The Protein Illusion

“When we dump a load of protein in our body, our liver’s like, “Whoa, look at all this! What are we going to do with it all? We can’t just waste it, we’ve got to do something with it!” So our liver starts pumping out IGF-1 to tell all the cells in our body “It’s growin’ time! Be fruitful and multiply. Spare no expense, go crazy—look how much excess protein we got to work with!”

As I have mentioned, I have been on a plant-based diet for a few months now.  In that time, I have checked blood work and seen the positive results of the change in diet.  Combined with my exercise routine, the plan is working as proscribed by numerous M.D.s and Ph.D.s in the fields of nutrition and cardiology.

In the past week, I visited my primary care physician, a man who is very much a wholistic practitioner that includes scientific understanding of disease processes combined with an approach that treats the whole body and mind.  On my last visit, we talked extensively about my diet and his thoughts about what that diet can mean, in the longterm, for my health.

The Consultation

My doctor is convinced, based on research presented in peer-reviewed studies, that a low-carb, plant-based diet WITH animal protein is the best approach to dealing with most physical illnesses (combined with appropriate medications).  I questioned his approach by pointing out my particular success in applying plant-based eating.  Here is the gist of what we discussed: that glucose and insulin, he believes, has a stronger impact on the development of disease that we formerly thought.  By staying on a plant-based diet, he has seen spikes in glucose and insulin levels in patients.  That rise in insulin and glucose can lead to more problems with various inflammatory diseases and especially with Atherosclerosis.

AND…and my blood work indicates that my plant-based diet is not revealing any of the problems suggested by folks in support of low-carb, animal protein diets.  I discussed this discrepancy with my doctor and he said, “You cannot argue with success.  Your blood work flies in the face of some of the data presented by the science.”

So, I went to the research.  What information is out there that a low-carb, animal protein diet is BETTER than a plant-based diet?  Hmmm.  My doctor suggested I look closely at the Whole 30 diet.  Here’s what I found (with links to the studies):

The Whole30 Diet

First, the Whole 30 diet is quite different from what I am doing right now.  The author states, “Eliminate the most common craving-inducing, blood sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days.”  She says to remove, “sugar, grains, dairy and legumes” the very things I am eating (well, not sugar, but still).  The claim is that I will have energy and feel better.  The assumption is that I don’t have energy.  Am I lacking in energy?  Not at all.  My weight loss with exercise is an almost constant 2 pounds per week.  I feel good.  AND my blood work reveals that eating beans and grains have helped reduce inflammation dramatically.  WHAT?  Am I some anomaly? Some freak of nature that processes food differently?

I turned to more in-depth work.  Expanding my search, I entered the phrase plant-based vs low-carb diet and the FIRST hit was this article: Plant-Based Diet vs. Low-Carb Diet.  Here’s the money quote: “The June 21, 2012 issue of the British Medical Journal presented the latest updates on the long-term health hazards of low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets, and reported that, ‘In particular, women had a 5% higher incidence of cardiovascular disease (heart disease) for each tenth of an increase in the low carbohydrate-high protein score, yielding a 62% higher incidence among women in the highest categories of low carbohydrate-high protein diets compared with the lowest.'”  Simply put, does the paleo diet or Whole 30 diet presents serious problems for those of us facing heart disease?

Digging a bit deeper, another blog found the large scale medical study in Germany concerning these questions.  The author proposes that low-carb diets fight cancer because of the glucose question….cancer feeds off of glucose and low carb diets reduce the glucose.

Wow.  Confused yet?  Let’s get into those pesky questions about cancer, heart disease and the like: can a food-based diet prevent diseases?  One article that attempts to bridge the gap can be found on a blog related to good health.  The money quotation on this site is: “The research shows that a low carb diet is no better than the standard American diet (S.A.D.) in terms of preventing cardiovascular disease.  The high levels of animal fat in this diet are pro-inflammatory and we know that damages arteries.”  Key phrase we KNOW that damages arteries.  Notice too the “pro-inflammatory” phrase.  Didn’t the Whole 30 folks state that their diet was “anti-inflammatory”?  WTF? In fact, the research on this one topic, animal fat and protein and its affect on arteries, is extensive.  Search it.  See what I mean?  It’s everywhere!

OK, but we have the other question about cancer that the Paleo folks and low-carb folks keep harping on.  Just last month, a Harvard study of 115,000 people revealed some basic facts about low-carb, and especially fat in diets.  Here’s the information in abbreviated form: “Researchers noted that higher intakes of the most common saturated fats—lauric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid—were associated with a boost in the risk of coronary artery disease of up to 18%. But replacing just 1% of those fats with the same amount of calories from polyunsaturated fats, whole grains, or plant proteins was associated with a 6% to 8% lower risk.”  OK, yea, but that cancer thing?  Where’s THAT evidence?

Animal Protein and Its Effects

Let’s get scientific.  The evidence linking animal protein and cancer is extensive regardless of the promotional efforts of the low-carb folks.  An ongoing study at the Cancer Research Institute is isolating Neu5Gc, a sugar that appears in certain meat (red meat, organ meat, etc).  Current research is showing that Neu5Gc promotes inflammation and other serious immune responses.  As the research scientist, Dr. Oliver Pearce states, “But in this case, the cellular chemicals floating around in an acute inflammatory environment can lead to disruptions in normal cell activity in the surrounding epithelia, and this is what can increase the risk of cancer over time.”  Yikes!

Here’s a clear statement that references the problem from the MD Anderson website: ” While no diet choice will guarantee that you won’t develop cancer, cutting meat can help you lower your cancer risk. The American Institute for Cancer Research promotes a plant-based diet. Two-thirds or more of your plate should be plant-based foods.”  The quotation continues, “That’s in part because plant-based foods contain phytochemicals, the nutrients that you’re immune system needs to fight off diseases like cancer.”

That information, from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, pretty much provides a  very clear, concise explanation that supports plant-based eating.

But let’s put that information into very practical and specific perspective.  In my case, my inflammation is extremely low, my other markers of health, cholesterol, C-Reactive protein, homocysteine, and on and on are all excellent.  Does that mean I’m in the clear?  Of course not.  I’m taking supplements (like B-12, Magnesium, D3, Omega 3 in flax seed, etc) and watching the food I eat everyday.  I am told that such a diet is “impossible” to maintain.  Really?  That statement has not proven true for me at all.  I have to plan what I eat and be aware of what I consume, but that’s not some crazy hard thing to do….having self-control is all about being healthy, right?

 

 

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