By now everyone has heard of and is mildly obsessed with protein. Everyone is sucking down protein shakes as fast as they can. People think since it is protein, it is a safe food. People are eating fatty steaks, salmon, omelets, ham, sausage, cheese, almonds, peanut butter, and a lot of other foods that are high in protein, but might actually be detrimental to a successful diet plan for a lot of reasons. Food manufacturers are pushing “high protein” on labels and advertisements as a selling point even when the food has an extremely small percentage of protein (peanut butter and beans for example).
First off, I eat a ton of protein. Like, probably borderline too much most of the time, so this is a little bit “do as I say and not as I do”-esque. But, we aren’t all my size and trying to maintain and grow more muscle mass. There isn’t one diet that fits all people and all situations and goals, but let me kind of get into some universal truths that I’ve discovered that I don’t feel like people understand or even notice about protein.
You can read all day long about different reports and studies that claim the following (2) statements:
1) Excess protein in your diet will covert to glucose, the same as carbs do. So, if you’re diabetic or watching your carbs hardcore, excess protein can actually defeat the purpose of your intentions. If you’re doing low carb your goal is to get your body to burn ketones instead of glucose. If you’re excess protein gives your body glucose, then you are holding yourself back from entering a true state of burning ketones for fuel. They say it defeats the purpose. Well, for each of these reports you can read, there are studies that prove the opposite. Like anything else on the Internet, you can find the answer you’re looking for. Of all the articles I have read, I have determined that although an unlikely occurrence, the human body does possess the pathways to convert amino acids to fatty acids (not glucose), but that excess protein as a whole does not contribute to fat gain, and does contribute to lean body mass gain.
2) Anything over 30 grams of protein eaten at a single “sitting” is wasted. I’ve heard this a LOT from gym rats and wannabe bodybuilders… This thing about “anything over X amount of grams of protein is wasted in your body and doesn’t get absorbed anyway.” Huh!? Doesn’t get absorbed?! It just disappears, right? Come on. Please tell me you aren’t that illogical. I’m not even getting into the science of why this is silly, but I assure you the “excess” grams of protein in this scenario does not simply get excreted from your body completely wasted. People use this to draw the conclusion that they can eat all the protein they want. Do not think of protein as a free food, it is not. It counts just like the other macro-nutrients. If it was 0 calories per gram, then it would be a free food. But, it has 4 calories per gram just like carbohydrates. If anything over 30 grams (or whatever quantity) really was wasted, then I could sit all day and eat a hundred pounds of protein and never “use” more than 30 grams per “sitting” (what is a “sitting” anyway? I know it is a meal, but it is irrelevant if it doesn’t clarify how much time between each feeding…) More importantly, you probably never eat pure protein, almost always you’re eating it with some grams of fat and/or carbs.
What could possibly be wrong with eating healthy, protein-packed foods?
Lots of protein packed healthy foods like steak (even grass-fed beef, wild caught sockeye salmon, and other wild caught meats like Venison) are also packed full of grams of fat. These grams of fat are 9 calories each. You’re eating this little steak thinking it is safe and great, meanwhile you’re eating 30 grams of fat also which is 270 calories and you may not even realize it. Healthy foods do not always fit your diet plan at any quantity. You have to pay attention to the other macro-nutrients such as fat. Be careful how you are preparing this food as well. I have watched some dieters put garlic butter on their salmon and bake it. I have seen people deglaze their steak pans with cooking wine. I have seen people using horseradish cream sauce for their beef roast. All those supplemental little side dishes and condiments are so insanely high in fat and/or carbs.
How about nuts and nut butter? Are you kidding me? Don’t even start telling me it is a high protein food or I will slap you. It’s like pure fat. There is some protein… But there are also some carbs. People are way too excited about nut butters and nuts these days. Bravo to quality marketing and advertising and all you sheep follow right in line. I know, it tastes EPIC and you want it to be good for you so badly. But I am not on the nuts and nut butters band wagon! I do not approve! I know this is contrary and people will think I’m absolutely wrong. “What about the Omega 3 and Omega 9 fatty acids, high protein, and fiber!?” Shhhh, I’m not buying it. Full of fat, extremely calorically dense, and for me – not satisfying. I could eat 15 handfuls of nuts and an entire jar of almond and peanut butter. The whole thing. All gone. And still want more. That is dangerous and not worth it! Go eat a REAL high protein meal like my morning omelet (7 egg whites and 3 whole eggs) and see if you want to eat 5 more omelets. You won’t. And that is not full of fat and carbs either. I know, I’m a little bit anti-nuts. I do love them, mmm… But I love pizza and eggrolls too… And they aren’t on my diet either for a reason.
