Our ancestors feasted and fasted, cycling their protein consumption. So should we.
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New science confirms what our Paleolithic ancestors—who were gatherers and occasional, clumsy hunters—practiced: Periodic protein deprivation. It turns out that excessive protein shuts down the longevity programs in our DNA.
For the last few thousand years, animal protein has been a staple of the human diet. Today meat is at the center of one of the world’s bloodiest food fights. Most of the meat consumed in the developed world comes from factory farms where animals are treated with extraordinary cruelty, fed hormones and antibiotics, and raised in unsanitary and inhumane conditions. But healthy, organic, grass-fed meat in small portions and wild-caught fish can foster freedom from heart disease, diabetes, cancers, and dementia.
Although we need protein, our cells cannot use actual protein—our gut bacteria must break it down into amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. There are many amino acids found in nature, but humans can only use 20 of them for building proteins. Essential amino acids are the ones you need to get from food, because your body cannot make them.
Protein makes up about 33 percent of the weight of a piece of beef, so if you eat a 100-gram steak you are only getting about 33 grams of protein. Lentils, meanwhile, have 9 grams of protein per 100 grams. Salmon has nearly 25 grams of protein per 100 grams. A good general rule for most people is to limit your total protein intake (animal and plant-based) to 200 to 400 grams or less per week, depending on your weight.
The key to animal protein is high quality, not high quantity. When we eat meat, we need to be concerned about what the animal ate too. Meats from animals that are not raised on the foods nature intended for them are not the best protein source. After all, animals did not graze on the corn they are fed in the factory farms of today. Make sure that your meat is free range, grass fed, and vegetarian. Wild-caught fish are better than farmed fish, which are fed cereal.
Most important, forget about your daily protein intake, and think about weekly protein intake. Your body does not need protein every day. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers who ate all their protein at once when they had a good day of hunting. They feasted and fasted, cycling their protein consumption.
I consume about 300 grams of protein a week, which is perfect for my 165-lb. (75 kg) weight and moderate level of activity. I eat most of my protein on days one and four of the week, in two sittings, just like our Paleolithic ancestors did when they found a fresh mammoth on their way home, shooed the birds away and brought it back to the village—except that instead of mammoth, I will eat a couple of hard-boiled eggs at lunch and a portion of fish in the evening.
So Sunday and Wednesday, I will have a protein feast, maybe eating out at my favorite fish restaurant or having a double scoop of plant-based protein powder at lunch or a helping of black beans and rice, which is a complete protein.
The key is cycling protein.
I know what I’m telling you flies in the face of current popular beliefs about our protein needs, but stay with me. Years ago, I was a fervent advocate of restricting carbs. In my new book, Grow A New Body, I explain the new research on eating less protein and why it is essential to sustaining health and longevity. And I believe excessive protein intake increases the risk of cancer and degenerative disease.