Is America Eating Excessive Protein?

We know we need protein, but our understanding of how much is considered healthy has changed.

This video was originally published on NutritionFacts.org and republished with permission. Original post here. 

About one hundred years ago, the daily recommended protein intake for the average adult was 110 grams. This figure is double what of today’s mainstream medicine considers healthy at 46-56 grams per day. But is even that figure wrong? Plenty of other cultures are largely vegetarian and despite not putting an emphasis on meat and dairy, live long, healthy lives. So why this widespread enthusiasm for animal proteins in the United States? Why are we eating excessive protein and what is the real optimal level?

We can answer the question of why proteins are so celebrated here by turning back the clock to the end of World War II. During the 50’s, the U.S. dairy industry sent their stockpiles of powdered milk into third world countries, where it was thought that the presence of a condition called¬†kwashiorkor was incorrectly thought to be caused by a deficiency in protein. We still are unsure of exactly what causes it, but it is now thought to be disturbances in gut bacteria. The fact is, there is little evidence to suggest that there is any sort of protein deficiency at all in most places.

We now know that while important, the amount of protein that we need to ingest every day is much lower than previously thought. How do we figure this out? Breast milk. Infancy is the stage of life where humans undergo our most rapid development. Our bodies and especially our brains grow at incredible rates during this time, so it is obvious that infants need the optimal level of all nutrients in order to grow and develop properly. That’s why it is surprising for many to learn that human breast milk contains less protein than the majority of other mammals, at only 1% by weight. Sadly, it’s excess protein consumption that is the real problem today. The meat industry is booming across the globe, and with it, heart, kidney, liver and calcium issues. This is one of the many reasons why it is so important to make it a point to based your diet around plant foods.

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