Friday, January 28, 2011

Protein – red meat

Protein is an essential nutrient that is not stored in the body, and so we have to eat some protein foods every day. Protein deficiency is rare, in fact most of us eat too much protein, so these days the focus is rather on the fat content of the protein source eaten.

The protein group comprises, as its main components: red meat (beef, pork, lamb); poultry (chicken, turkey, ostrich); game (venison, rabbit); fish; eggs; beans and pulses; nuts and seeds. This is rather an extensive and complex list, so today I'm only going to look at animal protein, specifically red meat. However, if you don't eat red meat, please keep on reading - the next paragraph applies to other protein sources, too.

Protein contains nitrogen-bearing molecules. The liver has to break these down and dispose of them; the liver's job is to detoxify the body, so it is not doing anything unusual, but it has to work that bit harder to process protein. In addition, there is some concern regarding the safety of consuming animal protein. Modern farming methods include the regular use of antibiotics, growth hormones, sex hormones and pesticide dips. All these are passed on to the consumer in meat products.

Up to 75% of the kilocalories/kilojoules in red meat come from fat, much of which is saturated (saturated fats are the ones we need to cut down on). Game meat - provided it is not 'reared' or 'farmed' may be a healthier choice since the animals have not been chemically treated and fattened for market. Or buy organic, if you can afford to.

Meat eaters generally have a low health rating. A meat eater is twice as likely to visit a doctor or be hospitalised compared to a vegetarian. And a meat eater may suffer from degenerative diseases up to ten years earlier than a vegetarian.

As I said at the start, most people - especially braai-loving South Africans - eat too much protein, which contributes to osteoporosis, acidity and heart disease. Obviously the healthy thing to do is to reduce red meat consumption to, perhaps, once every ten days (if you really must have it). Rather choose chicken, fish and/or vegetarian protein sources.

We only need two to three portions of protein per day (growing children, adolescents and pregnant women need slightly more) - whatever the source.
One portion of protein is equal to:
35gm (raw) of boneless meat, such as lean beef, lamb, pork, venison or offal (liver, kidney, heart etc). This sounds like a miniscule amount, but protein requirements are based on a formula:

Body weight (in kilograms) X 0.8 = no. of gms of protein required per day.

So someone who weighs 62kg requires 49.6 gms of protein food per day. That is the minimum needed for body function. Not much, is it?

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