The word protein stems from the Greek word Proteos, which means “first one” or “most important.”
Protein makes up our enzymes, hormones, antibodies, and, of course, our muscles.
We would not be able to survive without protein.
Protein satiates us and helps to control blood sugar.
And it does a whole lot more.
Let’s discuss what a protein really is, why protein is essential, and the different sources.
Building Up A Protein
An easy way to understand what a protein actually is, is to picture 20 pearls lined up next to each
other. Each pearl represents a separate amino acid, or building block of a protein molecule.
If we take these pearls and string them together so that they’re connected, we’ll have a string of amino acids, otherwise known as a peptide.
We can say that this peptide is a pearl necklace. If we take four necklaces (peptides) and roll them all together into a tangled mesh, similar to how headphones get tangled together in your pocket, we have a polypeptide (poly means many and peptide is a string of amino acids). This is a protein molecule. In the body, these polypeptides (four pearl necklaces) get broken apart to make single peptides (single necklaces), similar to you untangling the headphones in your pocket. Then each peptide (necklace) gets broken down further into shorter chains of amino acids. You can imagine someone cutting the pearl necklace into a few different sections. The final step of protein digestion is to break down these small peptides into their individual amino acids (the individual pearls) and absorb them in the intestines.
Almost all of the digestion of protein happens in the stomach with stomach acid HCl and protease enzymes and gastric juices. Many, many people are deficient in HCl, or stomach acid. If you believe you have a hard time digesting protein, you may want to try the HCl challenge and see if that helps.
Amino Acids: The Building Blocks Of Proteins
There are 23 amino acids that are standard in human nutrition. Nine of those amino acids are essential, meaning we cannot synthesize them and, therefore, must obtain them from our diet. When a food contains all nine essential amino acids it is called a complete protein. Almost all animal flesh tends to be complete protein sources. Most plants don’t contain all nine essential amino acids and, therefore, are not complete proteins. Plants do, however, have varying degrees of different types of amino acids, which when eaten within 24 hours, combine in your body and fulfill your protein requirements. There used to be a now debunked myth that you needed to combine different plants in one meal for it to be a complete protein. As long as you eat different plants that contain all of the essential amino acids as a whole, within 24 hours, it acts like complete proteins.
High Quality Plant Protein Sources:
Sources of high quality plant protein are nuts, seeds, sprouts, sea vegetables, spinach, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and asparagus. Since most vegetables don’t contain all nine essential amino acids, we need to have a variety of them so that we obtain all of our requirements. Protein deficiency isn’t really a problem, so that’s not something to necessarily worry about.
You can also eat hemp seeds or take a high quality protein powder such as hemp protein since the hemp plant contains every nutritionally important protein, including all nine essential amino acids. Chlorella and spirulina are two sea-based algae that contain all nine essential amino acids as well. There are chlorella tablets that can be great for athletes to get in more protein while also supporting detoxification. Taking a high quality sprouted vegetable protein powder can also be useful for those who don’t eat meat, especially if they are highly active. All of these options are great pre- and post-workouts. I do not recommend whey protein for those with acne because whey comes from dairy and there is almost irrefutable evidence that dairy exacerbates acne.
Another note about working out: I don’t think that it is in our best interest to drink protein shakes or eat gigantic meals immediately post workout – within 15 minutes – because our bodies are still in the sympathetic dominant mode immediately following a workout. It’s best to eat when we are relaxed, in a parasympathetic (rest and digest) mode to eat. It’s best to eat when we’re relaxed so we can focus on our food and our digestion works better. Remember, it’s not just what you eat, it’s how you eat that counts too.
Whether or not to consume meat is a huge controversy, and ultimately it’s your choice. Personally, I eat meat for a few reasons. The main reason is that it agrees with my body. Plants contain much more fiber than animals (which contain virtually zero fiber). Fiber helps move things through the gut. Most people need more fiber, but personally, due to a IBD, more fiber doesn’t sit as well for me as others. Perhaps in the future this will change. For you it’s probably different.
It’s important to remember that our bodies, our diets, and most other things are in a state of flux. For instance, you might be vegan in the summer and a meat eater in the winter, or eat tropically when in Costa Rica on vacation but more animals in New York when it’s 30 degrees in the winter. Much of your diet is predicated on where you live and your goals. For acne, less animal food and more plant food tends to be the general consensus as well as the scientific consensus on how to heal it the best, as there is less insulin and igf-1 released with healthy plant foods such as green leafy vegetables.
