Tag Archives: protein

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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

Plant Based Sports Nutrition- The Basics

Sports nutrition basically is the supplementation of your additional diet with special products to ensure that physically active people are meeting the extra demands placed on their body by exercise.

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Regularly taking part in strenuous exercise increases your body’s requirements for all the basic nutrients- carbohydrates, fats, proteins as well as vitamins minerals and enzymes. People who take part in exercise regularly have much higher demands in terms of nutrients than the average persons. Hence why when the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of certain vitamins and minerals are discussed this is actually a minimum you should be getting, and active people will have much higher requirements than these numbers.

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Carbohydrates are the best fuel for energy production. They can be stored in the body as glycogen in the muscles and liver and they act as a ready available source of energy for the body during strenuous exercise. As I talked about in the previous post, there are two types. Simple carbohydrates like dried fruit such as dates and figs are great for an instant energy boost. I used those fruit leather type bars during marathon training runs as they gave me an instant hit of energy. Complex carbohydrates give a sustained energy release, things like oatmeal the morning before a longer run provide a slow release to get you through your workout. I know that if I don’t eat enough carbohydrates my energy levels are very low and I struggle through workouts.

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Protein is made up of amino acids and serves to build and repair the muscles. When we exercise the muscle must begin to break down (catabolic phase) before we can build it up (anabolic phase). Protein is essential for this building phase, and if we are lacking in protein it can cause muscle breakdown. Well planned diets (even vegan ones-surprise!) make it easy to get good amounts of protein in. Plant based sources like beans, legumes, pseudograins, nuts and seeds provide really good amounts of protein.

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Fats are also a good source of stored energy. Essential fatty acids (the good fats that our bodies need!) help with inflammation (particularly good for the joints- especially if you are a runner!) as well as helping to metabolise fats for energy. That’s right EFA’s like coconut oil actually help you to burn fat! I like to get my good fats from nuts, seeds, avocado’s, coconut products and omega oils. I used Viridian’s joint oil during marathon training, it’s a blend of seed oils as well as anti-inflammatory spices like ginger, turmeric and chillies, and antioxidants like raspberry, cranberry and pomegranate. It was absolutely amazing as I started taking it when I had really bad knee pain and it cleared it up within days!

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I personally like to use a protein powder supplement after working out just as I find it easier that way to get in high amounts of protein, as I never like eating too big a meal straight after a workout. Whey protein is considered to be the most nutritionally complete protein, but some people do find it difficult to tolerate on the digestive system and it can cause problems like bloating.

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As a vegan I use plant based proteins like Sunwarrior’s brown rice or warrior blend proteins. They contain all the essential amino acids, and are easy to digest. Amino acids like L-glutamine are essential post workout as the body becomes seriously depleted during strenuous exercise and a standard diet is unlikely to provide high enough amounts to replenish the body’s stores. I like to make a green smoothie with a scoop or two of plant protein after exercise. Protein is generally taken after exercise to repair the muscles, although there is a lot of thought about the benefits of taking it before/after workouts.

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I also like to use green foods like spirulina, chlorella and wheatgrass, they are great sources of natural plant based vitamins and minerals including the B vitamins which are great for energy levels. Wheatgrass contains all the essential amino acids and spirulina is a source of plant based iron and protein. Spirulina is 60-70% protein (more than 300 times that of fish) and 58 times richer in iron than spinach! Runners, especially females tend to have much lower iron stores than the general population so it is quite important to get adequate amounts. Iron is essential for energy production and metabolism. I have also just started using Sunwarrior’s activated barley which is said to be great for energy levels, so I will let you know how I get on with that.

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Another important mineral that pretty much every member of the population is lacking in is magnesium, it is vital for energy production and a deficiency can cause chronic fatigue and cramping. Leafy greens like kale are good sources of magnesium as well as nuts and seeds. Coconut water is also a good source during exercise but only if the duration is less than an hour, anything higher than that requires something with more sodium such as Viridians Sports Electrolyte fix. I love to use that product during and after a particularly tough workout as it a great natural source of the minerals (magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride) that we lose in sweat, it’s very important to replace these as otherwise it can lead to dehydration.

Other supplements I take that are related to sports are Rhodiola Rosea which is an adatogenic herb supporting the adrenal glands which can become stressed in those who do a lot of exercise leading to adrenal fatigue. I also take maca for it’s energy benefits as well as it’s nourishing effect on the adrenal glands.

