Keto Veto Part 2: Protein ProtestMar 13, 2019
Anyone trying to shed pounds, build muscle or just get healthy has been taught to focus on their protein intake. Go into any grocery store and the large majority of “health” food you see has packaging that includes the words “high-protein.”
In 2017, there were 64 million Google searches for “protein.” Of all food-related google searches in 2018, keto recipes were 4 of the top 10. Your doctor will ask you, “are you getting enough protein.” And us plant powered folks are often asked the same question by our meat-eating comrades. Protein is the only thing that can drive folks to drink a beige, oddly flavored, grainy sludge and call it breakfast or lunch.
Let’s face it ya’ll we’re obsessed with protein. But is it necessary?
Last week I wrote about the recent (and not so recent) trend of deeming all carbs bad and why we shouldn’t. In case you haven’t read it, here’s the cliff notes version. Calories come in three forms: carbohydrates, protein and fat. Our bodies need all three to function properly. The truth is that carbs, proteins and fat aren’t the issue. It’s the type of carbs, proteins and fat that we consume that are problematic for us.
Eliminating carbs isn’t necessary. Simply eat complex carbs (like beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables) and avoid simple carbs (soda, corn syrup, white sugar) and you’re good.
But instead of promoting a balanced diet, keto’s life blood is eating a severely low-carb, high protein diet. And therein lies the rub. A troubling side effect of ruling out one of the three forms of calories is an over dependence on another. In keto’s case it’s protein – more specifically animal protein.
Eating fast food helps you lose weight now?
Last week I ran across something on Pinterest that blew my mind. It was a guide on what to order at a fast food restaurant if you’re on the keto diet. Some of the items listed were:
- Wendy’s: Son of a Baconator (no bun)
- McDonald’s: Big Mac (no bun)
- Burger King: Double Quarter pounder (no bun)
Sooooo, just the bun on the Big Mac or Whopper is what makes it horrible?? The logic behind this baffles me. I’ll be talking about fat next week, so I won’t get into it here (but c’mon!).
The thought process that protein is lacking in our diets so severely that ingesting it in even the worst possible form outweighs the potential negative side effects is just…wrong. Yes, you can eat bacon cheeseburgers without the bun from Sonic every day on the Keto diet and possibly still lose weight. But should you?
There are so many health reasons the answer to the question is a resounding no. Cardiovascular health is a big one. But high animal protein intake can also have a huge influence on normal kidney function by inducing a state called hyperfiltration. Hyperfiltration is basically a dramatic increase in the workload of the kidney. To understand why this matters…
Let’s go way back,
back into time.
Let’s take a trip back to the hunting and scavenging days. Back then on occasion we consumed a large amount of meat at one time. Whatever we hunted and caught, we ate. But you can’t catch a buffalo everyday so there were extended periods of time when no meat was consumed and we lived off of plants. Over time our bodies evolved the capacity to handle occasional large doses of protein.
But now, many of us are consuming large amounts of animal protein every single day. As time goes on, this continued increased workload causes declined kidney function. Today about 1 in 8 Americans has chronic kidney disease (and most don’t even know it). The amount of animal protein we’re consuming is largely to blame. Super high animal protein diets like keto are doing more long term damage than short term good.
*Of course, I have to note here that the kidney damaging effect is only seen with animal protein. Protein from plants doesn’t appear to have the same negative impact (message!).
You’re getting (more than) enough protein
Despite the protein hysteria, it’s actually extremely rare for people who are healthy and eating a varied diet NOT to get enough protein. The recommended amount of protein a day for someone my age, weight and height is about 46 - 71 grams depending on my activity level. For men its 56 - 91 grams per day.
On an average weekday, my meals look something like this:
Breakfast: steel cut oats made with almond milk, berries, walnuts, date honey and flax seed (about 10g of protein)
Lunch: Big green salad or roasted veggies with quinoa and a cup of lentil soup (about 15g of protein)
Snack: Hummus with hemp seeds, carrots and pretzels (about 10g of protein)
Dinner: Roasted zucchini and corn tacos with black beans and guacamole (about 23g of protein…recipe below!)
Snack: Dark chocolate and popcorn (about 5g of protein)
At the end of the day, that’s about 63 grams of protein. I’m well in the recommended range without any animal protein. If I can get to the recommended daily value of protein just eating plants, anyone eating meat and/or dairy should have zero problem getting the proper protein intake. The protein craze encouraged by the keto diet isn’t healthy or warranted.
Bringing it home
When it comes to protein the focus should be quality over quantity. You’re most likely not protein deficient so the focus should be on eating clean, quality protein which is readily available in plants. It’s much healthier than animal protein. But if you can’t give up animal products, choose:
- Grass-fed, organic, antibiotic-free meat and dairy products and pasture-raised chicken and eggs
- Wild-caught fish and seafood
- Avoid processed meats including hot dogs, salami, bologna, bacon, ham, etc
Let’s cut the carb contempt and protest the protein mania. Carbs are not your enemy. Protein is not your savior.
New Recipe! – Roasted corn, zucchini and black bean tacos
Ingredients (6 servings)
- 2 medium zucchini
- 8 oz frozen corn
- 1 Tbsp chili powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp oregano
- ½ – 1 tsp salt (according to taste)
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 15 oz can black beans
- 12 small corn tortillas
- ¼ bunch cilantro (optional garnish)
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the zucchini into a very small dice, just slightly larger than the pieces of corn. Combine the diced zucchini, corn, olive oil and seasoning in a bowl. Stir until everything is combined and coated in oil and seasoning.
- For quick cleanup, cover your baking sheet in foil. Spread the zucchini and corn mixture on the sheet pan. Cook in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes (this make take longer depending on the size you diced the zucchini).
- While the the zucchini and corn is in the oven, drain and rinse the black beans. Drain them well after rinsing.
- When the vegetables are cooked, mix in the drained black beans. Season with salt to taste.
- Toast the corn tortillas in a dry skillet. Top with a scoop of the vegetable/bean mixture. Add guacamole and cilantro as garnish. I also like to top with salsa verde and Cholula.
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