But I have to do it.
I bought these large, expensive jugs of hyper-processed protein particles and diet supplement powders at the end of last year, as a part of a nearly life-long effort to gain weight. And today, I am dumping them out in the trash.
Oh, you read that right, by the way. I said I wanted to “gain weight.”
I’ve been chronically underweight for most of my life, even having been diagnosed with “failure to thrive” as a child. (Every time I say that phrase, I hear my mother’s anguished words echo in my mind — “…Cause that’s what EVERY mother wants to hear! Your child is failing…to THRIVE!” Poor thing.)
I had a virtually nonexistent appetite. There were very few foods that I truly enjoyed eating, and mostly, meal times were something I did not look forward to. I would barely recognize, and then even forget, that I was hungry — and would continue about my day without stopping for any kind of snack until the next meal was forced upon me.
I now have a theory as to why this was. I wasn’t eating real food. The “Standard American Diet” — fake food that really should be unappetizing to people — was what sustained my life, and clearly by that grim diagnosis I mentioned, it wasn’t working out too well.
When I began feeling self-conscious about my size and weight, I made every effort to change. I choked gobs of peanut-butter-laden white bread sandwiches down my throat at the advice of my older brother — “Eat til it HURTS!!” said the beefcake star of the football team. I agonizingly stuffed in additional meals beyond the standard three, when I could bear to.
And I made a habit of slurping down chalky globs of powdered protein diluted into processed, pasteurized milk (we’re still in the days of the S.A.D. here, folks). I became convinced that these protein shakes were the only thing preventing me from losing any more weight, in addition to the few, meager ounces I managed to put on with them.
Fast forward to my adulthood, and I still held onto this theory. I still was underweight and uncomfortable with my body, still ate SAD food, and still hated most of it. Whenever I’d start to feel distraught about my weight, or get a comment from a well-meaning observer about how “skinny!” I was, or just generally perceive myself to be unhealthy and un…normal, I’d down a shake to feel better about myself, holding onto the idea that this was a good and healthful choice for someone like me.
I realize that most people, however, take protein shakes to simply supplement their diet, replace meals, or to aid in muscle development. PH would consume them for the latter reason — he enjoys working out and lifting weights, and would take the protein powder to help gain muscle tone.
So why the sudden change of heart? Why are we dumping (literally) our relationship with this easy, quick source of such an important and necessary nutrient (and calorie boost for me)?
Its Not Real.
Come on, now. This one ought to be a no-brainer. Real foods are foods that, well, exist in nature, primarily, and are not excessively tampered with by human hands (or let’s be honest, factories).
Does this look like something that meets that criteria?
Of course not.
It took me a good, long while to reach this conclusion, nonetheless. I think more importantly, it took quite some time for me to realize that foods that are not REAL are in fact a very real threat to my health. Unnatural foods lead to unnatural health problems. But like most people living in our modern, industrialized society, I had been conditioned to not see the truth in this. We see foods that are fast, easy, and convenient as a benefit to our lives — pour out a scoop, and flip a switch of a blender instead of slaving in the kitchen to cook up a lean steak? Sounds fantastic. We seem to think this way regarding most technologically-advanced food products, regardless of how far they are from any sort of a natural form. But this is where the problem with powdered protein lies.
What’s In This Stuff?
So what do you find inside one of those big plastic jars of the powdered food substitute? Let’s look at a list of ingredients in one of the shakes I used to drink (this one in particular was specifically targeted for weight gain, hence the “Meta” dose of carbs):
Metacarb-III (proprietary carbohydrate blend which contains: maltodextrin and modified food starches), Peptol-III (proprietary protein blend which contains: beef protein, whey protein concentrate, whey protein hydrolysate and egg albumen), whey, fructose, lowfat dutch cocoa, medium-chain triglycerides, natural and artificial flavoring, Metavite-III (proprietary vitamin-mineral blend containing: dicalcium phosphate, magnesium oxide, potassium citrate, ascorbic acid, vitamin E acetate, niacinamide, ferric orthophosphate, zinc oxide, calcium pantothenate, manganese sulfate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, copper gluconate, retinyl palmitate, riboflavin, thiamin mononitrate, chromium polynicotinate, folic acid, biotin, potassium iodide, cholecalciferol, cyanocobalamin), xanthan gum, cellulose gum, soy lecithin, salt, aspartame, carrageenan, acesulfame-potassium. Contains milk, egg and soy.
Okay, so aside from a bunch of chemical preservatives, artificial flavorings and sugars, and synthetic vitamins (oh, and toxic loads of genetically-engineered phytoestrogens in the form of soy), what are we trying to eat here? Fake versions of proteins found in meat, dairy, and eggs.
Alright. Is it really that difficult to just eat the dang foods themselves? Well, it is when they’re not real. As I mentioned last week, that can be rather difficult to stomach.
But back to those ingredients. Powdered meat, dairy, and eggs. The issue of consuming macro nutrients, such as protein, having been processed out of the foods they came from, is worth a closer look.
What Happens when Protein Goes Fake
- Protein is an extremely fragile substance. High-temperature processing that the foods undergo from which the protein comes from, causes extreme denaturing of the protein, soliciting an auto-immune response from the body. Rather than supporting bodily functioning like a nutrient should, this denatured protein causes the body to attempt to fight it off as an invasive, foreign substance.
- Those “protein isolates” or “concentrates” you saw in the ingredient list are actually sneaky little forms of dangerous MSG. How can they do that without putting it on the label? The MSG is created when the glutamic acid (an amino acid) found in the protein is mechanically separated from the food it was sourced from — floating around in this unnatural form, causing a whole host of adverse reactions in the body. So, it wasn’t added in intentionally, but the toxic MSG is still very much present.
- Powdered protein allows this macro-nutrient to be delivered in a form unaccompanied by natural fats. Protein from real, whole foods like (grass-fed) meats, eggs, and dairy is naturally surrounded with an appropriate balance of healthy fats. When a diet is high in protein, and low in fat, the body rapidly loses its stores of Vitamin A, leading to many health problems including thyroid malfunction and various autoimmune disorders. Ironically, Vitamin A is even necessary for the synthesis of new protein tissue in the body.
- Whatever fat and cholesterol that may be present in powder from dairy-based proteins is delivered in an equally denatured, rancid, oxidized form, similar to the protein. Oxidized cholesterol and rancid fats pose significant risks to cardiovascular health.
- Let’s not forget about all those nasty additives in the ingredient list. Carcinogens and toxic chemical compounds abound in any processed food, fake protein included.
Just Say No
With all this evidence pointing to the fake, unhealthy reality of protein supplements, I gotta say, I think it’s a shame that my buds Dr. Mercola, renowned holistic health physician and author, and Marc Sisson, paleolithic nutrition expert, both sell the stuff themselves.
I, however, have resolved to kick my addiction to the dry protein dust, right down the trash can. No amount of money spent on the stuff is worth keeping it around my home, and risking my health. I now know how crucial it is to get my protein from the foods themselves from which the nutrient originates, not from powders, bars, or shakes.
Oh.. and the happy ending to my little story? I don’t hate food anymore. That’s because now, I eat real, actual food. And I’m even a few pounds heavier, and happier, for it. 🙂