It is an old myth that a diet needs to contain lots of animal products to provide enough protein and be nutritionally sound. Adding to the confusion are diet books and magazine articles that promulgate another myth—that eating more protein is weight-loss favorable and eating carbohydrates is weight-loss unfavorable. Another common misconception is the notion that you need to maintain a fixed ratio (percentage) of fat, carbohydrate, and protein. There also are plenty of self-appointed experts ready to tell you that the ideal diet should be based on your heritage, skin tone, eye color, blood type, or the spelling of your mother’s maiden name. Some recommend high-protein, others low-protein; some recommend very low-fat diets; others recommend much higher levels of fat. But regulating the macronutrient content of a diet is not the critical factor you should be concerned with, and here’s why.
If you are overweight, you consumed more calories than you have utilized. Micromanaging the percent of fat, protein, or carbohydrate isn’t going to change the amount of calories very much. You need to consume fewer calories. Therefore, almost all overweight individuals need to consume less of all the macronutrients—less protein, less fat, and less carbohydrate. These are the source of all calories. Don’t worry about not consuming enough of these. Unless you are anorexic, it is very rare to find an American who is deficient in fat, protein, or carbohydrates.
There is protein in all foods, ESPECIALLY VEGETABLES, not just in animal products. The fact is, protein deficiency is not a concern for anyone in the developed world. It is almost impossible to consume too little protein, no matter what you eat unless your diet is significantly deficient in overall calories. If it is, you’ll deficient in other nutrients as well.
It is a big mistake to put emphasis on trying to get enough of something (protein) you are undoubtedly getting too much of it in the first place. Hundreds of studies show that as protein consumption goes up, so does the incidence of chronic diseases. Is protein bad for us? No, incidence of chronic diseases goes up when you increase the consumption of carbohydrates and fat, too.1 Most Americans simply don’t need to increase eating any macronutrients. Increasing the consumption of protein (or fat or carbohydrates) is good if you need more calories because you are anorexic or are chronically malnourished, like a starving person in a troubled area of the world. But it is bad if you are already getting too much. If any of these nutrients exceed our basic requirements, the excess is harmful. Americans already get too much protein, and it iss hurting us.2
The problem is that people in modern societies like the United States eat diets that are deficient in micronutrients.
1. Roth GS; Ingram DK; Black A; Lane MA. “Effects of reduced energy intake on the biology of aging: the primate model.” Eur J Clin Nutr 2000;54 Suppl 3: S15-20.
2. Kelemen LE; Kushi; Jacobs DR; Cerhan JF. “Associations of dietary protein with disease and mortality in a prospective study of postmenopausal women.” Am J Epidemiol 2005; 161(3):239-49.