Where Do You Get Your Protein? Radio show transcript

Where Do You Get Your Protein? Radio show transcript

Andrew Chuma No Comments


Dr. Chuma here,

I have been following a vegan diet now for 9 years, and, as most vegans will tell you, the most common question I get is “where do I get my protein!” The answer is very simple. I get all the protein I need from plants.

Protein is NOT something the vast majority of people need to worry about. But if you spend any time listening to or reading internet influencers, and even some misinformed medical professionals, we all need to be consuming more protein. Food companies take advantage of this misinformation and splash such phrases as “Contains Protein” on food packaging because it increases sales by 30%.

But the fact is that the average American consumes 2-3x more protein than they need or their body can even process. All that extra protein cannot be stored by the body, unlike fat and sugar, the other 2 macronutrients. Protein must be used immediately or processed and discarded by our livers and kidneys.

Most people don’t know what protein is. Many think of it as a source of energy. It is not, unless you are in a situation of extreme starvation.

Proteins are complex molecules which play many critical roles in the body. They are the main components of things such as enzymes, antibodies, structural components like cell walls as well as muscle. They are folded up chains made up of thousands of individual molecules called amino acids. There are 20 amino acids, 11 of which our bodies can make and 9 of which, known as essential amino acids, which we must consume. Proteins can’t be absorbed until they are broken down into chains of at most 2-5 amino acids. They then are small enough to pass through the intestinal wall  and into our bloodstream. They are then reassembled to create all of these compounds necessary for life. 

Contrary to the popular belief that animal products are the only sources of protein, plants are just as good, if not a better source. In fact, plants have more absorbable and healthier proteins than animal products do. Broccoli, for example, has more protein per calorie than steak. Another example are potatoes. A large potato has as much protein as an egg, often touted by the egg industry as “nature’s perfect food”. But the potato has no cholesterol whereas the egg has a lot.

There is also a very common misconception that meat, eggs and fish contain all 20 amino acids, including the 9 essential ones. The truth is that all plants contain all the amino acids, essential and non essential. There is one notable exception which is animal collagen, promoted as good for hair and skin. It is the only food missing one of the essential amino acids, tryptophan. Collagen products do have more of the same amino acids found in our own skin, nails and tendons, but collagen still has to be broken down to be absorbed and then reassembled. But the body might use those collagen amino acids for something different like hormones or enzymes, not necessarily collagen. So the notion that eating collagen is good for our hair, skin and tendons actually makes little sense. The same flawed logic applies to the idea that you need to eat animal muscle for our muscles to grow bigger and stronger.

Animal proteins are harder for the body to process. The kidneys, which filter out most of the protein we eat, have a much harder time processing animal proteins than plant ones. The National Kidney Foundation recently acknowledged this fact, recommending that kidney disease patients eat a more plant-based diet. 

When it comes to exercise and muscle maintenance and growth, there is no study that shows that animal protein outperforms plant proteins. Again the opposite is true. Athletes recover faster and can train harder on plant-based diets. There is a movie called “The Game Changers” which highlights many world class athletes like Patrik Baboumian, the strongest man in the world and Novak Djokovic, the world’s greatest tennis player who are plant-based. Carl Lewis, one of the fastest men of all time, was well known to be plant based.

Ultimately, it’s not the protein which makes you stronger and bigger. It’s the work. You won’t get stronger bones and muscles by pounding the protein shakes and sitting on your butt binging on Netflix. It’s getting in the gym, lifting weights or getting on the trails and exercising!

Looking at the healthiest and the longest lived human populations in the world, they are 95-100% plant-based. None of them give any thought to protein. 

Just look to nature for further evidence of the benefits of eating plant-based. Some of the largest, strongest and fiercest mammals on the planet are vegan. Gorillas, elephants, giraffes and rhinoceroses consume exclusively plants and they appear to be doing just fine.

So the next time the waitress at the restaurant asks if you want to add a protein to your salad, just tell them that the salad has plenty of protein already! Or better yet, ask for some tofu. Misconceptions about soy are coming up in my next piece.

See you next time.

Another Covid Surge!

Andrew Chuma No Comments

Hello everyone.

