Why the Optimal Diet Includes Animal Protein – Revolution Health Radio, Hosted by Chris Kresser

Check out the Revolution Health Radio Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • “Animals proteins are, in almost every case, superior to plant proteins” Chris Kresser
  • Protein quality is a function of amino acid profile and bioavailability. To rate proteins, scientists use a scale called the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS); the higher the score, the better the protein. Here are a few of the scores for common foods:
    • Whole milk: 1.32
    • Eggs: 1.13
    • Beef: 1.10
    • Chicken: 1.08
    • Chickpeas: 0.83
    • Peanut butter: 0.46
    • Oats: 0.43
    • Whole wheat: 0.2
  • It’s possible, but VERY difficult, to hit your protein requirements following a vegan or vegetarian diet
  • Plant proteins do contain essential amino acids, but MUCH lower amounts compared to animal proteins
  • 6 nutrients missing, or found in meager quantities, in plant proteins: Creatine, beta-alanine, taurine, carnosine, calcium, and zinc

Intro

Debunking The Game Changers | Part 1 – Plant Proteins are NOT Equivalent to Animal Proteins

  • The Game Changers documentary makes the claim that plant-based proteins are equivalent to animal proteins in terms of quality and as a basis for athletic performance. The film states:
    • A peanut butter sandwich has about as much protein as 3 oz. of beef or 3 large eggs
      • Chris adds: “For a peanut butter sandwich to have the same quantity of protein as 3 oz. of beef or 3 eggs, you’d have to use 5 TABLESPOONS of peanut butter. That’s a third of a cup of peanut butter.”
        • Also, 5 tablespoons of peanut butter is ~500 calories
    • “When it comes to gaining strength and muscle mass, research comparing plant and animal protein has shown that as long as the proper amount of amino acids are consumed, the source is irrelevant”
      • Chris doesn’t necessarily disagree, but states: “Consuming the proper amount of amino acids when eating only plant foods is NOT easy”
      • The same study where this claim originates from also claims: “As a group, vegetarians have lower mean muscle creatine concentrations than do omnivores. This may affect exercise performance.”

Measuring Protein Quality

  • “Protein quality is a function of amino acid profile and bioavailablity”Chris Kresser
    • Amino acid profile = what amino acids the protein contains
    • Bioavailability = how readily we can digest, absorb, and utilize the protein
  • To rate proteins, scientists use a scale called the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS) – the higher the score, the better the protein
    • Here are a few scores for common foods:
      • Whole milk: 1.32
      • Eggs: 1.13
      • Beef: 1.10
      • Chicken: 1.08
      • Chickpeas: 0.83
      • Peanut butter: 0.46
      • Oats: 0.43
      • Whole wheat : 0.2
    • “What this scale is telling us is that animal proteins are much higher quality than plant proteins”Chris Kresser

Debunking The Game Changers | Part 2 – Protein Origins

  • The film states: “All protein originates in plants. Cows, pigs, and chickens are just the middlemen”
  • Chris debunks this: 
    • “All proteins come from bacteria, not plants” – Here’s why:
      • 1) Bacteria take up nitrogen from the atmosphere and are consumed by plant roots 
      • 2) When bacteria die, their “necromass” gives off free amino acids which are taken up by plants
      • 3) Bacteria in cattle’s rumen, which is a chamber in the stomach, convert carbs to short-chain fatty acids, which the animals then use for energy
        • Bacteria also die in the rumen and are consumed for energy
    • In summary:
      • “Cattle and other ruminants get their protein from bacteria. And this explains why the levels of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, are so much higher in meats than they are in plants.” – Chris Kresser
    • Animals are middlemen, but that’s a good thing. They convert inedible nutrients to highly bioavailable ones.
      • “That is why animal products are an important part of the diet” – Chris Kresser
    • To add, animals also convert other nutrients, besides protein, into more bioavailable forms
      • For example: They convert the beta-carotene they get from eating grass into retinol, the active form of vitamin A (humans don’t do this as well)
        • Where is retinol most highly concentrated? – The meat, milk, and organs, of animals

Debunking The Game Changers | Part 3 – Protein Requirements

  • The film states: “The largest study to compare the nutrient intake of meat-eaters with plant eaters showed that the average plant-eater not only gets enough protein, but 70 percent more protein than they need.”
    • One problem with this claim: This protein intake is being compared against the RDA (recommended daily allowance), which is currently 0.8 g per kg of body weight
      • However, new data suggests this RDA to be lower than it should be, and that 1.0-1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight is a more accurate value
      • “Also, the RDA doesn’t represent the optimal protein intake; it’s merely the amount we need to eat to avoid malnutrition” – Chris Kresser
    • Secondly, athletes need more protein than the general population
      • Just how much more? – 1.4-2.7 grams per kilogram of body weight, depending on training schedule, type of exercise, etc.
      • (And if you’re trying to build muscle, you need even more protein)
    • Digging further:
      • Say you’re trying to hit 2.1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (which is ~1 gram per pound of body weight)
        • For a 200 lb. athlete, that’s 200 grams of protein/day, which is nearly impossible to hit on a plant-based diet

