bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


More on protein

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I have been seeing a bunch of infographics such as these lately:


While the second one’s much better than the first (credit: Avery Muether Illustrations), it includes fairly accurate protein quantities (and some of these foods are reasonably high sources of protein), I still wanted to comment on them. I went through the foods included in the first infographic and looked up the protein in a serving of each. Here they are:

spirulina (1 tbsp dried) – 4g

goji berries (2 oz dried) – 8g

chia seeds (1 oz) – 4.4g

spinach (1 cup raw) – 0.9g

hemp seeds (2 tbsp) – 10g

barley grass (6g dried) – 1.5g

brazil nuts (1 oz) – 4g

broccoli (1 cup raw) – 3g

(bean) sprouts (1 oz) – 0.8g

figs (1 oz dried) – 0.9g

avocado (1 oz) – 3g

maca (1 tbsp powder) – 1g

kale (1 cup raw) – 2g

romaine lettuce (1 cup shredded) – 0.6g

For the most part, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the amount of protein in these foods. Considering that a single serving of protein is considered to be approximately 6-7g. Even if you consumed all of these foods in a day you would be consuming only 44.1g of protein in total. This is quite close to the needs for many women. Protein needs are generally 0.8g per kg of body weight. However, more protein may be needed in some cases such as for athletes, pregnancy, wound healing, childhood, elderly, etc. Even so, most of us handily exceed the daily requirements for protein.

There is something else beyond total protein to consider, however. We also need to look at protein quality. High quality proteins are those that contain ample amounts of all nine essential amino acids. I’m sure you already know this but just as a refresher… Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. There are 20 (or 21 if you count cystine) amino acids, 9 of which are considered essential because our bodies cannot synthesize them and must, therefore, obtain them from food. Animal proteins (with the exception of gelatin) are considered to be high-quality as they contain all of the essential amino acids in ample quantities. Many plant proteins are considered to be low-quality as they are either low in, or lack, one or more of the essential amino acids. While it’s absolutely possible to obtain all of the amino acids we need from plant proteins it also takes more careful consideration than proteins obtained from animal sources. This is why we talk about complementary proteins. These are plant protein sources that, when combined, yield adequate amounts of all 9 amino acids. A few examples are: hummus and pita, rice and beans, veggies and polenta. Just to be clear, the complementary proteins needn’t be consumed together at the same meal (although they certainly can be) as long as they’re consumed throughout the day.

Generally speaking, aside from foods such as beans, nuts, and seeds, plant proteins are lower in total protein (not just essential amino acids) than animal proteins. Just a few examples: 3 oz of canned tuna has 21.6g of protein, 3 oz of chicken breast has 21.3 g, Greek yoghurt can contain up to 15-18g per serving.

Yes, it is possible to consume adequate protein without consuming animal products. It’s likely preferable if we do favour plant sources of protein over animal sources. However, it’s not as simple as those infographics make it seem. Most foods contain some quantity of protein. That second infographic especially irks me. Suggesting that romaine lettuce and figs are good sources of protein is ludicrous.

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Forget sugar. Protein is the new smoking.


A recent study in Cell Metabolism prompted numerous headlines proclaiming that protein (specifically animal protein) may be just as bad as smoking for your health. Before we jump on the anti-protein bandwagon let’s take a look at the actual study.

The researchers used the results from the NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) in combination with mouse and cellular studies. There were over 6, 000 participants in the NHANES which is quite a robust sample. Right off the bat it makes me suspicious that the researchers would also need to incorporate mouse studies. We also know that using nutrition data from self-reported surveys is far from ideal: people tend to under-report food intake. In this case the researchers used 24-hour recall. The pro to this is that it’s one of the more accurate methods for collecting dietary data. The major con to this is that the researchers are assuming that food/nutrient intake from one day is representative of intake every day. That’s a huge assumption. I know that I might eat animal protein at a couple of meals on one day while eating none on another. That would mean I could fall into either the low or high protein intake group depending on the day data collection was undertaken. We also know that mice are not humans (duh) and that research conducted using mice may not be translatable to a human population. Okay, not enthusiastic about the methods, but let’s take a look at the results.

