Marks Daily Apple
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Archive for the ‘ Protein ’ Category

15 May

Top 10 Best & Worst Protein Sources (vegetarians take note)

steakYesterday, I discussed protein a little bit, and it’s such an important topic that I think it deserves its own Tuesday 10 (Read all Tuesday 10 columns here).

In all the debates this year about sugar (carbohydrates) and hydrogenated oil (fat), we forget that protein warrants consideration as well. The wrong proteins in the diet will quickly sabotage optimal health.

It helps to understand that protein is a macronutrient. What we call “protein” is, in fact, a family of amino acid molecules. When grouped together in various combinations we get proteins. There’s no protein molecule hanging out in that hamburger; rather, the animal tissue is made of many different amino acid building blocks. Protein is just a catch-all term we use. This is why vegetarians won’t keel over as people once feared. However, that doesn’t validate the popular myth that plant protein is equivalent or even superior to animal protein. Plant protein and animal protein is not equivalent, for several reasons:

  • Animal protein is more complete and contains more essential amino acids – the amino acids we can’t synthesize in our bodies and thus require in our diets for optimal health – than plant protein.
  • Contrary to popular belief, dietary animal protein is consistently associated with greater bone mineral density and fewer bone fractures (PDF), while dietary plant protein is associated with lower bone mineral density. Animal protein may increase calcium excretion, but it increases calcium absorption to a greater degree, resulting in a net positive effect on bone health.
  • Plant proteins often come with plant toxins, while animal protein is generally harmless. That’s probably why plant protein consumption has been linked to increased disease risk and animal protein consumption has little to no effect. Heck, the plant proteins often are toxins themselves, as with the case of wheat gluten.
  • It takes more calories to get adequate amounts of protein on a vegetarian diet. Living on beans and tofu increases the amount of carbohydrates in one’s diet significantly (and unnecessarily).

I hope no one believes that anymore.

Here are my ten ideal sources of protein, and their popular but inferior counterparts.

1. Winner: Grass-Fed Beef

Loser: Grain-Fed Beef

The average cow is raised on cheap grain that will kill it after about six months (they’re conveniently slaughtered before this happens – but not always). Hardly something I want to put in my body. Grass-fed, organic beef won’t make the vegetarians happy, but this beef is rich in beneficial fatty acids that are missing from the factory-raised cattle. It’s cleaner, healthier, more flavorful, and richer in nutrients. And grass-fed beef is typically raised in humane conditions. If you eat beef and can get your hands on it, grass-fed is a must. It’s getting quite easy to find these days, but you can order online from many outlets as well.

2. Winner: Pastured Chicken

Loser: Regular frozen chicken

No comparison. Did you know chicken has flavor? Yeah, bizarre, I know. Chicken raised properly on pasture and allowed to eat bugs and grasses (not shoved by the cluckload into dirty factories) is rich in EFAs and is one of the best sources of protein available. Also, if you cover a whole one in salt, pepper, and garlic, stuff it full of herbs, rub it down with grass-fed butter or olive oil, and place it in a preheated oven, you’ve got one of the greatest dinners in the history of the world.

3. Winner: Wild Salmon

Salmon 4Loser: farmed salmon

Fish is healthy, right? Don’t even bother patting yourself on the back for eating salmon if it’s from a farm. Farmed salmon is produced in a way that’s the seaside equivalent of a chicken factory. As a result, the fish are often sick and infected. They’re fed cheap feed that does not yield the desirable omega-3-rich flesh. They’re miserable and full of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.

Stick with wild only. Most restaurants use farmed salmon, so you have to get a little aggressive about this.

Notice a trend here with my emphasis on good fats in protein foods? Source makes a huge difference in the quality of protein you get. Meat is – or was – a very valuable food because it’s so dense in nutritious fat and protein. What an efficient, rich source of energy! Helpfully, our modern factories have eliminated the nutritional value and left us with weak, flabby, carcinogenic, diseased patties and drumsticks. Hey, thanks, guys. (Although we consumers don’t get off easy: maybe if we ate less…)

4. Winner: Tuna

Loser: fish sticks and popcorn shrimp

I don’t think I need to go into this one.

