Join me today, won’t you, for the glorious first installment of…
NUTRITIONY THINGS I HAVE LEARNED!
Today’s topic? Protein.
So, protein deficiency is the thing most people worry about when it comes to vegans and vegetarians, and yet most of us probably can’t think of anyone we know (or have even heard of) who has actually been medically diagnosed as “protein deficient.” And that’s because as it turns out, the only time we really see protein deficiency is when someone isn’t eating enough – when they’re literally not getting enough calories.
When that happens, the body burns the amino acids of protein for energy instead of using them to rebuild body tissue like it’s supposed to. In the past, people looked at this and thought, “Ah, that person needs more protein!” or “Ah, that person needs a better source of protein!” but it was actually just a case of the person not getting enough calories. If you’re eating enough calories, you’re almost definitely getting enough protein.
In fact, it’s actually more likely that you’re getting too much protein – which, despite what your aggressive Paleo friend might tell you, is a real thing. When the body gets more protein than it needs, those extra amino acids are just kinda floating around in the bloodstream with nothing to do. The body sends them to the liver, where they’re split into two bits – a bit with nitrogen and a bit without. <–(Very scientific terminology)
The bit without can be used as a potential source of calories, since it’s usually made up of sugar or fat, and the bit with nitrogen…well, it becomes ammonia. Ammonia, as you might imagine, is not the optimal thing to have in your liver, so the liver tries to dilute it by flooding itself with liquid – blood, as it happens.
The liver becomes engorged while doing this (and I realize as I type this that “engorge” is one of the grossest words ever, eclipsing even “moist”), and the ammonia is slowly converted into something that can be sent down to the kidneys to be disposed of in the urine. The kidneys are likewise enlarged by this, and so you have both the liver and kidneys working overtime and getting generally stressed out. Short-term, this isn’t too big of a big deal, but when you’re consistently eating too much protein? It increases the likelihood of kidney or liver failure in later life by, like, a lot. <–(More science.)
ADDITIONALLY! Having extra amino acids in the blood tends to acidify it, and the body deals with this by dissolving some bone to alkalize the whole too-much-acid situation. So not only does eating too much protein stress out your liver and kidneys, it actually depletes your bones – which is probably why the places in the world with the highest protein consumption also have the highest rates of osteoporosis.
SO, YES. The next time someone asks you, “Where do you get your protein?” take them by the hand, give them the most concerned and patronizing look possible, and say, “I get more than enough protein simply by eating the daily recommended amount of calories for a person of my age and general body type. Is it possible that YOU, my dear comrade and companion, are getting too much protein and this could lead to me having to use the word ‘engorge’ in a sentence? Because nobody wants that.”
This entry brought to you by the fact that I was interested in taking a plant-based nutrition e-course but it was too damn expensive so I am now just reading the textbooks. :P