Tag Archives: nutrition

What’s the Deal with Protein?

Protein has been the buzzword in health for the last few years, emblazoned on packages, advertisements and media, it seems protein is the macronutrient that can do no wrong. Fat was previously deemed as the ‘evil’ macronutrient and now it’s carbs, but protein remains untouchable. Is there no such thing as good protein/bad protein, or having too much protein?

IMG_2187

It’s interesting how we’ve become so obsessed with needing to take in more and more protein, and also how the first question most people will ask you when they find out you are Vegan is “where do you get your protein?”. Protein deficiency in a diet that provides enough calories doesn’t exist. Simply put if we are getting enough calories, we are getting enough protein, any reasonable balanced diet will provide this, so why do people believe they need to consume massive doses of this macro-nutrient? There are rafts of people  following their “macros” with astronomically high protein amounts, those who are forcing down chicken six times a day at the request of their PT or bro-science suggestions, and there is the ever increasing market of truly bizarre protein products. Protein is a key selling point for marketing, and we lap it up. Even the “clean eaters” who avoid anything ‘processed’ and ‘refined’ tend to regularly use protein powders, which when you think about it, are actually one of the most processed foods out there. We are bombarded with messages that we need more protein, but isn’t this simply disinformation spread by those with big interests at stake?

image2

I’ve certainly been guilty in the past of eating way beyond my protein needs, trying to get as much as possible naturally and then filling it up with protein powders/bars. Is all this protein doing us any good though, or is it causing harm? I’ve just finished reading Dr. Garth Davis book ‘Proteinaholic‘ , which is an incredibly well researched and scientifically grounded look at our obsession with protein. It’s so interesting reading about how the world got gripped on protein (hello Atkins, and it’s current spin off anti-grain, low carb and Paleo movements), and debunking a lot of the dodgy and misleading information out there about protein. It’s fairly heavy on the research and science and if you want to read further into this topic I would wholly recommend it.

If we look at the RNI (reference nutrient intake) for protein, it is actually much lower than most people are aware- 0.75g of protein per kg of bodyweight – my recommended intake would be 44g of protein daily, yet I see women who are trying to get 130g+ to ‘hit their macros’. Obviously the amount for each individual would vary slightly based on age, activity etc, but not to the extent of getting over three times the RNI. There’s this belief that you can’t get too much protein, compared to the horror of horrors eating too much fat/carbs. However, there is absolutely no science to back up the view that eating high protein diets is beneficial for health. A search on Pubmed will bring up plenty of studies which suggest that high protein intake is not optimal, and in particular high animal protein intake is linked to increased cardiovascular disease risk, and risk of type 2 diabetes, amongst other chronic conditions.

image4

Protein, like fat and yes carbohydrates, is an essential macronutrient, we need it for so many things including growth and repair, and overall health maintenance, but we probably don’t need as much as we think we do. If you look at the Blue Zones- Dan Buettner’s term for his discovery of the longest lived cultures on earth- the diets of the people in these areas are the total opposite of high protein. In Okinawa for instance the majority of their traditional diet is based around purple sweet potato, making up to 60% of their caloric intake. Some of the longest lived people on earth, are surviving, and actually thriving into old age, without resorting to having to ‘get their protein’ in, or counting their macros.

IMG_0426

I’ve definitely been guilty of “needing” to use protein powders,  and I feel like it’s almost a placebo effect. I can fully understand why people like to include higher amounts of protein in their diets, it’s just where do we draw the line between optimal and detrimental. I think as long as we are eating a balanced whole foods diet, we are getting more than enough protein-yes even Vegans!- and if we start to sacrifice including things in our diet that are rich in vital nutrients like fibre and antioxidants at the expense of choking down several shakes a day, then I think that is not going to beneficial for health at all.

I’m not going to stop using protein powder/bars on occasion as I find them convenient when I’m in a rush, but I am going to be more mindful of my protein consumption, and try and keep it to whole foods as much as possible. Eat a balanced diet, and don’t worry about ‘getting enough protein’ because you more than likely already are. Don’t fall into the marketing trap of needing all those extra protein products in your life. One macronutrient isn’t the enemy, carbs aren’t the enemy, fat isn’t the enemy, and protein isn’t the enemy- but moderation is key, and it seems with protein we just might need less than we think.

Additional Resources

The Myth of High Protein Diets

Havard’s Meat & Mortality Studies

Adventist Health Study

Blue Zones

Are you concerned about the amount of protein you eat? Do you think it’s enough/not enough?

The Best Plant Based Sources of Calcium

Day to day one of the biggest concerns I hear from people thinking about going plant based, or who are already eating that way is: How am I going to get my calcium if I give up dairy?

IMG_3360I occasionally track a days intake to see where my nutrition is at, and if I’m hitting my nutrient targets- anybody eating a plant based diet should do this once in a while, as it can show you where you might need to boost things a little, and confirm that you are getting enough of other things. If I don’t plan my diet well I always seem to be lower in calcium. I don’t believe anybody should make a flippant decision to eat a certain diet as you have to really plan it properly otherwise you are likely to fall down on certain nutrients- actually I guess that’s true of any diet really, if you don’t focus on nutrient density you are likely to not be getting enough of these vital nutrients.