If you are vegan, making sure you are supplementing correctly (b12, iron and omega 3 are the biggest ones) and getting tests done annually is important. In fact, it’s important to do that no matter what you eat.
Is It Possible To Get 100% Of Your Protein From Plants?
In short, yes.
In long, yes, but only if (1) your constitution can digest and process plants effectively enough and (2) you are eating and supplementing correctly.
A common misconception is that you can only get protein from meat and animal sources. This is utter and complete nonsense. Humans can get 100 percent of their protein needs met from plant sources. This is coming from someone who loves meat products and promotes their inclusion in the diet. The fact that there are thousands of healthy vegans proves that our protein needs can be met with nothing more than fruits, vegetables, sprouts, nuts and seeds, beans and grains. However, as previously mentioned, other nutrient deficiencies may become prevalent in a plant-only diet without supplementation, such as vitamin B12. Ironically enough, B12 has been linked to acne.
Excessive b12, when combined with p. acne cultures in vitro, promoted the production of porphyrins, which have been shown to induce inflammation in acne. This may be a factor in why whole food vegan diets tend to create clearer skin in many people. The problem with that is that down the road, many more imbalances can arise.
In the early days of researching health and nutrition, I was heavily leaning towards a plant-based, raw food type of lifestyle, because that is what the “gurus” told me I should do. Then, with more research, I started meeting people who used to be vegans and switched to paleo diets because their hair was falling out, their digestion wasn’t good, they had cavities, hypothyroidism and other health complaints.
After switching to a paleo diet, I noticed that my digestive issues got better (less gas and going less often) and I was satiated after eating, didn’t have to snack all day, and was able to put on weight. I believe that the most optimal diet is a plant heavy paleo diet that you design to fit your unique needs and food sensitivities. By eating ample amounts of plants, you’ll be able to obtain the fiber and phytochemicals and antioxidants needed to help combat acne.
The fact that I wanted to gain weight definitely had an impact on my decision to include meat in my diet. Meat is a source of protein that will provide more calories and building blocks with less quantity. It is much easier to gain weight while consuming meat products due to their caloric density. Also, no culture in the history of the world has ever been a strictly vegan society. Some cultures had larger consumptions of meat and some had less, but every society that has been studied has at least some form of animal in their diet. Many people lose too much weight when going vegan. That is what happened with me, and is a large reason why I eat meat.
While there are many benefits to meat, there are just as many drawbacks, and you have to be very wise with your meat choices.
The Problems With Meat
Meat comes with its set of problems. From uric acid and carcinogens to hormones and antibiotics, meats can be extremely damaging if they aren’t of high quality. To me, comparing a chicken raised in a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) to a pasture-raised chicken running free on a farm is equivalent to comparing a broken down car to a jet airplane. I was originally going to compare the broken down car to a Ferrari but pasture-raised chickens are so different than chickens from CAFOs that I don’t even consider them the same type of food. In case you aren’t familiar with CAFOs, they are giant warehouses filled with animals that are packed together so tight they can hardly move. Chickens are in cages just bigger than the size of their body from the day they’re born till the day they’re killed. Animals in CAFOs don’t get to see sunlight. They’re tortured and fed hormones and antibiotics so they don’t die from the copious amounts of bacteria that swarm the facilities. We should never eat animals that come from CAFOs.
Some brands that create animal products from CAFOs include Tyson and Purdue. Nearly all restaurants serve this type of animal meat to cut costs. Some paleo advocates say that it’s better to eat conventional animal products than to compromise your digestion with grains. That’s an issue that only you can decide. I am lucky to be able to afford grass fed, wild and pasture raised animal products. Most of the money I make goes towards food because I want quality food to nourish my body. Remember that just 30 years ago we spent more than double the amount of our income on food than compared to what we spend on food today. And healthcare costs were half of what they are today. Prioritize.
Eating conventional animal products from CAFOs is like driving in a broken down car… They are unsafe and detrimental to our health. At any moment, the car’s tires could fly off or the thing could just crash, causing massive harm to your body. At any moment, the antibiotics and hormones and acids in the CAFO meat can tip the scale of health in your body and cause harm.
