We have grown up stuffing our faces with protein, but is it time to reject the diet that our predecessors have forced down our throat?
In today’s world most of us can now afford to consume animal products daily and for some of us this will be three times a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But this has not always been the case. Our societies have gone through many periods of great hunger and starvation and even when we could afford to eat plenty, meat would be more of a side dish then the main event on our plates.
So, what changed? Why do we consume so much meat, fish and dairy?
One reason could be that we began to break foods down into macro-nutrients instead of whole foods. Nutritional scientists wanted to find the optimum diet for humans and protein became the king of all macro-nutrients. This put meat, fish and dairy at the top of our shopping list. The day we begun classifying foods as ‘macro-nutrients’, was the day we became obsessed with protein.
This was coupled with a booming economy and improved living standards, which meant we could start to develop more efficient methods to increase the output from animal agriculture. Bring in large-scale factory farming and slaughterhouses and you have the perfect recipes for McDonald's and other cheap fast food restaurants. Wages were going up and meat prices were going down. This created opportunity for companies to develop high protein products and advertise it to the public.
We began to cram our plate with large steaks, chicken wings and sausages. Milk was guzzled down and other dairy products became popular and easily marketable such as cheese, yogurts and butter. But there was a serious problem developing.
Our health wasn’t getting better, it was getting worse.
Sure, the 20th century saw a massive decline in diseases such as typhoid and influenza but health related diseases saw a massive increase. Today, our biggest killers have changed.
You’ll notice that the diseases listed above take time to develop. Our parents, who were eating these high protein diets weren’t dying straight away, but their long term health was declining. Now instead of dying from bacteria caused diseases, our parents are stuck in retirements homes with cancers, heart problems, diabetes, dementia etc.
The biggest problem is that our millennial generation has adopted their diet
Through no fault of their own, our parents fed us the same diet as theirs. This is what they were raised on and it’s the only way they knew how to feed their children.
At present the USDA recommends 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So, if you weigh 75kg, your recommended intake of protein is 60 grams. Think about that, a cup of milk for breakfast, a chicken breast for lunch and an 6oz steak for dinner and your around 100 grams of protein from animal products already. Not only that, but many people on a western diet are already overweight, so they are not eating based on their lean body mass but based on their overall body mass. Which means that our health requirements state that they should eat even more protein.
It doesn’t help that the mainstream media and the lobbyists behind these meat and dairy companies try to hide the facts and promote their agenda of over consuming protein. Got milk anyone?
This Superbowl ad is the perfect example of our macho obsession with protein. Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) has been an icon for young people, ever since his wrestling days, and has made a career off his strong physique. It helps reflect the current gym goers expensive habit of consuming vast amounts of whey protein and supplements.
But has everyone followed this high protein diet?
In other parts of the world this was not the case. The term ‘Blue Zone’ has been attributed to parts of the world that do not suffer the same health problems as us. Not only is their life expectancy higher, but their disease rates are lower. These locations include Okinawa, Sardinia, Nicoya, Icaria in Loma Linda (Californian Seventh-day Adventists).
What do these populations have in common? They consume a very small amount of animal products in comparison to the standard western diet, which results in far less protein. Their diets consist mainly of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts/seeds and whole-grains.
It is very much a high carbohydrate diet, which directly contradicts many of the past diet fads that have been passed down to us. The Atkins diet (low carbohydrate, high protein) has evolved many times through the years and still exists today in the form of the Paleo diet.
The growth of veganism and a plant based diet could prove to be the vital shift we need to cure our obsession with protein.
People are beginning to turn vegan for either ethical, environmental or health reasons and many are not turning back. What was once a hippie movement has become something far bigger. With more information being provided from documentaries such as What The Health and Cowspiracy, and more books such as Dr Greger’s ‘How Not To Die’ and T. Colin. Campbell’s ‘The China Study’, the number of vegans has grown exponentially.
Plant based meat and dairy alternatives have are also on the rise. For example, according to data released by Mintel at the beginning of 2018:
non-dairy milk sales have seen steady growth over the past five years, growing an impressive 61 percent since 2012, and are estimated to reach $2.11 billion in 2017.
This could also be down to the growth of flexitarians, who simply choose to consume less meat, fish and dairy.
However, moving to a vegan diet will not make us automatically unhealthy. A diet of chips and Oreos is technically vegan and I think most of us would prefer our parents diet! Blue Zone diets were based on whole foods (unrefined and unprocessed) getting a range of fruits and vegetables.
If the vegan trend continues we may see a shift to a diet more similar to the blue zones, with a reduced obsession with protein. Our generation may finally move back to a time when whole foods were more important than protein.