Are we eating too much protein?

Not a subject I usually think about, but in relation to the 5:2 way of eating, I was reading that Prof. Longo recommended to Michael Mosely that we should eat no more than 8g per kg body weight of protein from largely plant-based sources.

So how much protein do we eat, and where does it come from?

Since I’ve been logging everything I eat for the last 2 months (on MyFitnessPal), I now have some data to observe. On our 5:2 Fast Days, even when we have a protein rich breakfast and a protein and veggie dinner, I am well within the guidelines. But on normal days, even though my overall intake is usually no more than 1200 calories (perhaps because I am not having so much carbohydrate and fat), the amount of protein varies from around 40g to 60g or more. The majority of the protein I eat comes from meat, fish, eggs and dairy produce. Legumes (lentils, beans) and nuts also account for some  – and a surprising additional amount is contained in many vegetables and grains.

A little digging soon revealed that it is not just Prog. Longo recommending a lower intake.  The UK recommended daily allowance for women is 46g /day and for men 55g/day. The WHO recommended RDA of protein is just 35 grams a day (and that has an added safety margin included).

Most of us think of protein as healthy, filling, and useful to the body, supporting growth and keeping the immune system strong. So what’s the problem?

I dug out my copy of Patrick Holford’s Optimum Nutrition Bible: He says “Most people are in more danger of eating too much protein than too little. Excess protein is a contributor to osteoporosis, over-acidity and many other common health problems”.

Then on livestrong.com I read the following:

Protein and Kidney Disease

..”high-protein diets may be associated with kidney function decline in women who already have mildly reduced kidney function. On further analysis, the risk was only significant for animal proteins, indicating that the source of protein may be an important factor.” .. The American Diabetes Association suggests that people with diabetes — the number one cause of kidney disease — consume no more than 20 percent of their calories from protein.

 

Protein and Coronary Artery Disease

The American Heart Association, or AHA, notes that high-protein diets de-emphasize high-fiber, plant-based carbohydrates that help your body block the absorption of cholesterol…. It is possible to follow a high-protein diet and not increase your risk of heart disease if your protein comes from plant-based sources such as legumes, soy and nuts…

 

Other Dangers

Other health concerns are associated with a high-protein diet, including an increase in blood pressure and a risk of fractures due to osteoporosis. In addition.. “eating a diet high in protein and sodium but low in fiber” increases your risk of kidney stones. ..

What seems clear to me is that I – and probably most other people –  am unwittingly eating far more than the RDA of protein and that may be contributing to increased and avoidable health risks.

I’ve already started “bulking out” many of our main meals with beans, lentils and vegetables, so now I’m definitely going to be looking at replacing more of our animal protein with plant-based proteins and see how that affects our overall numbers. Intermittent Fasting is at least giving us some days of lower protein intake, but there is more that we can do.

For those who eat a purely vegan or largely vegetarian diet, the issue of balancing amino acids is important, as many plant based proteins are incomplete. I came across this handy looking app that will help you to find the complementary foods to complete the amino acids and create a high quality protein meal.

Fascinating stuff, getting healthy!

Where’s that recipe for nut loaf?

Body Mass Index – BMI

I weigh myself in kilos, which I can understand for bags of flour and portions of fish or piles of vegetables, but they mean nothing to me in terms of body weight – maybe one of the reasons why mine crept up so steadily the last few years! It was a shock when I realised that my 68.4 kilos was about 10 stone 10 lbs – a healthy weight for me is a good way under 9 stone!

How do you know what a healthy weight is for you? Well apart from your own sense of what weight you should be to look good and feel good, you can use a BMI calculator. This will give you an estimate of your body mass. There are some new weighing machines on the market that will calculate percentage body fat, but I think unless you have a lot of money to spend, these are unreliable. BMI will only give you a range of healthy weights for your age and height, it’s up to you to decide where you need to be in that range for your body frame.

My BMI today

My BMI today

My starting BMI was 29.45 – right towards the top end of overweight  – and would have been set to continue into obese unless I had taken action.

We started on 2nd January on cutting out alcohol for the month, reducing our calorie intake and increasing our activity levels . Then fortuitously my husband saw Michael Mosley talking about the 5:2 diet on TV, as his The Fast Diet book was about to be launched. After doing some researching we both agreed it would be a fantastic way to change our lifestyles and something that we are both enthusiastic about for the long term health benefits. Being in my early 60s I am optimistic that it is not too late to reverse the trend towards diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, high blood pressure and whatever other ailments I was heading for.

The first thing though is to get rid of this excess weight  – and the 5:2 way of eating is really helping with that. I’m still calorie counting as I need to re-educate myself about portion size, which foods have hidden or surprise calories and to know that even when I am eating on a non-fast day that I am not going overboard in adding calories that my body can’t burn off.  I’m really enjoying the challenge of finding interesting, flavourful food that is filling but not fattening.

I know this is a popular diet with foodies, as it can give you the leeway to indulge yourself a little and still maintain a healthy weight. But whilst I don’t want to exclude anything in particular long term, in the short term it is worth saying NO to the wonderful French patisserie, the rich buttery pastry, the rich creamy sauces and so on, while I am working on getting to a maintenance weight.  So I am being careful, but not entirely restrictive. Weekends and the occasional night out can still include a couple of glasses of wine and something sweet. If I have burned calories by cycling or Zumba, then that gives me some spare calories that I could use. But I don’t want guzzle a whole handful of chocolates and ruin everything I have achieved so far –  and thanks to the changes that are happening to my body and brain, I don’t want to! How brilliant is that?

Yes there is some willpower required to keep going on a fast day, to wait another 15 minutes before having something to eat, to say NO to a cream cake or whatever is your weakness – but the goals of being healthy, looking good, and best of all, feeling good – well those are worth working for, worth a little short-term discomfort.

The act of fasting twice a week helps to reduce your stomach size, reduce your appetite and reduce your cravings. It makes you more mindful about what and when you eat and to not mind being a little hungry occasionally.   If you combine this with steps towards avoiding junk food, cutting back on snacking and sweetened soft drinks and replacing processed and refined foods with home-made and wholefoods wherever you can, then you will be well on the way to a really healthy lifestyle, even if you don’t take any more exercise.  It’s a journey, not an instant fix. I’m lucky to already have a lot of knowledge about food and I enjoy planning meals and preparing things from scratch, but I’m still learning about nutrition. I’m happy to share to help others to get healthy and it  encourages me too.

So keep at it. If you have read this far – I hope you will find some useful and inspiring ideas here to help you to keep going with 5:2 in the long term, along with me and my husband.

My current BMI is 27.04 – I still have a further 5 kgs to lose to get me into the healthy zone and my target is to get a little under that, to allow for a little fluctuation.

Let’s all get to a healthy BMI and keep the cost of medical care down!

You can calculate your BMI here on the NHS website.