The power of protein

Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Sunday 17 Oct 2021

The various nutrition advice of the scientific community is driving us up the wall.

It changes from year to year, week to week, even day to day, leaving us baffled and bewildered.

How is it that medicine has advanced so much that heart, kidney and liver transplants are performed within days, yet our nutritional experts are yet to determine the optional diet for preventing most of the problems that need those complex surgeries?

The focus should be prevention rather than cure.

Yet they seem as confused as we are. With every new research come new guidelines, perhaps depending on who is funding the research.

Now the issue is red meat. It is the bad actor that is ruining our lives.

Protein is one of the major nutrients besides fat and carbohydrates.

However, the body does not store protein as it does carbs and fats. We need the daily supply of amino acids provided by protein alone. There are 20 amino-acids, 11 are made by the body, but nine amino-acids, considered essential, must be obtained from food. The load is on protein and the best most complete protein is acquired from meats.

Proteins are part of every cell, tissue and organ in our body, therefore an adequate protein intake is vital to good health, crucial to all your body’s physiological functions.

Protein is found in your skin, bones, muscles and all your organ tissues.

The tens of thousands of processes and reactions that happen within our body each day would not be possible without protein.

Hormones, such as insulin, are protein. The enzymes that help break down our foods or trigger key processes in the body, are protein. Everyone requires an amount of protein based on body weight, muscle mass, age and physical activity. If you are not eating enough protein, you are doing some serious damage to yourself.

With not enough protein, you get hungry all day. A study on mice, published in the Journal of Cell Medicine, found that eating a high protein diet put on less fat on mice consuming low protein diet.

You are at a greater risk of bone fracture, edema, lowered immunity, loss of hair, brittle nails, both made of protein.

The sources of protein are dairy, eggs, meat or plants. Animal proteins are the highest quality of protein source, but not red meat, despite the fact that red meat is rich in protein, B vitamins, iron, and zinc.

Gone are the days of biting into a large juicy steak, or the majestic prime-rib roast with the mini-potatoes laced with the meat’s drippings.

You can have lamb, camel, or even kangaroo (if you are an Aussie), but not beef. Fish, chicken, turkey eggs, yes, but no beef.

Vegetarians are happy hunting for grains, seeds, nuts, plants — and surely they must get tired of all the soybean varieties. These are also complete proteins, but how appetizing it is to sit around the dinner table for a feast of soybeans and grass?

Omnivores take heart. Things are about to take a remarkable turnabout.

An international collaboration of researchers have produced a series of new analyses concluding that the bedrock of almost all dietary guidelines is not backed by scientific evidence.

The new analyses produced fireworks among medical scientists. Moaning and groaning, they condemned the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Leader of the group Bradley Johnson, epidemiologist at Dalhausie University, Canada, raises uncomfortable questions about the dietary advice and nutritional research and what sort of standards these previous studies should be held to.

The tempest of outrage and fury from Harvard scientists and co is raging. They savagely attacked the research and even the journal that published it.

Nonetheless, the conclusion is yet another in a series of jarring dietary reversals which included salts, fats, carbs, among others.

The new reports are based on three years of work by a group of 74 researchers from seven countries, along with three community representatives directed by Johnson.

The investigation represented no conflict of interest and conducted their studies without outside funding. The group reviewed 61 articles reporting on 55 populations with more than fout million participants. Credible.

They also looked at randomised trials linking red meat to cancer and heart disease. There were very few. They received 73 articles that examined links between red meat and cancer incidence and mortality. There were even fewer.

In each study scientists concluded that the links were small, the quality of evidence low to very low.

So while the international firestorm rages, there is not enough evidence that red meat is guilty.

Meanwhile more scientists are joining Johnson in his findings.

Dennis Bier, director of Children’s Nutrition at Baylor University is on board, so is David Allison of Indiana University, School of Public Health, remarking: “There is a difference between a decision to act and making a scientific conclusion”.

The same risk from red meat is the same risk from others.

Could it be that the advocates of climate change have a beef with Beef?

Cattle raising requires large spaces as well as the cost to grow feed for them. It is said that “a cow’s belch ups methane, a potent greenhouse gas.”

Beef has five times the climate impact of chicken per gram of protein, plant foods even less.

So, is red meat bad for you? No, it is not. Could it all be a political ruse?

Anything is possible.


“Roast beef is not only a food. It is a philosophy.”

 Edna Farber (1887-1968)

*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekl

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