• Glenn Wilson

    The field of nutrition got human protein requirements spectacularly wrong, leading to a massive recalculation.

    Dr. Greger: There has been a history of enthusiasm for protein in the nutrition world. A century ago, the protein recommendations were more than twice what we know them to be today. This enthusiasm peaked in the 1950s, with the United Nations identifying protein deficiency as a serious widespread global problem. There was a protein gap that needed to be filled. This was certainly convenient for the U.S. dairy industry, which could dump its postwar surplus of dried milk onto the third world, rather than having to just bury it. But this led to the great protein fiasco. There was a disease of malnutrition, called kwashiorkor, that was assumed to be caused by protein deficiency—famously discovered by Dr. Cicely Williams, who spent the latter part of her life debunking the very condition that she first described.

    Turns out there’s no real evidence of dietary protein deficiency. The actual cause remains obscure, but fecal transplant studies suggest changes in gut flora may be a causal factor. How could the field of nutrition get it so spectacularly wrong? A famous editorial about the profession started with these words: “The dispassionate objectivity of scientists is a myth. No scientist is simply involved in the single-minded pursuit of truth, he or she is also engaged in the passionate pursuit of research grants and professional success. Nutritionists may wish to attack malnutrition, but they also wish to earn their living in ways they find congenial.” This inevitably encourages researchers to “make a case” for the importance of their own portion of the field, and “their nutrient,” which was protein.

    Science eventually prevailed, though, and there was massive recalculation of human protein requirements in the 1970s, which “at the stroke of a pen” closed the “protein gap,” and destroyed the theory of the pandemic of “protein malnutrition.” Infant protein requirements went from a recommended 13% of daily calories, to 10%, 7%, then 5%. However, to this day, there are still those obsessing about protein. Those promoting Paleolithic diets, for example, try to make the case for protein from an evolutionary perspective.

    Continue at NutritionFacts: The Great Protein Fiasco.

    Maybe you prefer to read the transcript instead of watching this video? To see the full transcript or links to cited sources go to the link above, then scroll below the video and click on View Transcript or Sources Cited.

    Doctor's Note:
    The “low” protein level in human breast milk (about 6 percent of calories) doesn’t mean adults only need that much. A 15-pound infant can suck up to 500 calories a day, but an adult who’s ten times heavier doesn’t typically consume ten times more food (5,000 calories). Although we may weigh ten times more than a baby, we may only eat four or five times more. So, our food needs to be more concentrated in protein. Nevertheless, people tend to get way more than we need.

    See also:
    The Protein-Combining Myth.

    Vegetables have plenty of protein, and they're complete proteins as well.


    Shelter Theater: Staying Alive Feb 16
    HOW NOT TO DIE: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, & Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.
    In this “best-of” compilation of his last four year-in-review presentations, Dr. Greger explains what we can do about the #1 cause of death and disability: our diet.

    Speakers will be on hand to answer questions about the plant based diet and general health issues.
    Shelter Theater: Staying Alive Feb 16.


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