than is needed for health.

If you have not already replaced animal proteins with the more healthful plant proteins, you need to consider doing so now. The recipe below can be used alone or in combination with brown rice as the main protein source for many dishes, including tostados, burritos, tacos, enchiladas, nachos, Chimichangas, tortilla casserole, chili, and many others.