three things you must know about protein

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It seems like everyone is always talking about protein. Protein. Protein. Protein. Since becoming Vegan I am constantly asked about if and how I could possibly get enough it. I started getting this question a lot and I realized that I didn't even really understand what protein is let alone how I get it. So here is the low down...

What is protein?
Protein is one of the three nutrients, along with fat and carbohydrates, that is essential to the body. It's main duty is to build and preserve tissue. When digested, protein is broken down into amino acids. You may remember from high school science class that amino acids are essential as they play a part in almost every metabolic process in the body. Here is a quick rundown on them in case you forget- there are 22 amino acids that the body needs to build protein. Our body naturally produces all but 9, which we call essential amino acids, that we must get from an outside source, our food. In order to be the healthiest we can be, your body needs all of these essential and non essential amino acids.  
Animal protein is considered a complete protein because it contains all of the essential amino acids that our bodies require. Ok, case closed, right? 
Hmmm, not quite. Too much animal protein is, to put it simply, not good for you! A diet high in animal protein is linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and auto immune diseases. Animal protein impacts the amount of IGF-I, a growth hormone, that encourages the production of healthy cells but can also promote the growth of cancer cells. yikes! Consuming plant protein, on the other hand, can actually decrease the probability of the diseases listed above. Yes, you do have to combine different protein sources in order to receive all amino acids. But, so what?

Think about it this way...you begin dating a very attractive guy/girl. From the outside, they seem like the perfect catch. Good hair, well educated, has a golden retriever, maybe even has a British accent! Ok, so he/she looks great on your arm but they turn out to cause you a lot of turmoil. They never call you back, they leave in the middle of night without a word, they are rude to your parents, they have bad habits and they make you feel like shit about yourself. That's the animal protein. From the outside it seems like the whole amino acid/protein package. But in the long term it is going to literally break your heart. literally.  On the other hand... let's say you meet a guy/girl who is perfect for you but they're a little hard to get. You have to put in a little bit more effort, try a combination of tactics and an array of dates and really show that you care. However, the payoff is worth it. You are left with a healthy relationship that makes you the best version of yourself. That is the plant protein. You have to put a little bit more effort into obtaining it but it's worth the long term benefits.

I challenge you to try something this week. Keep a tally of how many different kinds of animal protein you consume. For example, for breakfast you have an omelette with feta cheese, a side of bacon and milk in your coffee. That's four. For lunch you have a salad with grilled chicken and ranch dressing. That's two more. For dinner you have salmon, a baked potato with butter and sour cream and some ice cream for dessert. That makes ten different sources of animal protein a day! If you're doing that everyday that means you are consuming 3,650 animal protein sources a year!! Here is another easy challenge- cut down on the amount of animal protein you consume. If you order a turkey sandwich, get it without cheese (you can't even taste the cheese on a sandwich in my opinion). Try having a salad with tofu or tempeh instead of chicken or fish. Put avocado on your toast instead of an egg. These are all small changes that will decrease the amount of animal protein you are consuming and increase your overall health. 

What happens if you get too little or too much protein?
It is a common myth that we need loads of protein or we wont be able to function. Of course we need it but not in the insane amounts that we are led to believe. I mean, have you ever heard of someone having a protein deficiency? Probably not. However, if your not eating a balanced diet and therefore not getting enough protein, you may have sugar cravings, feeling spacey and jittery, fatigue, weight loss, dark circles under your eyes, feeling weak, anemia, change in hair color and texture and skin inflammation. If you're eating too much protein you may have low energy, constipation, dehydration, lethargy, weight gain, sweet cravings, stiff joints, bad body odor, halitosis, and calcium loss to compensate for acidic status in the body. The body may also become overly acidic and kidney function may decline, as the added stress required to process too much protein causes the kidneys to overwork trying to rid itself of excess toxins and waste.

Where do vegans get their protein?
-grains
-nuts
-beans
-soy
-seitan
-leafy greens
-seeds

"Almost everyone is going to have a cancer cell or pre-cancer cell in them at some point,” says Valter Longo, Director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California. “The question is: Does it progress? Turns out one of the major factors in determining if it does is protein intake."