Animal vs Plant Protein for Low Carb

Randomized trials show that low-carb diets are as good as low-fat diets and may even be better, according to Harvard Healthbeat’s August 16, 2011 issue. Two studies show that just as there are good fats and bad fats, good carbs and bad carbs, there is new evidence for good proteins and bad proteins.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have been following 85,000 female nurses and 45,000 male health professionals since the mid-1980s. The huge pool of data has found some telling evidence.

Not surprisingly, one study on the nurses’ diet indicated that red meat increased the chances of heart disease significantly in women. Replacing even one serving of red meat with nuts,  significantly reduced the risk of heart disease.

In another study that looked at the carb content as well as sources of protein in nurses and male health professionals, low-carb diets that were high in animal protein increased the likelihood of death by 23 percent over 20-plus years of follow-up versus “regular” diets. Those on low-carb diets with plant proteins were less likely to die over that period by 20 percent. Looking at the table of various sources of protein and the content, what distinguishes animal proteins from plant proteins is the amount of saturated fat. The plant proteins have far less saturated fat and more carbohydrates (the good kind).

The study left me with several questions. It would have been interesting to have some more information on white meat protein. Is plant protein better even if it is cooked in unsaturated fats, like olive oil? Does the plant protein advantage disappear if equal amounts of saturated fat are added? The table in the newsletter has boiled soybeans and black beans. These questions have been forwarded to the newsletter and any feedback given will be posted here.

The bottom line is that for long-term health, both studies conclude that the type of protein consumed does matter. Plant protein is better for longevity than animal protein. Low-carb diets help reduce weight but the wrong type of protein may also reduce the days of life.

There are other benefits, not cited by the studies: plant protein is much more economical; it requires far less land, water, energy to produce than animal protein; no methane is produced. Animal proteins may carry stress hormones produced in the animals due to their inhumane living conditions as well as the stress and fear endured during the process of slaughtering. These stress hormones may enter the human body when the animal protein is consumed. These are some of the reasons, in addition to non-violence, yoga and meditation traditions recommend vegetarian diets. Plant proteins are better for the body, the environment, as well as the family budget.

There are several vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free recipes, and we keep adding more, for low-carb diets on Indian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Mexican cuisines offer a wide variety of delicious choices.

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