The researchers found no association between all cause, cardiovascular disease, nor cancer mortality and protein intake in all participants over the age of 50. They did find an increase in mortality in participants in the high protein (20% or more of total daily calories from protein) group who had diabetes. Naturally, they could not say with certainty if the high protein intake was the cause of diabetes mortality. However, when they broke the results down further (splitting the group into those aged 50-65 and 66 and up), they found a relationship between high protein intake and all-cause and cancer mortality in the 50-65 age group. They reached the conclusion that animal-based proteins were the cause of this increased mortality because when they controlled for animal protein the “association between total protein and all-cause or cancer mortality was eliminated or significantly reduced”. This was not seen when plant-based protein was controlled for. Interestingly, the opposite was found in the over 66 years age group (i.e. higher protein intakes reduced risk of mortality from cancer or cardiovascular disease).

It appears that the researchers didn’t control for all confounding variables when they were examining mortality and protein intake. There is no mention of controlling for physical fitness, economic status, or employment status. These are important factors to consider when investigating the effect of diet on mortality.

So, what can we conclude from this study? High animal protein intake may increase your risk of mortality if you’re between the ages of 50-65. After that, it may have a protective effect. This suggests that protein plays different roles at different ages and also means that we cannot extrapolate the results to those under the age of 50. We also can’t be certain that the results are accurate due to the limits when using dietary recall data as well as the lack of control for certain potential confounding variables. There may be some benefits to including more plant-based sources of protein in our diets; however, it may be premature for us all to go vegan.

After writing this post, I read the review of this study on in which they address the mouse study. They also make some really good points about the protein-human study, including the fact that there’s no differentiation between protein sources beyond separating animal and plant proteins (can we really assume roast chicken is the same as beef jerky?). I highly recommend taking a look at their review.

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The cruel side of veganism


Back in February Alex Jameison (you may know her as Morgan Spurlock’s vegan girlfriend in Supersize Me) announced on her blog that she was no-longer vegan. For some reason this has just been making the headlines in the past couple of weeks, although her devotees and members of the vegan community were quick to comment. While many people have been supportive, others have been incredibly cruel; wishing cancer upon her! And that just rubs me the wrong way.

Why do we need to label our dietary practices and fit them into pretty little boxes? Why must we either be carnivores or vegans? And why must we judge each other so harshly based upon those labels?

In my mind, it’s ludicrous to attack someone for trying to be healthy and for following her biological urges to do so. I hate to break it to these people, but humans were not born to be vegans. We are omnivores by nature. This doesn’t mean that some of us can’t be healthy while subsisting on a vegan diet. But I don’t think that those of us who consume animals and their by-products should be vilified for doing what comes naturally to us.

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The problem with the growing popularity of veganism

I’m aware that many people turn to veganism due to the mistreatment of many animals on factory farms. Many of these people may also be interested in the health benefits of a primarily plant-based diet. There are also a number of people who become vegan in order to improve their health and prevent diseases.

Unfortunately, due to the increasing popularity of the vegan diet, the food industry is responding with a proliferation of vegan processed foods. Now, it’s possible that I’m wrong and the health benefits of following a vegan diet can be attributed to the discontinuation of the consumption of meat products. However, I’m pretty confident that most of the health benefits of a vegan diet can be more attributed to the consumption of whole foods and the decreased consumption of processed crap.  I suspect that as veganism becomes more mainstream there will be fewer health benefits associated with it.

If you’ve decided to follow a vegan diet I hope that you’re taking more into consideration than just the removal of animal products from your menu. Consider also what you’re putting into your body. This goes for everybody, vegan or not, the majority of your meals should come from whole foods that you’ve prepared yourself.

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Home Made Egg(less)nog

I have a confession to make. I love eggnog… In my coffee. I’m normally a black, no sugar kinda gal but now that it’s cold and December and I’m feeling ever so slightly less grinchy I’ve started spiking my morning coffee with eggnog. Oh the shame!

I was looking at the ingredient lists for commercial eggnog and it’s really not all that appealing. I think that, if I ever finish this carton, I may make a batch of my own. I’m actually a little bit grossed out by the eggs in the nog. I’m sure they add some protein, iron, and vitamin D but I thought I’d see if I could find a vegan recipe just to be completely blasphemous. I’ve no idea if these taste any good (or anything like eggnog) but I found a couple that look pretty yummy and much healthier than traditional eggnog:

Vegan Eggnog, Vegan Eggnog 2 - bonus, they’re made in the blender so no cooking!





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