Meat or Legumes; Protein needs

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Despite health and environmental concerns, global consumption of animal flesh has according to the document on sustainability by Impossible Foods grown fourfold in the past 50 years, and Americans, rather amazingly consume some 50bn burgers a year, with developing countries catching up. Surely, they are getting enough protein, but how much is actually needed for health and what source is best?

Food production is responsible for more than a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions and growing feed for livestock accounts for a quarter of water use. Ruminant animals such as cows and sheep occupy swaths of farmland and emit vast amounts of methane before being turned into meat. This suggests that some reduction in meat consumption may offer both personal and global benefits.

Yet the truth about the dedicated meat avoiders; Vegans and improved health is slightly less fabulous and a bit more nebulous than some of the more enthusiastic proponents would want you to believe. It seems pretty clear that we should cut down on red meat — particularly processed products such as sausages, salami and pâté — because they are implicated in heart disease and bowel cancer. There is, however, a relative deficiency of data (more is needed) confirming that of itself, a vegan diet is healthier than a vegetarian one — or even one containing a modest amount of lean meat and fish. Albeit the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported in 2009 that vegan diet followers tend to have lower body weights, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol.

It is possible to go vegan badly, by gorging on chips, crisps and fizzy drinks; the dietary villains of fat, sugar and salt are not found only in flesh. However, lets presume that the interest in reducing meat is further supported by a willingness to explore alternative plant-derived proteins – in this case legumes – what merits do they have and how much should be eaten?

Recent studies focusing on the nutritional profiles of two great plant based proteins; chickpeas and lentils have helped push the legumes onto more consumers’ plates. There is more iron in 100 grams of lentils than in the same quantity of beef or chicken, and a serving of lentils contains less than 1 percent fat. A June 18 study by the University of Guelph, published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that when healthy adults replaced half of their daily carbohydrate intake with lentils, instead of potatoes or rice, they had a far more nuanced blood sugar response and their blood-glucose levels fell by at least 20 percent.

Numerous nutritional studies also underline the healthful properties of chickpeas, which are a good source of fibre and plant-based protein and contain a number of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and vitamin K, which all play important roles in bone strength and overall health. Fibre acts to decrease cholesterol in the bloodstream and aid in regulating digestion by improving microbiome function and metabolic by products such as SCFAS, among other benefits.

The growing popularity of vegetable-based diets has helped boost consumption of pulses. Veganism is also more popular now than in living memory and some 7 percent of the UK population claim to be vegan, a figure that has multiplied by 700% over the past 2 years and 14% of Britain’s population – more than seven million people – are now vegetarian. So, what do you think, is it a display of consciousness and environmental awareness and that the trend in younger consumers will stay with them throughout their life?

Animal agriculture (aquatic and terrestrial) produces about one third of globally consumed protein but faces three seemingly insurmountable challenges in the ramp-up toward feeding 10 billion by 2050: finite land available to expand grazing and feed crops; limited potential for intensification; and continued pressures on water resources, climate, habitat and land use.

So, a paper out in Cell Metabolism in March 2014 is worth a revisit – gerontologist Dr. Valter Longo and team provide insights into why protein intake and source play such an important role in biological aging—and why this relationship changes at around age 65 for many people. Based on 6,381 adults aged 50 and over from NHANES III, a nationally representative, cross-sectional study and with their analytic sample mean age of 65 years and representative of the United States population in ethnicity, education, and health characteristics they found the following:

“Overall, our human and animal studies indicate that a low protein diet during middle age is likely to be beneficial for the prevention of cancer, overall mortality, and possibly diabetes through a process that may involve, at least in part, regulation of circulating IGF-1 and possibly insulin levels.”

Their findings suggest that a diet in which plant-based nutrients represent the majority of the food intake is likely to maximise health benefits in all age groups but that at older ages, it may be important to avoid low protein intake and gradually adopt a moderate to high protein, preferably mostly plant-based consumption to allow the maintenance of a healthy weight and protection from frailty.

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