Protein is one of three macronutrients available in food, serving as a building block for body tissues, enzymes and very important chemicals.
Just like many essential nutrients, how much protein we eat, how much we absorb and quality of the protein are all factors to consider when thinking about protein consumption.
Protein is also a macronutrient that provides us with 20 different (and necessary) amino acids.
So, what is an amino acid?
One molecule of protein is composed of a variety of amino acids. For example, a super important protein we produce in our body, Collagen, is made of: Glycine, Proline, Hydroxyproline and Arginine amino acids, whereas albumin consists in lysine, glutamic acid and a few other substances.
Some of these amino acids we must consume from exogenous sources (e.g. food) and some we can produce endogenously (within the body), making them non-essential to our diet.
Protein risk factors
Research has found the pattern of meat protein consumption in Western countries could be connected to metabolic conditions.
For example, muscle meat (e.g. steak) provides over 200% of Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for methionine, an amino acid that can be converted to homocysteine. So... What’s the problem?
In healthy and well-nourished individuals, probably nothing at all.
But if your vitamin B levels are low, you’re carrying a few extra kilos (especially around the belly), you’re experiencing high levels of stress or you have a mutation on your MTHFR gene (which is neither a death sentence or uncommon), high levels of homocysteine becomes a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
The Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases Journal has a great article explaining the mechanisms of this.
It’s also worth mentioning that high levels of methionine will only become an issue when other amino acids such as glycine (found in collagen) are suboptimal.
Different sources of protein will be absorbed at different rates and efficacy.
The gold standard is usually a liquid form; most nutrients will be better absorbed this way due to things like chewing efficacy and levels of digestive juices necessary to break down foods.
This is why it’s quite common for people in training to have a protein shake in between meals.
Have you ever heard the saying “we are what we eat?”
Well, in reality, we are actually what we absorb from what we eat.
Variety is key
To ensure overall health, consuming a variety of amino acids is key - especially if you’re just starting your health journey and maybe dealing with some health challenges.
Red meat sources of protein sadly are known to have a “bad reputation” when it comes to cardiovascular disease and longevity. However, recent research has suggested that the real issue lies in too much of certain protein sources and not enough variety.
The modern lifestyle often requires food to be practical and fast to cook. Hence, cuts of meats called “muscle” meats including steak, regular mince and preserved meats are the animal sources most consumed.
This often results in poor variety and balance of amino acids, intense digestive requirements and malnutrition (unless other sources of amino acids are consumed in supplementation forms).
So really what we need to enhance our protein profile for cardiovascular health, longevity AND overall health is to enhance amino acid profile AND protein absorption. Here’s how:
Protein absorption: challenges & solutions
Gut health conditions such as chronic inflammation, leaky gut, thyroid dysfunction and all conditions affecting the integrity of your gut wall will impact absorption.
Note that some of these conditions may even require more/less protein from your body. Remember liquid protein is always more gentle on your gut and easier to absorb.
Quality and quantity of digestive juice secreted
Digestive enzymes are essential to break down the protein we eat (and make it absorbable). Any condition altering quantity and quality of these juices will affect your absorption of protein.
Protein isn’t the only nutrient affected, either. Nutrients like vitamin B12 and fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D will also be impacted by inadequate digestive juices.
Consuming bitter herbs and spices prior to the meal (like turmeric or A.M. Cleanse) can help to get your digestion going.
Using protein as an example, the origin and preparation method of food dramatically changes the digestive process and our ability to absorb.
Vegetable sources of protein such as grains and legumes are often even less bioavailable due to “plant protective” substances like phytates, inhibiting the availability of amino acids and other nutrients.
It’s also worth noting that with animal sources, it’s important to consider grass-fed vs grain-fed and the different cuts of meat since animals hold most of their toxins in their adipose (fat) tissue.
Therefore, considering non-meat sources of animal proteins such as bone can be much safer.
There is a reason why often we cook meat: to facilitate the digestion of protein (especially when it comes to red meat).
Although there is always a loss of certain nutrients with cooking due to heat, most of the time, cooking can really help.
Amino acid balance
We discussed the fact that excessive methionine (consumed in the form of muscle meat) is a big issue modern society faces. We also discussed that the lack of certain amino acids (not present or in very little amount in muscle meats) can also be an issue. But what do you do?
Eat nose to tail from a variety of animals
Adventure yourself with many different types of cuts (and meats). Bonus points if you choose the cuts with bones (slow cook and absorb all the goodness from bones) AND include organ meats (liver is the winner).
It’s all about quality
Focus on quality, not quantity and adventure yourself on meatless days.
To ensure you’re getting sufficient amino acids into your diet on meatless days, try our meatless Bone Broth Body Glue. Not only are they 10x higher in collagen than any other broth, but they also have your daily requirement of glycine, proline and leucine - two amino acids associated with longevity.
Win, win, win!Written by Gevity Guru, Health Expert Elza Bevilacqua
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Washburn, R., Cox, J., Muhlestein, J., May, H., Carlquist, J., Le, V., Anderson, J. and Horne, B., 2019. Pilot Study Of Novel Intermittent Fasting Effects On Metabolomic And Trimethylamine N-Oxide Changes During 24-Hour Water-Only Fasting In The FEELGOOD Trial. [online] National Center for Biotechnology Information. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6412259/> [Accessed 15 October 2020].