Real food prepared in traditional ways is health promoting and we should only eat real foods. Our health and happiness is greatly improved with real food and so is the health and happiness of the animals and the world at large. I try to never consume animal products that are not high quality.
The Other (Spiritual) Side Of What We Eat
On a more spiritual note, we absorb not just the nutrients from the foods we eat, but the energy of the food. The animals in large scale farms have cortisol running through their veins. They’re scared, deprived of love, and because of the way they are treated, have a much lower energy to them. This energy can transfer into us when we eat them, so eating animal products that come from large scale slaughterhouses is something that I would never recommend if we want to live our best lives. If getting high quality animal products isn’t possible (I don’t see how that’s possible given it’s 2016 and you can get wild fish almost anywhere), then it may be better to stick to sprouts, vegetables, chlorella, spirulina, organic vegan protein powders and nuts and seeds as your protein sources rather than eating animals that come from farming practices like CAFOs.
Some might think finding quality meats is hard. I assure you, it’s not. You can probably find a local farmer somewhere near you to get grass-fed meat products (check out localharvest.org for local farmer’s markets). Wild fish are available at almost all grocery stores now as well. And if you can’t find any local sources of high quality meats, there’s Vital Choice Seafood and U.S. Wellness Meats that deliver nationwide.
I personally get my meat from different websites, local farms, and even Amish farms in Pennsylvania and have them ship it down to me in Florida. This might be the extent that you have to go to in order to get high quality meat. You can go to localharvest.org or realmilk.com to find farms that sell real food. Realmilk.com is mostly for dairy farmers, but there are farmers on there that sell other things as well. U.S. Wellness Meats and tropicaltraditions.com both provide high quality animal products. You can check out more resources on the resource page of clearnutrition.net here.
Should People With Acne Eat More Or Less Meat?
Specifically for acne (and cancer and heart disease), it’s a good idea to get more of our protein from plants and less from animal sources because meat products increase insulin-like-growth-factor-1 (IGF-1), which is a prime component in aging and the acne process. IGF-1 is a stimulator of cell growth and proliferation. Over proliferation of corneocytes (skin cells) leads to blocked pores because the shedding process of our skin can’t keep up with the formation of new skin cells. Normally IGF-1 is created in the body due to a response from increased insulin hormone, which is usually from eating refined carbohydrates or anything with sugar in it. But red meat also has the effect of raising IGF-1. This is one reason why you might hear that people with cancer should stay away from red meat. It will further propagate the proliferation of the cancer cells if you have cancer already. It won’t do this if you are healthy though. There is a lot of controversy around meat. I’m want you to understand that quality meat is not bad for you. Red meat with organs from grass-fed animals can be extremely healthy in healthy individuals and can help them to achieve their health goals.
It’s very important that I make the distinction between the different type of meat I am talking about here. At first, people believed that high protein diets cause cancer due to the elevated IGF-1 from the protein. Later, it was not the total protein that was raising IGF-1 and subsequently increasing cancer, but rather the increase in a particular amino acid called methionine that was correlated with the increase in cancer. Methionine is found primarily in lean meats, egg whites and skim milk. However, in the more gelatinous cuts of meat and the more odd parts of the animal, such as the ox tail, shanks, brisket and chicken feet (I know, not the most appealing), there is another amino acid called glycine that counterbalances the negative effects of the leaner cuts of meat. We later found out that traditional cultures (all of whom ate meat products) always ate both the leaner and the more odd bits of meat. In fact, the organ meats and fattier cuts were always preferred to the leaner cuts, which is opposite in America. Whenever you eat meat products, aim for the organs and the more odd parts of the animals. Or just eat all of it. Don’t let the other parts of the animal go to waste. Instead of getting chicken breasts, buy a whole organic chicken, eat the whole thing, and cook the leftovers in a pot with vegetables and make a soup out of it. Get as much out of what you eat as possible. When I eat red meat, which isn’t too often, I get ground meat with organs like liver added in. This way I get the benefits of the incredibly nutritious organ meats without having an overpowering taste.
- Aim to limit your animal intake.
- You may choose a vegan diet for a period of time.
- If you eat animal products, get the highest quality. Choose wild fish, pasture-raised chickens and grass-fed beef. Fish is the healthiest of the proteins.
- Make sure you aren’t eating fish high in mercury such as tuna too often.
- When eating animals, include the organs and gelatinous parts to get the greatest nutritional value.
- Make soups and broths regularly.
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