Why does protein matter? – Proteins transport and store minerals and oxygen in our bodies. We have to have muscle protein or we can’t move. DNA and RNA are both proteins. We need proteins like collagen and keratin for body structure. Proteins are required for clotting our blood, detoxing, helping our immune system, creating new cell membranes and to make insulin. We have thousands of enzymes that facilitate every chemical reaction in our bodies and all of those enzymes are protein. Protein is converted into fuel, stabilizes our blood sugars, helps our adrenals and thyroid function and helps us poop.
We must have 22 amino acids for our bodies. About a dozen of those, called Essential Amino Acids, we have to eat and the rest we can manufacture after eating the essential ones. Protein foods like animal meat, poultry, eggs, yogurt and cheese are called Complete Proteins because they contain all the 12-ish essential amino acids in one place. Grains, beans and many vegetables also have protein, but they are incomplete proteins and must be eaten with other foods that have the missing amino acids to form a complete protein. During this healing time, I suggest eating animal proteins because they are easier to digest and then switching to plant proteins after your stomach has healed.
Before our bodies can use the amino acids in the protein, we have to break the protein down, or digest it. The three main enzymes used for this are Pepsin, found in the stomach, and trypsin and chymotrypsin, both found in the pancreas. Along with those, we have to have adequate minerals in our system to help break it down, like sodium chloride (which our bodies convert to hydrochloric acid) and zinc.
If our stomachs are too alkaline, if we don’t have the adequate amount of stomach acids to break down, synthesize and absorb the proteins and other foods we ingest, they rot and ferment in there. That will create toxic chemicals which move to your liver. This can happen when we eat an animal protein and a grain at the same time. Animal protein makes our stomach release hydrochloric acid and the enzyme pepsin. Grains and starches make your stomach release the enzyme ptyalin to create an alkaline environment. Those two enzymes cancel each other out, which means very little of your food is getting digested when you eat them together.
Most people who are chronically ill have an issue with digesting. Changing the foods we eat will help this process, but if you feel your stomach acids aren’t up to the task, take a digestive enzyme for the time being to help out.
It would seem that simply not eating proteins, if you have a hard time digesting them, would be the easy answer, but for all the reasons stated earlier, we need proteins. Not enough protein can lead to weight gain and low thyroid and adrenal issues. During this healing process, eating small amounts of complete proteins throughout the day at regular intervals is going to promote healing.
Why? Let’s get Science-y!
Vegetables do have proteins. If you can handle peas and broccoli, they both have protein, as does spinach, artichokes, potatoes, asparagus, chard and Brussels Sprouts. However, in order to get how much protein you need right now to facilitate healing as quickly as you can, eating larger amounts of veg, which we already learned are hard to digest, doesn’t make sense for a few months. Some, yes, of course. But you simply can’t handle the amount of veg you’d need to consume to get adequate protein.
Grains don’t have very much of the amino acid lysine, so even as we are breaking grains down in our stomachs, we can’t use very much of the protein in there unless you also eat something with a lot of lysine along with it, which would be meat, poultry, or a whole lot of sweet potatoes. Better to eat the animal protein and leave out the grain for now.
Beans have g-galactosides, which our stomachs can’t digest but the bacteria in our gut can. That means, between the starch of beans, which turns into sugar, and the g-galactosides which our gut bacteria reads as sugar, we end up with lots of gas in our tummies and intestines which right now can be really painful and uncomfortable. Many people will combine beans with a grain to get more of the amino acids we need at the same time. But, as you can probably tell already, the two together right now in the system of someone who is chronically ill is far worse than either alone.
What about Soy? Over 90% of available soy crops are GMO. Even organic soy, which is not supposed to be, has been tested at up to 20% GMO. Yes, soy is theoretically a great protein and if you choose to eat it like Asian diets do, which is to say in small amounts – about 9 grams a day and primarily of fermented soy like miso and tempeh, and you did your best to make sure it was organic, you’d probably be fine. But here in America, processed soy products can contain over 20 grams of non-fermented soy in one serving. Eating that amount of soy very often is going to disrupt your endocrine system and give you digestive issues. It messes with your hormones and some studies link it to cancer.
Fermented soy has probiotics that help us with digestion. But traditional, natural soy contains estrogens, toxins and anti-nutrients (which block the enzymes needed for digestion) and even if you don’t have a strong allergic reaction like some people, you can have a low-level sensitivity that causes inflammation.