Anyway, back to Calcium. There are plenty of amazing plant based sources of calcium. The WHO recommends 1000mg of calcium daily. The China Study highlighted that in cultures where there is little to no dairy consumption, and calcium intakes come purely from plant based sources there is hardly any incidence of osteoporosis. It is ironic that countries with the highest dairy and animal protein intake actually have the highest rates of osteoporosis. If you are interested in this link further I would definitely check out the China Study as it inspired my switch to Veganism five years ago.

image_1

Calcium is incredibly important for bone health (as is weight bearing exercise!), it’s also vital for muscle contraction, heart health and neurological function. Calcium can be excreted at a higher rate due to high animal protein diets, smoking, caffeine, and high sodium levels, so avoid these factors if you are concerned about calcium levels. It’s also important especially for bone health to get enough Vitamin D, as it helps us absorb the calcium in the foods we eat, magnesium, vitamin K, manganese and boron are also vital.

image_1

There are many good plant based sources of calcium including:
Leafy Greens: Kale, Spinach, Collard greens, Swiss chard, broccoli
Plant Proteins: Tofu, Tempeh, Chickpeas, White beans
Grains: Quinoa, Amaranth, Corn, Wheat, Brown Rice
Nuts/Seeds: Sesame Seeds, Tahini, Chia Seeds, Almonds
Other Sources: Seaweed, Blackstrap Molasses, Oranges, Figs, Baobab.
There are also an array of fortified products like alternative milks and cereals.

IMG_1445

There is plenty of choice, so you can mix up your sources, and as long as you are having 3-4 servings of calcium rich foods a day you should be hitting your required daily intake, plus if you are getting your calcium from these sources you are also bound to be getting an array of other important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and of course phytonutrients.

Favourite Reads of the Week #2

I absolutely loved this list of 22 habits of unhappy people. I like the way it twists it and rather suggesting things to boost your happiness, it tells you to avoid the bad habits and negative shit that can bring you down.

Possible my favourite Buzzfeed ever: If Malcolm Tucker’s sweary quotes were motivational posters. Oh how I love The Thick of it.

This article on Richard Parks, his battle with depression post Rugby and how he managed to turn it round. I’ve followed his adventures for the last few years, and I think it’s incredible what he has achieved, I never knew about his struggles with depression, but I think it’s an all too common thing post professional sport career.

IMG_2650

An area of health I am massively interested in is the microbiome, I really enjoyed this piece about the dynamism of  it, and why there is no one ‘healthy’ microbiome.

I love reading anything that Liz writes, perfect for when you need a bit of a kick up the arse, or just something to really get you thinking! Really enjoyed this piece about ‘being more you’.

Definitely not paleo.

Definitely not paleo.

Interested in how to do the paleo diet as a Vegan? It’s something I’ve thought about before, but to be honest I love grains, and I think they offer way too many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to miss out on. Here is a guide on how a Vegan paleo diet can be possible.

I loved Matt Frazier’s post about how to be more fearless. I have been thinking about signing up for something for the last few weeks and it’s consumed a lot of my time and thoughts lately, and it scares the hell out of me, but I think I just need to bite the bullet and do it! Embrace the fear!

Read anything interesting this week? Share below!

Basic Nutrition for Health

I thought I would start doing a few posts on nutrition/supplements/alternative therapies and share my knowledge gained from working in the health food industry. I’ve only been working in this industry around 9 months now but I feel I’ve already learned so much and would love to share it.

Today I’m just starting off with a basic nutrition 101.

There are 5 basic nutrients required for health: Carbohydrates, Fats, Proteins, Vitamins and Minerals.

DSCF0109

Carbs

Carbohydrates seem to be the enemy in the blog world right now, with many turning to low-carbohydrate diets which I personally believe are unsustainable and not good for long term health. Carbohydrates get a bad rap but they are vital as they provide fuel for energy when digested. Carbohydrates can be broken down into two categories complex and simple.

Complex Carbohydrates are digested slowly which gives a sustained release of energy over a long period of time. Whole grains would be a perfect example of an excellent source of complex carbohydrates.

DSCF0944

Simple Carbohydrates break down quickly and provide an instant energy hit but a quick drop off in levels. These are mostly the kind of foods that tend to give carbohydrates a bad name- your processed refined white products: flour, white rice, cakes, biscuits etc. Simple carbohydrates I find are most useful shortly before or during exercise, I would usually have some dried fruit like dates which give me instant energy for my workouts.

DSCF0967

Fats

Fats are another that have got a very bad reputation over the years but are in fact vital for energy levels, skin/hair/nails, joint support, hormonal balancing and the brain. There seems to be this total phobia of fats which is extremely worrying as lack of fats in your diet can cause a lot of health problems down the road.

DSCF1002

Good fats are mainly poly-unsaturated and are found in things like flax oils, avocados, nuts and seeds. Coconut products although a saturated fat are slightly different in that the body processes them directly for energy so they are a good fat source also.

DSCF1139

Protein

Protein is made up of amino acids, when we digest protein we change it back into its amino acid compounds. Protein is vital for the body for growth and repair. Literally every part of us is made of protein- the hair, blood, hormones, muscles, skin and internal organs! Good sources are nuts, beans, legumes, whole grains, seeds and soya products. I personally love to use Sunwarrior or Vega protein powders after exercise as I can get my protein in quickly post workout for repair.

DSCF1130

Vitamins

Vitamins are organic compounds found in foods and are vital for life and essential for healthy digestion and the absorption and utilisation of food. A deficiency of them can cause certain diseases. I will take a look at them more in depth in another post.

Arm workout!

Minerals

Minerals are inorganic substances and are essential for body structures like the bones and the teeth. They also help with enzyme processes and chemical reactions in the body. Again I will look at these in more depth another week.

DSCF1121

So that’s just a really basic introduction to nutrition, for me a healthy balanced diet is made up of all of the above and a well planned whole food plant based provides all of the above in abundance.