5. Winner: Pastured Eggs

Loser: egg substitute and/or regular eggs

If eggs were meant to be eaten as mechanically-separated, low-fat, chemically-altered whites in a carton, the chickens would have done it by now. But an egg is a chick in the making. It’s rich in antioxidants, good fats, vitamins, and – for the calories – a lot of protein. Doubly so if your eggs come from pastured hens. Things like Egg Beaters are the result of food manufacturers exploiting fears based on grossly inaccurate health information. There’s nothing healthy about such unnatural products.

6. Winner: Greek Yogurt

Loser: Low-fat, sugar-sweetened yogurt

No comparison. The Greek stuff is richer, fattier, more nutritious and lower in sugar. Again, when choosing an animal protein source, choose one that also provides valuable fats to maximize nutrition. Don’t go for the conventional animal products that are high in chemicals, hormones, bad fats, and sugars. Yogurt isn’t a staple of my diet, but if I eat it it’s certainly not a plastic cup of sugar-infused strawberry dessert.

7. Winner: Shellfish

oysters2Loser: Deep-fried and breaded clams and oysters

When anthropologists search ancient human coastal settlements, they invariably find piles and piles of discarded shells. Our ancestors weren’t gathering shellfish to make jewelry. They weren’t hoarding pearls. They were gathering them because shellfish, including clams, oysters, mussels, and snails, are sources of animal protein that also happen to be full of iron, zinc, selenium, iodine, omega-3s, and other marine nutrients that we need to thrive. And, since farmed shellfish are raised just like wild shellfish – in the ocean feeding off microscopic lifeforms – without any junk food input from humans, farmed shellfish are just as good as wild. Limit or avoid shellfish farmed in China, however, as the waters there run a little more polluted than other waters.

8. Winner: Whey Protein Isolate

Loser: Whey Protein Concentrate

I know, I know – I just got done saying how important it is to eat whole food protein that comes with other nutrients. So what the heck is whey protein isolate, a processed protein powder that’s anything but “real, whole food,” doing on this list? Ultimately, I’m about results. I’m about food with proven health benefits as shown through science, and the body of literature supporting whey protein isolate as a worthy source of protein is impossible to ignore:

Since whey protein isolate is higher in protein (the stuff that’s giving all the health benefits) than whey protein concentrate, eat the former if you can get it.

9. Winner: Liver (from grass-fed or pastured animals)

Loser: Tofu

Though it’s known primarily as nature’s multivitamin because it contains ample amounts of vitamin A (important for bone health and testosterone production), copper (important for heart health), choline (important for liver health), folate (important for brain and fetal health), and B-vitamins (important for almost everything), people tend to forget that liver is a rich source of protein, too. It might look weird to compare it to tofu, but since nothing else really compares to liver – and tofu is really easy and really fun to pick on – I went with the soy-based meat alternative.

10. What’s your favorite protein source?

Give me a shout, Apples. What protein do you favor? What have I left out? (To comment, simply click on Comments below to log in to the blog forum, or proceed directly to the forum.)

Note: “Cows’ milk is for baby cows,” the saying goes. You’ll notice I left cheese and milk out of this list. While I like a good aged gouda, I wanted to make this list as all-inclusive as possible – and potentially allergenic dairy proteins are not suitable for everyone. Raw dairy is healthy and enjoyable for many people who can tolerate it, but generally, I think quality meat works better for more people than quality milk. Cheese, the fermentation of which denatures some of the problematic components while increasing beneficial nutrients, is generally better tolerated than milk, especially aged cheeses like gouda. Cream and butter are fine in cooking (or coffee), because I don’t fear saturated fat, but I am concerned about folks who substitute nutritious meat with highly-processed cheese.

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18 Apr

Is There Any Safe Meat?

Reader Sheila asked me a great question recently: is there really any safe meat to eat these days?