And here’s the thing – it’s everywhere. It’s in soups, breads, meats like whole baking chickens that have liquid injected under the skin, sauces, chocolate and in supplements and vitamins. It’s even in some canned tuna! Here are the words to look out for: textured vegetable protein, soy protein isolate, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, and lecithin. Hydrolyzing soy protein into vegetable protein produces excitotoxins like glutamate and aspartate and we already know that those kill our cells prematurely.
Soy is now commonly used as the base in those “vegetable” oils we talked about earlier. Soy protein isolate was actually created to use in cardboard. Yummy. It’s not even approved as a food ingredient and it’s laced with chemicals. But, there it is, along with soy flour in tons of processed baked goods.
Animal proteins contain vitamin B12, zinc, niacin, carnitine, taurine, cysteine, methionine, alpha-lipoic acid and more. These simply aren’t found, or there is much less to be found, in vegetable proteins. Taurine, cysteine and methionine are particularly important right now for you because they are essential to helping your body eliminating toxic and synthetic chemicals.
First choice – organic meats from animals raised without hormones and antibiotics. Beef, lamb, chicken and turkey. Organ meats have the most of what you need.
Eggs are not only great protein but they have lecithin and vitamin A. If you don’t want to eat very much meat, try eating more eggs.
Fish are awesome but you have to be careful with mercury and other metal poisoning. Fish also has more cholesterol than you may know. Small fish like sardines have much less contamination. How do we find out what’s currently less contaminated? Check online at foodandwaterwatch.org under Smart Seafood Guide for a list of not only the least toxic fish at the moment, but which fish are being caught in the most sustainable manner.
I do disagree with them on farmed fish. I realize that farming fish can be a more sustainable way to grow and harvest, but when you’re trying to heal, the possibility of some kind of contamination or the high possibility that the food they are being fed is soy/corn/GMO makes it a difficult sell for me. I’d recommend that you opt for wild caught options from their list when possible and if you get tuna in the can, look for pole/wild caught.
Nuts and Seeds are great if you can digest them. Try them soaked or sprouted which makes them more digestible.
How much protein do you need a day? Not as much as you might think. If you’re simply trying to promote healing in your body, you don’t need massive amounts. Right now if you’re eating animal proteins because they’re easier to digest, you don’t want to overdo it. Animal products can promote cancer, so too much of a good thing can backfire. Your body needs it to heal the brain and gut, but you don’t want to get raised cholesterol or fatty liver. Remember, oil is oil is oil when it comes to fat, even if it’s a “good” oil, the same way animal products are animal products in the body, no matter if it’s steak, chicken breast, fish, or cheese.
One average 8-oz piece of meat has about 50 grams of protein. So if you think about how large that is, mentally break it into 3rds or 4ths, and dole that out into meals throughout the day, you’re doing the best for your body right now by spacing it out and giving your body the fuel it needs to digest and heal continuously. Overdoing it on the protein at this stage can also cause stress on our livers because digesting animal protein will produce some amount of uric acid, and we learned earlier that too much uric acid can lead to many issues including Type-2 Diabetes and high blood pressure.
How long does it take to digest proteins? Why do we care about digestion times? Well, as we found out earlier, stomachs that lack the ability to digest well can have undigested food fermenting in them, which can cause toxins and bloating and inflammation. If you choose a protein type that has a shorter digestion time for days when you’re having a hard time assimilating proteins, you’ll be doing yourself a favor. If you start your day with or keep the longer-digestion proteins for first thing in the morning or in the middle of the day, it’s going to go easier on your body.
Here’s a breakdown of approximate digestion times:
Egg yolk – 30 min. digestion time
Whole egg – 45 min.
Fish – cod, scrod, flounder, sole seafood – 30 min. digestion time
Fish – salmon, salmon trout, herring, (more fatty fish) – 45 to 60 min. digestion time
Chicken – 11/2 to 2 hours digestion time (without skin)
Turkey – 2 to 2 1/4 hours digestion time (without skin)
Beef, lamb – 3 to 4 hours digestion time
Pork – 41/2 to 5 hours digestion time
You can also find this list here. If you prefer beef, lamb and pork, take your digestive enzymes. You can also eat fresh pineapple, which has bromelain, and fresh papaya (but not Hawaiian, because that version is GMO), which has papain, with those meats and help them break down in your stomach. They do their own type of “digesting” of the meat and save what enzymes you have in your stomach for the rest of your dinner.
Learn to pair foods from the Alkaline Foods list with your proteins, which are almost exclusively acidic to balance things out. And add a few bites of fermented foods to heal your gut with every meal.