Proteins In Your Diet! By Dr. Alec Burton
This short thesis on proteins is intended to clarify some of the confusing issues at present dominating the so-called science of nutrition, and especially to present to hygienists a rational view of the importance of protein and its indispensability to normal health and well being.
It has been of considerable interest to me to study the various diets offered by the numerous food reformers over the past two decades. Many of these diets have had nothing more than enthusiasm to support them and several have been completely impractical. One of my chief aims is to present a program which will have a genuine practical application based on sound physiological principles. I have frequently been identified with a movement which stresses the need for protein. I do not wish to reject this identification but to elaborate its basis.
My argument is not as some have supposed, that a high protein diet is desirable, but that an adequate amount of protein is necessary. Few, if any, students of the subject would quarrel with this, although much current argument revolves around the term ‘adequate’. There is considerable disagreement among nutritionists as to the optimum protein requirements and when one consults the literature on the subject, it is distressing to find so many assumptions replacing facts.
Some discussion has also arisen as to whether there is such a condition as protein deficiency. Those of us with experience of fasting are aware of the fact that the organism can maintain nitrogen needs throughout an extensive period without food. This seems inconsistent with the well-publicized statement that the body does not store protein, and in the sense in which it stores carbohydrates as glycogen in the liver and muscles, and fat in the organs and cutaneous tissues and elsewhere, this is probably correct. But as tissue structures are broken during the fasting process, materials (amino acids) are made available for utilization.
It is true that protein deprivation has to be prolonged and extreme in order to produce obvious signs of its inadequacy, and even here it is not necessarily only a problem of protein.
The complex physiological processes involved in digesting, absorbing and assimilating the materials ingested is such that it is unwise to make predictions about the effect of an isolated food element. Rather, the hygienist is inclined to study the total impact of food on the organism and strive to relate the theoretical concepts of nutrition to a practical situation. It is necessary to dissociate ourselves from nutrients in feeding our patients and deal with foods that are complex parcels of numerous nutrients.
In addition the hygienist has always, stressed the need to consider the feeder. In nearly all diets and nutritional studies, the individual variations of those consuming the food is overlooked. Notable exceptions to this exist, but only in a general way, such as the dietetic control of the diabetes, diets for obesity, the regulation of diet in phenyl-ketonuria and so on.
This maneuver is not so much a consideration of individual needs and capacities as a therapeutic approach to disease, that is, treating symptoms. Such an action may be justified on practical grounds but it has serious theoretical inconsistencies and is objectionable philosophically because it does not radically solve any of the most crucial problems.
Because of the serious deficiencies of generalizations, hygienists are often reluctant to make specific extensions of their principles. Consequently, at this point, I should absolve myself from apparent infallibility in the pages that follow wherein I have made categoric statements concerning qualities and quantities of food. There is always the individual consumer, whose ever varying needs and capacities must dominate his requirements. Hygiene, in its proper role of education, should teach us to respect our limitations and learn our needs, so that we can adequately supply them. What I have suggested should remain a tentative generalization requiring individual modification.
An inadequate diet may be a temporary necessity. By this I mean that food, and particularly protein which is more difficult to digest than many other food elements, should be consumed within individual capacities rather than according to charts, tables and graphs. There are times when the organism will be unable to utilize satisfactorily an adequate amount of a nutrient, and less will suffice.
A consequent loss of weight and possibly energy may result, but this could conceivably be even greater if the extra food is forced into a reluctant feeder. Fasting usually, but not always, involves some loss of weight (this may be disputed, but the apparent contradiction involves fluid changes and not flesh). It is a procedure employed in special circumstances; it is most effective when the desire for food is lacking, when there is a dimished capacity to use food. The feeder must therefore learn to balance his diet and balance his intake. As we no longer live in a natural environment, one that would supply all our needs selected according to inherent demands, some knowledge of food and feeding is essential, if we are to maintain health and vigor. Man’s success or failure depends upon the use of his rational faculty. He can choose to respect his bodily (mental, emotional and physical) needs and supply them, or he can ignore them and suffer the consequences.
Conventional nutritionists argue that protein must be eaten with a carbohydrate, otherwise the amino acids derived therefrom will be broken down by the liver (de-amination). This is called the ‘protein sparing’ effect of carbohydrates. If this is true, (and the experiments the claim is based are highly suspect), only a small quantity of carbohydrate is necessary.
As indicated earlier, we do not eat nutrients and an examination of analyses of vegetable proteins reveals that they contain sufficient carbohydrates to provide the required conditions to prevent deamination. Animal proteins, on the other hand, do not. Their carbohydrate content is negligible. Proteins combine best with nonstarchy vegetables. They should not be eaten with concentrated carbohydrates, either starch or sugar, nor with concentrated fats. Their use with fruit is not generally advocated.
Hygienists are almost unanimous in their agreement that nuts represent the best source of protein for man. It is a fact that people have developed tremendous muscular strength and vigour on an exclusively vegetarian diet. There are no special properties in animal foods which confer superiority over vegetable sources of nutrients. It may be categorically stated that vegetable proteins, especially nuts, have the following advantages over animal products:
- They are generally eaten raw; uncooked proteins are superior.
- They do not contain toxic end products of metabolism, as is inevitable with meat and fish.
- They are generally much fresher. No matter what precautions are taken, flesh decomposes after the death of the animal, and meat is usually many weeks old before it reaches the table. Some putrefactive poisons are inevitable.
- The present method of raising animals domestically leaves much to be desired. Most animals are unhealthy and have to receive regular treatment from veterinary scientists. At present, nuts are subject to few contaminating influences, far less than our other fruits and vegetables.
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The grains and cereals do not represent any art of the natural diet of man. They are not essential to life and health and should certainly be omitted from the diets of infants and young children. Where they are included, they should be eaten whole, unprocessed and dry. The habit of eating cereal products with milk or other fluids such as juices is objectionable and conducive to fermentation. If they are included in the diet, thorough mastication is essential. Cereal proteins are almost invariably incomplete and should not be used.