Dr. Chuma here.

Sadly, rather than discussing more interesting lifestyle issues, with rising numbers, I felt that a Covid update was in order.

After many months of continuously declining numbers of hospitalizations and deaths from Covid, there has been a significant recent surge. The hospitalizations from Covid have risen nationally by 25% in the last 2 weeks. Fortunately, the number of serious cases needing ICU admission or leading to death have not risen to the same degree, but these numbers always lag behind by a few weeks so we will see how things go in the near future. 

This rise in hospitalizations certainly indicates an increase in Covid cases in the community but it is very hard to get a good handle on these numbers since no one is testing anymore and all the systems which were used to track Covid have been dismantled.

There are a few reasons for the present spike. Many social gatherings such as graduation parties and proms bring many people together, but more importantly less vigilance when it comes to preventing spread of diseases in general is primarily to blame.  

Despite being in a very high risk specialty, I managed to avoid catching Covid, until 2 weeks ago. I developed some fatigue, achiness and nasal stuffiness. I was concerned that I had caught some bug from the office or hospital. With the upcoming Fathers day weekend and a few gatherings I was going to attend where there were older or at risk people, I tested myself and there it was. The positive red line. I tested myself twice just to be sure. I was devastated, not because my Covid-free “streak” was broken, but because I had put myself and others at risk. I let my guard down somewhere and got infected. Fortunately, none of my patients, coworkers or other close contacts developed Covid. 

I was surprised to hear from some medical colleagues that they wouldn’t have bothered testing. After all, “you don’t know you have Covid if you don’t test”. I was disappointed by this attitude since this disease is still very much present in our society and it has serious implications for many people. There is still a significant mortality rate and there is also an 8% long-haul symptom rate. 

It was a reminder that Covid is still very much around, no one is immune, and we have conveniently forgotten about it and how it spreads. 

So here are a few refresher facts.

It is spread by simply breathing, not just by mucus and saliva when we sneeze or cough. It is unique in that regard. That is why Covid is not seasonal. 

There is a prevailing idea that masks do not work. This is patently untrue. Although the majority of masks people are wearing don’t work, clearly N95 or KN95 masks work very well. Cloth and even surgical masks are minimally effective, but they at least alert everyone that something is up.

The notion that vaccines do not help is also ridiculous. There is no question that vaccines have saved millions of lives worldwide and have significantly reduced the severity of symptoms if you still get infected. Vaccines are no guarantee against infection, and I am proof of that, but they can significantly reduce the severity of the disease, which I am also proof of since I only had mild symptoms for a few days.

The isolation protocol if infected has not changed. The recommendations are still to isolate for 5 days from symptom onset, and then to wear an N95 mask for an additional 5 days if around people, but only if free of fever or other major symptoms such as coughing or sneezing for at least 24 hours. 

Follow up testing is also not recommended. First of all, there is a significant false negative rate so assuming you are no longer infectious after one negative test should not shorten your isolation or masking responsibilities. Secondly, both lab and home tests can continue to be positive weeks to months after someone is no longer contagious.

Remember that 75% of people remain infectious at day 7 and 10% can still spread it at 10 days. 

As we head towards another holiday weekend, there will undoubtedly be get-togethers. Given the sharp rise in Covid cases, please be careful and if you have any symptoms, stay home regardless of Covid status. Sick is sick. But please do test, protect those around you and take care of yourself.

If you do get sick, rest, drink plenty of fluids and push the fruits and vegetables which are full of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. If you are over 65 or have any chronic diseases which put you at increased risk, consider taking the antiviral Paxlovid. Be sure to check with your doctor about possible drug interactions. Common ones are cholesterol meds or blood thinners. 

And don’t look for any other magic bullets. There aren’t any.

Despite some of the crazy political rhetoric out there, we enjoy some amazing freedoms and advantages not experienced by most of the rest of the world. It’s important to appreciate what we have in this great country, and not complain and whine about what we want!

Enjoy your family and friends. Thank you to all those who serve, protecting all of our freedoms.

Have a great and safe Independence Day, and for my Canadian brethren, have a great Canada Day.

Stay Safe and be well


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