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    • I wish I knew how important protein is for health and athletic performance. Everyone assumes it is, but it seems to go back to when the senate wanted to get us to eat less meat in '76 because heart disease. Senator McGovern had to compromise with the industry lobbies and talk about fat and protein instead, and it really got the engines of the meat and dairy industries promoting protein.

      And since then marketing has worked like this, from an article in the Washington Post:

      When milk marketers went searching for a replacement for their notorious “Got Milk?” campaign, they asked 2,500 teens and adults what promise would make milk more appetizing than juice, water or soda.

      Calcium fell flat.

      So did the idea that milk was the “original superfood.”

      And what about the fact that milk is a great value at just 25 cents per glass?


      The resounding winner: eight grams of protein per glass.

      And thus a $50 million “Milk Life” campaign was born this year, featuring kids and adults happily at play with the pledge that “this is what eight grams of protein can do.”

      The thing is the milk they were promoting is 20% protein, designed to get a calf from 60 pounds at birth to 600 six months later. Even they don't drink that for long. Human milk is 6% protein, which you drink when you are growing fastest.

      The thing is, have you ever known anyone suffering from a protein deficiency disease? But most of the country is suffering from too much, along with too much fat and carbs—too many calories.

      Anyway, I'm not answering your question. Broccoli is 20% of calories from protein, same as milk. Black beans are 22%, leafy greens are about the same as broccoli, black walnuts are 14%, oats are 15%, and fruit is around 4%, depending.

      Whether protein supplements aid performance and add muscle is controversial. Industry-funded studies say they do and so do many trainers. Stanford football says they don't and banned them and protein bars from their training center. Walter Willet at the Harvard School of Public Health says no, they have no effect. Your mileage may vary.

    • I love your post. Milk is totally oversold. Protein is overly sold and protein and protein powders is overly sold. A balanced diet is what we need and I 100% agree with you but it's hard to compete with a billion dollar marketing machine.

    • Regardless of the arguments around how much protein humans really need, is it safe to say that legumes would be the most efficient source?

      I love me some lentils!

    • Fair enough, I think we can re-frame the question to something like as part of a balanced diet we need some quantity of protein (still not 100% clear) and there are vegetables that are 100% suitable to fill the quota. Which ones... (which you answered)

    • For some reason, longevity studies seem to indicate that beans are the food group most associated with long life. You would think it would be vegetables. Not sure anyone knows why but I have a couple of guesses.

      1. As great as veggies are, you can only eat so many calories of veggies. They're a side dish. But a hearty bowl of beans and rice, that fills you up for another hard day of work.

      2. It's uncommon for veggies to push meat off the plate, but beans do.

      So if beans have about the same amount of protein as a percent of calories as greens, but they are satisfying enough to keep you away from the pizza, then I think they are the best source.

    • I just read this article from Business Insider about how scientist found evidence from a multiyear study published by the International Journal of Epidemiology that there is one type of protein that is best for your body. The study found that the kind of protein you consume could affect your heart health when you are in your 20s, 30s and 40s. Which isn't exactly news that what you eat has an affect on you but what was interesting about it was that they found a disturbing link between eating even small amounts of red meat and increasing your risk of developing deadly heart disease twofold. While eating even a tiny amount of 10 to 14 wide variety of nuts a day will decrease your risk of developing the same heart problems threefold. Doesn't take much on either spectrum to see results, good or bad. Nuts it seems is that magic protein. Just need to be mindful and work at making sure you are getting a balanced plate of various vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds to get all those essential amino acids. I think the best line of this article though is their interpretation of why they don't see these same benefits with those that are over 80 years old. Basically, it isn't that the elderly don't get benefits from eating nuts, but that for those that make it past 80 could just be genetically predisposed to doing well with more meat while others vulnerable to heart problems are already dead before 80. 😷 So those stories of people 100+ who ate steak everyday, drank a glass of whiskey every night and are still kicking are just genetically built to eat whatever the hell they want.

      What do you think? What protein do you think has the most weight/impact on a healthy long life?

    • Huh. I've spent years following research on various types of protein and fat consumption, and I was pretty sure it was mainly the fat profile in nuts that made the diff. This research was published by a highly respected journal, so I paid the $47.26 to buy the paper. Unfortunately, they are mailing it to my home, which could take awhile.

      Up to now, I have believed that raw walnuts and especially flax, chia, and hemp seeds had so much beneficial effect on heart disease because they have a lot of omega 3 fats. In the US and Israel, we get a ton of omega 6s, which are more associated with heart disease, predominantly from added oils like soybean oil. Leafy greens also have a lot of omega 3s. Most wild salmon does too, but farmed not so much. Peanuts have none.

      So I'll be fascinated to read the article and see what it says.

    • This research was published by a highly respected journal, so I paid the $47.26 to buy the paper. Unfortunately, they are mailing it to my home, which could take awhile.