Side note: The picture above with me pointing at a Chunky Peanut Butter was taken a couple days ago in Sopron, Hungary. I am always joking with Europeans every single chance I get that they will soon all be addicted to peanut butter just like Americans. They fight it violently, lol. They tell me they have Nutella, and peanut butter tastes awful. Well, look who found a jar of Chunky Peanut Butter in a random grocery store in Hungary! It has begun! Hahaha.
Cold cuts, beef jerky, and ham, oh my!
Some high protein and seemingly healthy choices can be bad for you as well. Maybe not “bad” but just not as good as other options. Lunch meats (cold cuts) or cured meats like ham, dried sausages, beef jerky, etc. When I’m in Hungary, Romania, and Austria, this is an extremely common food, way more than in the States even. Most of these foods are extremely high in sodium. You will hold extra water and look like a stuffed pea all bloated up. If you like the “water balloon about to pop” look, by all means, have at it, but be careful because it will make you look thick. Also, Sodium Nitrite/Nitrate is a preservative in nearly all cured and long life meats. It was banned I believe in the 70’s but brought back since it was literally in every single long shelf food so they “had no choice” but to bring it back. Some countries in Europe have it as a banned substance. There are lots of studies and reports linking Sodium Nitrite/Nitrate to cancer stating that it is carcinogenic and should not be consumed. That’s pretty serious. So, if you eat it, be aware and careful that it could be counterproductive to what you’re trying to accomplish with your body.
Beans are absolutely a great food choice. They are healthy, high in fiber, and extremely balanced. I am not suggesting beans are bad for you. I do however want to bring to your attention that beans are not as jam packed full of protein as everyone leads you to believe. The majority of content is carbs and fat. There is some protein in beans (lentils have the most protein and most fiber, but not all beans have great ratios of macro-nutrients), but I wouldn’t call them a high protein food choice at all. Also, it depends how you eat then. Baked beans, obviously, are awful for you. Full of sugar, and if you’re using sausage or hot dogs to cook with them you’re adding lots of fat, low quality processed meat, and sodium nitrites/nitrates. Bad.
Dairy! Everyone loves to say how dairy is high protein and therefore you can eat all you want. Cheese, milk, cottage cheese, sour cream, etc. I love it, but don’t eat it unless I’m cheating, traveling, or flat out eating bad. Nearly all dairy products are extremely high in fat. The protein content is much lower compared to the fat. Remember fat is 9 calories per gram, and protein is 4 calories per gram. Don’t just look at the back of the nutrition label and see which number is bigger. Do the math. It matters. Even the low fat or fat free dairy options like cottage cheese, you will notice the lower the fat, the higher the sugar – which is arguable worse than high fat dairy options. Additionally, dairy bloats you up, has carbs/sugar/high fat depending on the type of dairy you’re eating, and unless you have access to a very natural farm – it is highly processed and pasteurized. In Hungary, Romania, and Austria there are lots of legitimate old world type farms where cows are raised naturally – like, really naturally, not our BS “natural” in the States – and the taste is spectacularly better. I also don’t bloat up on it. I obviously can’t pinpoint what it is and why it is different, but something we do with our mass produced dairy in the States (and lots of other countries) has a bad effect on the body. Also, there are tons of studies linking dairy to being carcinogenic. I eat dairy sparingly, and usually only with cheat meals or if I’m off the wagon. When I diet properly and am being strict, I don’t eat dairy at all. People are really going to fight me with one, but go talk to physique models or bodybuilders and see if they eat a bunch of dairy while trimming down to single digit body fat. And read some reports from universities you respect about the cancer link to dairy and tell me you don’t second guess dairy afterwards. I did.
Side note: The picture above of the cheese was taken a couple weeks ago at a small cheese factory in Torocko, Romania. It is a heavy Hungarian-populated village, and this cheese factory let us sample dozens of cheeses. Cow, sheep, goat, buffalo, and mixes. I’m not going to lie… we went there on an empty stomach, and left completely sick to our stomach. It took us about 3 days to recoup from that, lol.
Not to get too off topic here, but most of you are probably freaking about dairy because of your coffee creamer. Here is a little diet hack that I use and have been very happy with – try coconut milk. Try that in your coffee. It is rich and creamy, dairy free, no carbs, and is a good coffee creamer replacement.
I hope this blog opens your eyes a little bit about protein. If nothing else, I hope it gets you thinking. The biggest part of this journey you’re on is to learn. But, no matter how much someone tells you something, some things you have to learn on your own. I’m not saying to blacklist all of the foods I’ve mentioned, not at all, but I’m just saying to be aware of what you’re eating, watch how it effects your fat loss or body composition, and adjust accordingly.
Now… As soon as I post this I’m going to cook up 3 pounds of pork tenderloin, wrapped in bacon, seasoned with garlic salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
Om nom nom!!!