Beef and pork? Raised in cramped factories and fattened as quickly as possible, the happiness of the animal is nonexistent and the health of the meat is seriously in question. These animals are fed hormones, antibiotics, and an unnatural high-sugar grain diet that reduces beneficial fatty acids in the meat and causes illness in the animal (hence the need for drugs). Red meat and the “other” white meat (come on, it’s red) aren’t exactly the boon of health we low-carbers would like them to be. Sheila wondered about the rumors of dangerous parasites and germs in pork. Because of the modern factory system, pork really doesn’t have any greater health danger than beef. However, just because things like listeria have been reduced since the days of Upton Sinclair, doesn’t make meat healthy.

The sheer production level of meat is so high that it draws greedily on natural resources like oil, water, and land (and it’s a major contributor to rainforest deforestation). It’s no wonder many people are turning to vegetarianism. Either that, or it’s the fact that a typical burger patty is literally a composite of hundreds of cows, and processed meats are made of stripped spinal meat, which is turning so many people off of meat. This always turns my stomach, and although I do espouse responsible meat-eating (more on that in a moment), I’d sooner go hungry than eat a single meal that is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of animals. To me, it’s cruel and vulgar, and yet, a burger is the most popular food item in America. Sad.

How about chicken and turkey? Fowl is raised in much the same manner as beef and pork. Modern chicken is far more fatty than the chicken your grandparents ate. You even have to be careful with free-range products. The only thing that “ranges” with many of these free-range products is the degree of accuracy in the term. In some states, the “free range” is still a pen, albeit with some sunlight. My idea of healthy protein is not tens of thousands of chickens crammed into a sunless room smelling of chemicals and covered in filth, and I’m sure it’s not yours either, yet this is the reality.

But fish is healthy, right? Again, it’s not a pretty picture. Our oceans’ fisheries are in jeopardy. In fact, an entire section of California’s coast has been banned because the fish populations are close to being wiped out. This sort of thing is going on in many places. This isn’t fun news, but the facts remain. Our way of life is causing serious problems. Couple overfishing with the gross levels of pollutants in many waterways – particularly southern waters – and fish isn’t necessarily your best bet. Farmed fish is problematic because it can interfere with wild fish habitats, and farmed fish are often overcrowded to the point of cannibalism. And there’s the sea lice infestation to consider.

Sheesh! What about shellfish? My staffers jokingly call shrimp “sea bugs” because they have exoskeletons, much like any ordinary garden insect. Like lobster and crab, they sorta are sea bugs, if you think about it. Here’s the “bad news” about shellfish. I personally avoid shellfish.

This isn’t an apologia for vegetarians. I eat meat. But I have friends, family members and staff who don’t. If you think what I’ve just written is depressing, spend some time on the vegetarian blogs and you’ll see where my pals are coming from. For me, the problem is that our modern meat production system is grossly out of step with sustainability in every sense. This is a radical problem for the environment, for our sense of compassion and our ethical integrity, and human health. It’s that serious.

I believe another serious aspect of this problem is that the human body is designed to be omnivorous – subsisting on a healthy mix of animal flesh, vegetables, seeds, nuts and fruits. I am firmly against the modern diet rich in sugars, refined flours and processed starches. I think occasional whole grains are fine, but based on my background in biology, neither burgers nor burger buns are the road to the blessings of good health. I believe humans are meant to eat some meat – whether fish, fowl or livestock – based upon the facts I have observed in my studies of human evolution. That’s where most of my veg pals and I part ways. For example, I don’t think most types of soy are healthy. But we can disagree while still agreeing that the basic problem – the current system of meat production – has got to change. Period.

What to do?

If you don’t want to “go veg”, whether for reasons of personal preference or scientific convictions (my case), then do all you can to support better practices:

- Go organic. Expensive, yes, but I believe this is a non-negotiable. If you buy “free-range”, make sure it’s really free-range.

- Try to find local producers. This supports smaller farms, who often raise meat sustainably and in accordance with organic protocols but can’t afford the hoops of being officially labeled organic. This requires significant digging and a lot of phone calls, but this is your earth and your body, so I really don’t think it’s such a big deal.