Sports nutrition is a vast subject which I’ve just begun to scrape the surface of, but I hope this is of some benefit to anyone out there doing a little or a lot of exercise. Although we all think we eat the perfect healthy balanced diet, the truth is that our demand for nutrients can be a lot higher if we are active, and with high pressure lifestyles and produce lacking the vitamins and minerals it once did, supplementation becomes increasingly important. Supplementation should never be in place of a healthy diet, but just a way to top up on your levels of certain things in order to meet your body’s increased energy demands.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Quinoa Controversy

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Quinoa-the mother grain-the little white fluffy Andean pseudo-grain that we have all come to know and love over the last few years. I’m a huge fan of quinoa and have been ever since I lived off plenty of it when travelling in South America in 2009. We all know quinoa’s upsides- packed with protein and b-vitamins, a great source of iron and potassium, it has become a staple for many. I personally use it almost every day, whether in salads, soups, porridge or snack bars. Lately there has been some evidence that our demand in the Western world is having a very negative impact on the countries whose staple grain it has been for centuries.

This article appeared in the Guardian last week and on first read of the first few paragraphs I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Our appetite for the mother grain has grown so much that it has more than tripled prices, as a result the poorer sections of places like Bolivia and Peru-whose people rely on quinoa as their staple grain-can no longer afford the grain, and as a result are choosing cheaper junk food alternatives, which is incredibly sad.

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Although the article did trouble me, as I read deeper I became disillusioned with the tone and the direction of the article. Aside from it’s ridiculous attention grabbing headline: ‘Can Vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa’, the article also goes on to suggest that all the essential amino acids are very difficult to find in a veggie diet- really? Didn’t the protein argument die in like 1974? It also suggests that it is Vegans high demand for soya (really? I barely eat soya) that is causing incredible rainforest and environmental destruction. It further suggests that meat and dairy eaters diets are much better environmentally because Britain produces abundant amounts of those, suggesting that vegetarians/vegans food miles are extremely high as they rely on exotic products from faraway places…

I could not believe my eyes when I read the article, it’s so incredibly poorly researched and written. The writer did not even clear up about the soya production until a day or two later, when in a footnote she makes reference to the fact that actually the majority of soya production and thus rainforest production is down to soya grown for cattle feed not for vegans to eat!!

Also I think it’s ridiculous to blame us vegans for pushing up the price of quinoa, we make up probably 1-2 percent of the world population, so if it was just us eating quinoa then I don’t think there would be such a problem. The problem in my opinion is down to more publicity and highlighting of the benefits of the pseudo-grain and lack of control and restriction over exports from places like Peru and Bolivia. I work in the health food industry and I can say from personal experience that quinoa has shot up in popularity of late but it certainly isn’t just vegans or even just veggies buying quinoa.

Although I do to some extent rely on products from other countries, I also try to buy locally and in season, which I will continue to try and increase as I am aware of food mileage. However I don’t believe that a vegans food mileage would cause anywhere near as much environmental destruction as that of a meat eaters diet.

I admit it is sad what has happened to the price of quinoa and it’s effect in Latin America and clearly we need to look at solutions. The Guardian article is so poorly researched and written that it was almost a vitriolic attack on vegans. What’s more annoying is that most people won’t even read the entirety of the article or the footnote and thus it adds to the cluelessness of the majority of the population about nutrition.

What are your thoughts on the quinoa controversy?

Are you conscious of your diets effect on the environment?

Good Hemp Fit Shake Review

I have become an avid user of protein powders since becoming a vegan and exercising a lot more. Even though I don’t believe the myths about the high amount of protein required in the modern day diet, I do definitely feel less sore after a hard work out if I incorporate more protein into my diet. I love to up my daily protein intake by making a big protein powder based smoothie, or even adding a spoon to thicken my morning oatmeal. I am a huge fan of the Pulsin Pea Protein Powder, and I tend to stick to this type of protein.

Last week I received a free sample of Good Hemp’s Fit Shake and couldn’t wait to try it out. This was my first taste of hemp protein, but I would probably use it again. The Fit Shake comes in a strawberry flavour, which mixed really well into a green smoothie with banana, giving it a lovely flavour and texture. It didn’t taste chalky and in fact you could barely taste the protein powder at all. It also contains green tea, and although I am not a fan of sweeteners, it is sweetened with xylitol. This powder also has a higher ratio of carbs to protein than my usual powder which makes it ideal for a post workout recovery shake.

I mixed my fit shake sample into a green smoothie along with coconut milk, frozen banana and kale and it came out really well:

Overall I really like the good hemp fit shake, although I would probably go for just their plain protein powder next time rather than flavoured. It had a great taste and texture and mixed perfectly into my smoothie.

You can find good hemp’s fit shake and other awesome products at their new website.

Have you tried good hemp’s protein powders?

What is your favourite protein powder?

How do you use your protein powder?