Dietary Protein Recommendations
A reader wrote to me about protein recommendations in Dr. Fuhrman's diet (Eat To Live). The reader suggested that consuming 20% (or more) of one's daily calories from planted-based protein is a good thing to do. His comment inspired me to summarize what I think I know about protein recommendations and healthy diets.
The evidence I’ve seen shows two things:
- Consuming excess animal protein is more dangerous than consuming excess vegetable protein.
- Consuming excess protein from either source (animal or vegetable) can have negative health effects.
The China Study research indicates that increasing protein intake over 10%, even when the protein is from vegetable sources, increases disease risk. It also found that excessive animal protein was much more dangerous than plant protein. But the concerns related to excessive protein consumption apply to protein from either animal or vegetable sources. All protein has nitrogen, and when excess protein is burned as an energy source, harmful nitrogen-containing compounds are created. These compounds may be toxic to the body.
My own quick calculations show that Dr. Fuhrman’s protein recommendations (as published in his book) are closer to 13-15% of calories, rather than 22-24%, as the reader suggested. (However, maybe Dr. Fuhrman has published information that is not contained in his book and that I haven't seen on his web site or in his emails. If anyone has his explicit recommendations for % calories from protein, please let me know.)
I would be very cautious about consuming twenty, or more, percent of your calories from protein, even if this all comes from plant proteins. Protein in the range of 13-15% of calories might be OK when it is from plant-based sources, but as far as I know that range has not been well-researched, much less proven safe.
We know, without a doubt, that consuming more than about 10% of our daily calories as animal protein is unhealthy. I have not seen any solid research that suggests it is good (or even neutral) to consume more than that from plant-based protein. (If anyone does know of research showing this, I’d like to know about it.)
Many athletes may need to reconsider their diets because athletes commonly add extra protein and often consume more than 20% of their calories from protein. The same is true for average people who make an effort to eat low fat diets - a side effect is often excess protein consumption (to the point of being dangerous).
There has been at least one (older) study I know of that showed athletes’ performance improved after they switched from a 100 gm/day animal protein diet to a 50 gm/day vegetable protein diet. Dr. Paavo Airola cites this study in Are You Confused?
The research also shows that very small amounts of animal products were not shown to have negative health consequences. This is Dr. Fuhrman’s position as well as Dr. Campbell’s. My own position is that some animal fat (not protein), in the form of ghee, is very beneficial in a vegetarian diet.
To summarize, I think Dr. Fuhrman's nutrition program is very good - far better than most. It is certainly one of my favorite nutrition plans. I simply think it would be even better if it included a little ghee. I also think that if one combined Dr. Fuhrman's recommendations with Dr. Airola's and some of the better ideas from Ayurveda, the end result would be still better.
I'm looking forward to hearing from any of you about safe upper limits for plant-based protein consumption.