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Protein – Facts and Myths: Part 2


Q1: Can plant based foods meet the protein needs of growing children?

It’s an important question and there is a lot of genuine anxiety amongst parents who want to make sure that their kids get enough protein to support their growth and activity levels. Certainly, no parent would want their kids growth to be stunted. It’s this anxiety that is leading a lot of well-intentioned parents, including some who have adopted plant based diets, to feed eggs and milk to their kids, assuming that without these extra proteins their growth will be affected. Let’s address this issue in some detail and examine the facts

Seeds of chronic diseases are sown early

It’s widely prevalent belief that excess fat and protein does not matter for kids and is in fact good for them. What’s the reality?

Heart disease

Take the case of heart disease; the symptoms of heart disease like angina, heart attack, etc. may start appearing in the 60s (though this is changing fast and nowadays its common to find these symptoms by 50s or even 40s in many people).

But how and when did that 40-50-60 year old person develop heart disease? Did it happen overnight?

The fact is that the disease has been developing in them for a long time, for decades in fact. Autopsies done on childhood accident victims show the earliest stages of heart disease, called fatty streaks, can be seen as young as 3 years old.By 10 years old, 100% of kids on a standard western diet have these fatty streaks. Autopsy studies done on healthy young soldiers have found that by their early twenties, 77% had fully formed plaques, some with vessels up to 90% blocked. These plaques progress through their 30-40’s, and by the time the outward symptoms of heart disease appear in their 50s and 60s, the disease is well established.

Cancer

In the case of cancer, we know for a fact that the healthier we eat as children, the lower is our risk for developing cancer when we grow up. The less fruit-vegetables-other plant-based whole food and more meat-eggs-milk-processed foods a child consumes, the higher is its cancer risk as it grows up. Similarly higher weight in childhood, along with faster growth and earlier puberty, are also strongly linked to increased cancer risk, especially for the reproductive cancers like breast, ovarian and prostate.

Diabetes & Obesity

Type 2 diabetes is no longer just an adult disease. Kids as young as 8 years old are getting type 2 diabetes and the rise of diabetes in children parallels the rise of obesity in them. Obese kids tend to become obese adults. And unfortunately, even if they do lose weight later, the risks inherited from their childhood obesity can’t be fully undone. Studies show that obese teens have double the risk of death from heart disease and cancer at age 70 compared to their peers even when they’ve lost that weight as adults.

And it doesn’t stop there

In addition to the increased risk of these adult diseases, childhood nutrition also plays a huge role in pediatric diseases like asthma, allergies, chronic constipation, acne, migraines, recurrent upper respiratory tract and ear infections, and even ADHD. Asthma is the #1 chronic child disease affecting 10% of the kids in the US. Worldwide it ranges from less than 1% to more than 40%! This wide disparity is mainly due to environmental differences and studies have found that the most significant difference is diet. The more plant-based diet kids eat, the less asthma they get! Even adding just 1-2 servings of fruits and veggies a day results in a measurable improvement in lung function.

When it comes to nutrition, kids are just young humans.

They are not an entirely different species that needs a different energy source!

Protein needs of kids

For protein, the accepted RDA for adults is about 0.8g/kg of body weight. However, the protein needs peak during the toddler years and again during puberty at 1.2g/kg.

Protein needs are especially high for teenage athletes, up to 1.5g/kg. This is the only group of kids that need special attention to make sure they get enough protein in their diet. But this is relative, as these teenage athletes need more of everything, including total calories.

So, even at highest protein needs of 1.5g/kg, that’s still only about 14% of calories coming from protein. That’s still far LESS than what an average child gets on a modern standard western diet and well within the range readily available from plant based whole foods.

How do we ensure our kids get enough protein?

It should also be noted that kids have smaller stomachs and higher need for calories relative to body weight. As plant-based foods are high in fibre and have lower calorie density, the calorie intake for such kids needs greater attention. Hence, it’s important for kids to include calorie dense foods like nuts, seeds, avocado, whole grains, starchy vegetables, pulses-beans-lentils, and dried fruits as part of their meal, more so than adults.

So to conclude plant based whole foods can most certainly meet our kid’s caloric needs in general and protein needs in particular, provided we take proper care to include good mix of calorie dense and protein rich plant foods like the ones mentioned above, without resorting to feeding them with either eggs-milk or protein supplements, both of which could cause them more harm than any good in the long run.

Q2: Quality of protein – Are animal protein superior to plant protein?

This brings me to another important topic; Whether animal proteins (meat/fish/eggs/milk proteins) are superior to plant proteins and hence intrinsically advantageous to us?

Yes, they do have higher biological value

Animal-based proteins have an amino acid composition similar to the amino acid profiles of the proteins that we need to have synthesized.

Hence, it’s a fact that they are utilised more efficiently by our body and hence have a higher biological value. This applies to proteins derived from all animal sources whether meat, fish, eggs or milk.

Is higher biological value a sign of superiority?

Proteins with higher biological value are more efficiently utilized in terms of normal cell division and body growth rate.But this also efficiently promotes undesirable growth (e.g cancer cells and atherogenic tissue).

Thus, for example it is proven beyond doubt that Albumin (the egg protein) and Casein (the milk protein), considered the most efficient, also simulate production of more Insulin Like Growth Factor (IGF-1), a hormone now strongly associated with higher cancer growth rates.

Further, the animal-based proteins also lead to faster growth rate, because of their higher biological value, which in turn triggers earlier menarche in women and more breast cancer, as earlier menarche and later menopause means more reproductive cycles and more exposure to higher levels of estrogen, strongly linked to higher rates of breast cancer.

Hence higher biological value does not automatically mean better for our health. On the contrary the opposite seems to be true. Plant proteins on the other hand with lower biological value support our required growth and body function without leading to any of the adverse effects associated with animal protein.

Further animals are shot full of steroids and growth hormones to make them grow bigger faster for slaughter. When we ingest their meat or consume their eggs-milk, we are in effect ingesting these steroids and/or growth hormones, which may stimulate our muscle growth as also cancer & acne growth.

Q3: Is protein supplementing needed?

Widely promoted by the – multibillion dollar, rapidly growing – supplement industry, supplements have become a modern fad amongst the educated affluent section of the society. People swallow a lot of supplements, including protein ones, expecting these will create good health.

As we have seen already a diverse plant based whole food diet automatically provides all the nutritional needs of our body, including the protein needs, whether in kids or adults. We do not need any extra protein added to it as protein supplements.

Studies show that increasing protein intake not only doesn’t help but can be harmful. E.g. high protein diets provide insufficient carbohydrates to replenish the muscle glycogen and result in fluid imbalances and dehydration.

Most importantly eating high levels of any type of extracted protein, whether it comes from animals or plants, is harmful. Once you take any food and extract the protein, you are turning a food into a drug, and once this is done, there is the potential for harm without any evidence of benefit.

For example, studies have shown that isolated soy protein actually increases insulin-like growth factor or IGF-1 more than dairy protein. But when you consume soy as a whole this does not happen.

In Conclusion

Plant based whole foods are the best source of wholesome nutrition. They provide all the nutrients we need, including protein, to support all-round health and well-being be it in adults or children. We do not need to do either calorie counting or micro management of our diet o supplementing, to achieve this. Nature has designed them as such.

All we need to do is consume a diverse plant based whole food diet and health automatically follows.

Source: Dr. T.Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies


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