- Eat less. This is a huge one that I never see anyone talking about. I am a big fan of “low carb” eating. I think sugar is no better than a toxin. But that doesn’t mean anyone needs to eat massive steaks. Humans are designed to eat some flesh, but fish and eggs are certainly sufficient, and more importantly, you only need 1-3 ounces at a time. Unless you’re an athlete in training, the need for anything more than a small handful of flesh is exaggerated. We’re used to eating huge servings of meat, but then, we’re used to eating huge servings of everything.

- Write some letters. It’s easy.

So, Sheila, in answer to your question, I don’t believe there’s really any one type of meat that is superior to any otherthe way meat is currently produced. Produced sustainably, organically, with the animals’ health in mind, chicken is a great source of protein. And grass-fed, “happy” cows provide meat rich in good fats. And wild fish from safe, cold-water regions like Alaska contains Omega-3′s and very low levels of contaminants. Pigs not raised in cruel, cramped gestation crates provide lean protein. Personally, I eat mostly fish and fowl. But for every type of flesh we can consume, there’s a healthier, saner alternative. I don’t recommend one type of meat over the other, because ultimately, it’s the whole system that’s gotta go. I recommend rethinking the entire “meat paradigm”, and shifting your habits to support a better way of life. In a few short years, we’ll all have to anyway.

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16 Apr

The Trouble with Cured Meats

Worker Bees’ Daily Bites:

Oh, that term: “cured meat”. What is being cured, exactly? (Other than curing meat of any health benefit?) Read on and learn, Apples.

Herbaceous!

A few months ago, Mark recommended herbs as a vegetable you might want to reconsider (these naturally medicinal veggies are excellent in salads or cooked with vegetables and meats). Herbs are vegetables? Yes, they are! Mom’s Organic House tells you why you ought to give herbs a chance. If you are interested in organic living, be sure to subscribe to Mom’s RSS feed…if you’re a web hipster, that is. We love that this blog is so big on being responsible. Your health is yours!

What’s your favorite way to herb out? We’d love to hear about your favorite herbs and how you use them in recipes.

herbs

This is LollyKnit’s Flickr Photo

Best Explanation of Fructose Ever

That pretty much sums it up. Here’s the clickativity.

sugar 1

This is dhammza’s Flickr Photo

Cured Meats and Lung Disease

Remember the big nitrites scare? New evidence confirms the danger of cured meats like sausage, hot dogs, chip meats, bacon and ham. Worst of all: bacon bits! A few of us Bees are vegetarians or “fishatarians”, while Mark firmly espouses responsible meat-eating (keeps things interesting around here).

Whatever your particular persuasion, cured meats don’t belong in anyone’s diet. (We know, we know, bacon is yummy.) Cured meats aren’t fresh, they usually aren’t very lean, and they’re full of all kinds of chemicals, salt, sugar, and dyes. If you want to get protein the carnivorous way, please remember that you’ll do yourself and the environment major favors by choosing organic, grass-fed and free-range products. This is your body, sugar snap! The cure for cured meats: statistics like these.

bacon

This is Gailf548′s Flickr Photo

Big, Bad Pharma

Bad Science’s Ben Goldacre examines the Big Pharma study-skewing controversy. In a nutshell: yes, they skew; but so does everybody. (Wait, is that supposed to make us feel good?) The article is excellent, so if you care about the future of drugs in medicine, or just really have a problem with Big Pharma, be sure to read it. In particular, we want to highlight the excellent idea for removing publication bias (the biggest problem, bar none, with the whole pharmacological picnic). Goldacre suggests that all trials, no matter the perceived utility, be reported in a public database of some sort. In other words, trials should be recorded from the start, not simply because they’re deemed worth publishing in hindsight. It’s one of those “uh, duh!” ideas that is so smart, so obvious, and so sensible, we are left to conclude that absence of said database = world has gone mad. (Check out Mark’s article on Big Pharma.)

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