I recently dropped in to the Body Clinic at the Urban Retreat, Harrods (as you do) to have a HYPOX1 Therapy treatment. Part of the treatment involves a statistical consultation, for which I had to stand on a machine and have tiny electrical charges pass through my body. These electrical charges measured every conceivable body mass ratio statistic, including my visceral fat! (fat around the organs). At the end of the consultation the nutritionalist informed me that I was 47% muscle! (very good, apparently). But she then qualified this revelation by stating, ‘you must eat so much meat!’ to which I replied: ‘I don’t eat meat. I’m a vegetarian. To which she replied ‘that’s impossible, isn’t it?’
As far back as the 19th century protein was synonymous with meat, and this connection has stayed with us until the present day.
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The story of protein which comes from the Greek word proteios, meaning of prime importance’ is part science, part culture and a good dose of mythology. In fact nothing has been as well hidden as the story of animal protein. Ever since the discovery of this nitrogen-containing chemical in 1839 by Gerhhard Mulder a Dutch scientist, protein has loomed as the most sacred of all nutrients.
As far back as the 19th century protein was synonymous with meat, and this connection has stayed with us until the present day. Indeed most people equate protein, and muscle mass with animal based food. If you were to name the first food that comes into your mind when I say protein, you might say beef or chicken – however do not worry, you are certainly not alone!
Confusion reigns on many of the most basic questions about protein:
• What are good sources of protein?
• How much protein should one consume?
• Is plant protein as good as animal protein?
• Is it necessary to combine certain plant foods in a meal to get complete proteins?
• Is it advisable to take protein powders or amino acid supplements, especially for someone who does rigorous exercise?
• Where do vegetarians get protein and can vegetarian children grow properly without animal protein?
Fundamental to many of these common questions and concerns is the belief that meat is protein and protein is meat. Certainly in the 19th century, protein equalled meat, and everybody aspired to have meat on their table, just as we aspire to drive faster cars and have bigger houses.
Leading scientists of the time such as Max Rubner. stated that a large protein allowance and eating meat was the right of civilized man. If you were civilized you ate plenty of animal protein, if you were rich, you ate meat, and if you were poor you ate plant foods. The lower classes were considered by some to be lazy and inept as a result of not eating enough meat.
Thus elitism and arrogance dominated much of the field of nutrition in the 19,h century. The entire concept that bigger is better, more civilised, and perhaps even more spiritual permeated every thought about protein – a cultural bias had been firmly entrenched.
If you were civilized you ate plenty of animal protein, if you were rich, you ate meat, and if you were poor you ate plant foods.