    • I love that photo, @gorudy. It's so bright and colorful and completely unrealistic. I can't imagine how annoying it must have been to get those fig slices to stick to the convex shape of that jar. And the sprinkling of currants. Amazing.

      As Chris already mentioned, plant protein is abundant and is found in pretty much... every whole plant. But if you were asking about the tastiest source of plant protein, I'd have to go with beans hands down. That being said, the way that the beans are cooked makes a world of difference. Finding this cooking method changed my life:

      It takes preparation and patience, but when we cook beans this way my family and I find ourselves eating them by the handful as soon as they are drained.

    • Good dialogue. Most get plenty of protein for regular behavior. If you happen to participate in demanding sports, there are significant benefits to getting protein in your system as part of recovery within 30 minutes of your workout. In fact, those who do big workouts and don't properly replenish their system lose many of the benefits of the workout.

    • Hi Tod,

      Thanks! That was fascinating. I hope you can forgive me, but I blame my background in science first and business second as reasons why I can't read an article like this without wanting to know everything about the original study.

      I love science and have immense confidence in science well done, but spending time as a visiting researcher at Stanford...little yellow flags pop up in my head when rich industries meet faculty who are scrambling for hard-to-find research dollars.

      I read the original paper for this study and I felt bad for the researchers. They have two unknowns in one experiment: exercise + protein supplementation, and small gains to report (2.6 pounds). Trying to suss out all the factors such as what the rest of their diets were and what percent of the gains came from pumping iron must be hard.

      Credit to the young journalist who wrote the Outside article in 2017, Alex Hutchinson: he has a Phd in physics from Cambridge. 👍 What's hard for me to understand is the paper he referenced is from 2012, and on the link he referenced was a short list of subsequent papers that cited it. For example, this from from 2016: Protein Supplementation Does Not Significantly Augment the Effects of Resistance Exercise Training in Older Adults: A Systematic Review.

      What Alex didn't mention are the known negative health effects of protein supplementation in the way he described it. One example is supplementing before bed. One of the most common medical conditions is acid reflux and I think it's well established that protein causes the stomach to fill with acid to break down the proteins, then you lie down and if the seal isn't perfect between your stomach and esophagus, some acid seeps up your throat and it burns. It's the leading cause of esophageal cancer.

      Sorry to be such a downer skeptic!

    • Thanks for that perspective. I did not dig into the details. I just wanted to share the article as part of this conversation. It sounded a bit extreme. Thanks for looking into it.

    • There is a parallel story with calcium supplements. You can take as many as you want, but even if you are the model of health and you become an astronaut, no matter how many calcium supplements you take you will lose bone density dramatically as soon as you become weightless, unless you stimulate bone growth by putting pressure on your bones via exercise.

      This is why swimmers and bicyclists have so much trouble with bone density, because their sports are not weight-bearing, not because they don't get enough calcium from green vegetables.

      David Kessler wrote an amazing book, The End of Overeating. He's the Dean of Yale's Medical School, and former FDA Commissioner under Clinton and Bush, who successfully prosecuted the tobacco companies. He delves into the marketing tricks and food engineering the food companies do to get us to consume their stuff. We thought Facebook was good at addicting us to their product? Oh my God, Doritos. I'll tell a story or two about that when I get a chance.

    • I'll start with the Graham Crackers story. Long history but they entered the 80s and the low-fat craze at 100 calories/cracker and 33% fat. That was a problem, because to get the heart-healthy graphic on the box, you had to be 20% fat or less.

      Thing is, they'd lose yumminess if they reduced the fat that much. But there was a loophole: the nutrition labels were based on weight, not calories. So 2% lowfat milk is 33% fat by calories, the only thing that matters, but the water weight in the milk allows them to call it 2% lowfat.

      So Nabisco decided to add weight to their crackers with America's favorite additive: sugar. And a little cinnamon. They added 50 calories of sugar, enough to make weight for the 20% fat magic mark and the heart-healthy logo.

      But there was social engineering to do. Women did the shopping and they wanted the heart-healthy logo for their husbands. But they knew their husbands rejected heart-healthy foods. So Nabisco placed wonderfully kind women at the big grocery outlets to give away samples. When they saw shoppers pondering whether to buy classic grahams or cinnamon grahams, they would offer samples and say "It's a new formulation. Your husband will love it. Try a piece!"

      Husband would come home, see the lowfat logo, and yell at wife for getting the wrong crackers. She would say, "Oh no, I tried them in the store. It's a new kind of fat or something, they're delicious. Try one."

      Husband acts skeptical and grumpy, but agrees to try a bite. "Oh, hey, that's a good cracker! Hmmm, I wonder how they made it heart healthy and tasty? A new kind of fat?"

      Research showed that he used to eat four crackers for a snack, 400 calories, but with the new design and social engineering, he ate six. 900 calories and double the fat.

    • oy. I used to dip these into 2% milk as a kid. If you let them get just a little soggy you could really crank through a box quickly.