Excerpt from "Spontaneous Healing" by Andrew Weil, M.D.

We need protein to make new tissue, to grow, and to maintain and repair our tissues. Proteins are complicated molecules, made up of a variety of amino acids, some of which are essential nutrients that the body is unable to manufacture and must receive in the diet. Protein deficiency results in stunted growth and dramatic impairment of healing ability; but in our society, protein deficiency is practically nonexistent. Instead, most people consume too much protein, which also affect health adversely, and many of us get our protein from questionable sources.

Most people rely on animal foods for protein: meat, poultry, fish, milk, and milk products. Vegetable sources are beans, grains, and black walnuts. An important difference between animal and vegetable sources is that the latter are less concentrated. For example, the protein in beans is diluted by edible starch and indigestible fiber, so that you have to eat a greater volume of a vegetable protein source to get the equivalent of a portion of an animal food.

When you eat more protein than your body needs to make and repair tissue, it will be used instead as an energy source, as fuel. But protein is not an ideal fuel for the body. Because protein molecules are big and complicated, their digestion and metabolism require more work than the digestion and metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. So proteins are less efficient fuels: the ratio of work in to energy out is not as favorable as for other nutrients.

A practical consequence is that if you are eating a high-protein diet, your digestive system is doing a lot of work, and less energy may be available to you for healing.

There is another problem with protein as fuel: it does not burn clean. Carbohydrate and fat, being composed solely of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, burn to carbon dioxide and water. Protein contains nitrogen, and in the process of metabolism degrades to highly toxic nitrogenous residues. The burden of dealing with these falls on the liver, which processes them to urea, a simple compound that is also highly toxic. The kidneys must then take up the task of eliminating urea. Tying up liver and kidney function in this way reduces the contribution of those organs to the body's healing system. Furthermore, the nitrogenous-breakdown products of protein metabolism can also irritate the immune system, increasing the risk of allergy and autoimmunity, which represent derangement of body defenses. For all of these reasons, it is better not to consume too much protein. You want to give the body enough for growth, maintenance, and repair, but not so much that it becomes a significant source of metabolic energy.

How much protein is too much?

Remarkably small amounts are enough to satisfy the minimal requirements of the average adult perhaps two ounces, or sixty grams, of a protein food a day. Many people in our society eat much more than that at every meal. Certainly four ounces (less than 120 grams) is plenty. In general: if you have a protein meal once a day-that is, a meal organized around a main course of meat, chicken, fish, eggs, or tofu-that is probably enough. Try to design other meals around carbohydrates and vegetables: stir-fried vegetables with rice, say, or pasta and vegetables, or salads. Cutting down on protein will free up energy, spare your digestive system and especially your liver and kidneys from extra work, and protect your immune system from irritation.

In addition to thinking about protein in general and how to cut down on it, you should consider the advantages and disadvantages of the common sources of dietary protein, another subject that I consider important. Your choices about what kind of protein you ingest may have great influence on your long-term health and capacity for healing.

One problem is that diets rich in animal protein put you high on the food chain, not a good place to be. The food chain is the pattern of dependence of higher organisms on lower organisms for energy. Plants make energy from the sun. Herbivorous animals get that same energy by eating the plants. Carnivorous animals get it further removed from the source by eating the flesh of herbivores. The bigger the organism and the more carnivorous it is, the higher it is said to be on the food chain. One consequence of eating high on the food chain is that you take in much larger doses of toxins, because environmental toxins concentrate as you move up from level to level. The fat of domestic animals often contains high concentrations of toxins that exist in much lower concentrations in grains, for example. An independent problem is that the methods we use for raising animal sources of protein further load them up with unhealthy substances.

If you are a meat eater, we highly recommend one of these products below to better "assimilate" that source of poteins.


Here is a quick review of sources of dietary protein

Meat has several strikes against it. It is a major source of saturated fat in the diet, as well as a highly concentrated form of protein. Being high on the food chain, it accumulates environmental toxins. Unless it is raised organically, it is also full of added toxins: residues of growth-promoting hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals used by all commercial ranchers and farmers.

"White meat" is no better than red meat, except that veal has less fat than beef, and pork fat (lard) seems less hazardous for the human cardiovascular system than beef fat. Unless meat is cooked very well, it may transmit pathogenic viruses and bacteria to humans who eat it.

Chicken has one main advantage over meat: its fat is external to muscle tissue and can be removed with the skin. Otherwise, chicken presents the same toxic hazards as the flesh of cows, sheep, and pigs and may contain even more added hormones. Dangerous bacteria, particularly salmonella, often contaminate chicken and can sicken humans who eat it unless the chicken is well cooked. (organic, free range chicken ONLY)

Fish increasingly appears to be a very healthy source of protein. I am referring here to scale fish, not to shellfish. Populations that eat the most fish have the highest longevity and lowest disease rates, and within those populations, the healthiest individuals are those who eat the most fish. Why fish is good for us is not clear. Omega-3 fatty acids may be a part of the explanation, but they are in some fish only, and the answer may not have to do with any one component.

Are fish eaters healthier -because of the fish they eat or because of what they don't eat? Most of them eat much less animal flesh, for example. There are important cautions about fish today. Much of it is contaminated by toxins that have been dumped into rivers and oceans. Larger, more carnivorous fish and fish that live in coastal waters are most dangerous in this regard. I recommend against eating swordfish, marlin, because their flesh is likely to contain toxins. Increasingly, fish are being farmed throughout the world, especially salmon, trout, and catfish. Farmed fish may not be as beneficial to health as their wild counterparts (farmed salmon have lower amounts of Omega-3s and may have residues of drugs used to control diseases in crowded conditions. But even with these drawbacks, fish are a good protein source.

Shellfish are much less attractive, because they are more likely to contain toxins. They live in coastal effluents and feed in ways that expose them to high concentrations of wastes. Raw shellfish can easily transmit diseases to humans.

Milk products tend to be very high in saturated fat, unless they are made from skim milk or low-fat milk. Many people cannot digest the sugar (lactose) in milk, and many more probably experience irritation of the immune system from the protein in milk. (This is a particular problem with cow's milk; goat's milk does not seem to bother the immune system nearly as much.)

If you have allergies, autoimmune disease, sinus trouble, bronchitis, asthma, eczema, or gastrointestinal problems, it is worth eliminating all milk from the diet for at least two months to see what happens to the conditions.

In very many cases, they will improve dramatically. Commercial dairy products are another source of -environmental toxins, drugs, and hormones.

Eggs, at least the whites of eggs, are good sources of high-quality protein, but egg yolks contain fat and cholesterol that most of us should limit. Commercially raised eggs are produced under awful conditions, may contain toxic residues of drugs and hormones, and may be contaminated with salmonella. Avoid raw and undercooked eggs, and try to find eggs from free-ranging chickens raised without drugs and hormones.

Grains and beans contain carbohydrate and fiber along with protein, so you can eat more of them without suffering a protein overload. Since they are often treated with a variety of agricultural chemicals, I recommend looking for organically produced varieties.

Nuts and seeds, like almonds and sunflower seeds, are sources of vegetable protein, but their high content of fat (mostly polyunsaturated) argues for moderation in their consumption.

Having reviewed the major sources of dietary protein, I will now give you my simplest recommendations for taking advantage of this information to change your diet in a direction that favors spontaneous healing:

- Eat less protein.
Learn to recognize sources of protein in your diet and to cut down on them. Practice making meats that do not revolve around large servings of dense protein foods.

- Begin to replace animal protein in the diet with fish.
doing so you will both reduce your exposure to toxins and other harmful elements in meats, poultry, and milk and gain the benefits of health-promoting components of fish.