A Few More Notes on Protein Requirements

  • If you’re optimizing for fat loss, Chris recommends eating between 1.2-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day
  • To prevent muscle wasting in the elderly, a target of 1.2 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day is most optimal 
  • Pregnant women should aim to hit 1.7-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day
    • That said: A meta-analysis of 16 studies found that increasing protein beyond the RDA during pregnancy led to a 34 percent lower risk of low gestational weight, a 32 percent lower risk of low birth weight, and a 36 percent lower risk of stillbirth.

Debunking The Game Changers | Part 4 – Protein Quality

  • The film states:
    • “Proteins are strings of amino acids, and there are some amino acids our bodies can’t make. Those are the essential amino acids, so we have to get them from food. And one of the arguments about animal-based proteins being superior is that plant-based proteins aren’t complete. So you’re not going to get all the amino acids. And that’s a fallacy as well.”
  • Chris debunks:
    • “Protein quality is a function of amino acid profile and bioavailability, and plant proteins are inferior to animal proteins on both counts” Chris Kresser
    • Plant proteins do contain essential amino acids, but MUCH lower amounts compared to animal proteins
      • What are essential amino acids?
        • Proteins and food are made up of a combination of 20 amino acids
          • Our bodies can manufacture 11 of these (non-essential amino acids)
          • The other 9 can’t be made in the body and must be gotten from food (essential amino acids)
      • For example, plant proteins contain much lower amounts of the amino acid leucine, which plays a critical role in muscle protein synthesis 
      • Beef is higher in nearly every essential amino acid compared to any of the other plant proteins (i.e., beans, peas, and rice)
        • Also, a single serving of beef meets the RDA for 3 of the 9 essential amino acids – none of the plant proteins comes even close
  • One note:
    • It’s certainly possible to get your essential amino acids from plants alone, it’s just extremely difficult and requires consuming a ton of protein powder(and plant-based protein powders are extremely processed)

6 Nutrients that Are Missing from Plant Protein

  • 1) Creatine
    • “Studies have shown that vegans have lower levels of muscle creatine, which is a nonessential nutrient that’s supplied by meat and contributes to strength and power” – Chris Kresser
    • One study found that giving vegetarians supplemental creatine during a strength training routine increased their strength more than supplemented omnivores
  • 2) Carnosine
    • Carnosine helps maintain a healthy pH in muscles by buffering the hydrogen ions created when muscles generate energy
  • 3) Beta-alanine
    • Beta-alanine is a rate-limiting precursor to forming carnosine, which is primarily found in animal foods like meat, fish, and poultry
      • Chris suggests that vegans may need to supplement with beta-alanine to maintain sufficient muscle carnosine levels
  • 4) Taurine
    • Taurine is a sulfur-containing amino acid that reduces muscle damage and improves recovery after exercise
    • “Vegans have been shown to consume almost no taurine in the diet” – Chris Kresser
      • Taurine can be synthesized in the body from cysteine and methionine in the presence of vitamin B6, but vegans tend to have lower levels of every one of these, making taurine deficiency more likely
  • 5) Calcium
    • On average, omnivores consume 2x the amount of calcium compared to vegans
      • This explains why several studies have shown why vegans are at a higher risk for bone fracture
  • 6) Zinc
    • Zinc is essential for cell growth and repair, protein metabolism, exercise, recovery, and hormone production, including testosterone

In Summary

  • “Whether you’re looking at the quantity of protein or the quality of protein, there’s really not much of a comparison between animal proteins and plant protein. Animal proteins are superior in all of those respects.” Chris Kresser
  • It IS possible to hit your protein requirements on a plant-based diet, but it’s EXTREMELY difficult 

Additional Notes on Chronic Disease

  • One in two Americans have a chronic disease
    • One in four have multiple chronic diseases
  • “Chronic disease is destroying our quality of life, shortening our lifespan, bankrupting governments, and threatening the health of future generations” – Chris Kresser
    • “The only way to prevent or reverse chronic disease is by changing our diet, lifestyle, and behavior. Conventional medicine is not set up to do this.”
      • For this reason – personal health coaches are likely to become more popular in the future