When you hear the word ‘protein,’ what is the first thing that comes to mind? For the average American consumer, protein is synonymous with meat. In fact, most American consumers strongly believe two things about protein; (1) that it is essential to a healthy diet and (2) the only way to obtain it is from meat, dairy, or eggs. This deeply held belief is the source of the question that every vegan has been asked at least once: Where do you get your protein?
Consumers have at least one thing right – protein is a vital component to our diet. The word protein comes from the Greek word proteios, which means “of prime importance.” Every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies is comprised of protein. The protein in our bodies constantly wears out and must be replaced on a regular basis. We replace worn out protein by consuming food that contains protein. When our bodies digest protein in the food we consume, it is converted into amino acids. There are 9 essential amino acids that we need to build, maintain, and repair tissues within the human body. Essential amino acids are those that our bodies cannot produce and can only be obtained from diet. Thus, consuming protein in our diet is necessary to a healthy diet.
Consumers are not as savvy when it comes to knowledge about the sources of protein. It may surprise many consumers that there are two sources of protein: (1) animals and (2) plants. Typically, the average consumer obtains protein from animal-based sources, which explains the common misconception that meat is protein. Sources of plant-based protein include nuts, seeds, beans, rice, and potatoes. At this point in time, even the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) recognizes that a consumer can obtain an adequate amount of protein from plant-based sources.
What may come as more of a surprise to the average consumer is that animal-based protein promotes cancer growth. This shocking revelation was the result of a series of studies funded by the National Institute of Health, the American Cancer Society, the American Institute of Cancer Research, and the Cancer Research Foundation of America. These studies, spanning a period of nineteen years, explored the effects of dietary protein on the cancer development in rats infected with aflatoxin, a known carcinogen. Aflatoxin, like dioxin, is one of the most toxic chemicals ever discovered. The original study started with two groups of rats, both groups were infected with aflatoxin. All of the rats were predisposed for cancer after infection with aflatoxin. Some of the rats were then fed a diet of 20% animal protein and others were fed a diet of 5% animal protein. All of the rats fed a diet of 20% animal protein developed cancer. However, none of the rats fed a diet of 5% animal protein got cancer. From this first study, the researchers concluded that decreasing protein consumption from 20% to 5% completely prevented the very powerful carcinogen, aflatoxin, from causing cancer. The results from this initial study have been duplicated and expanded upon.
Dr. T. Colin Campbell is one of the main researchers behind these studies. The message from all of his ground breaking research stemming from this initial study is that dietary protein trumps environmental carcinogens, even the extremely toxic ones. In his book, The China Study, Dr. Campbell explains that “just like seeds in the soil, the initial cancer cells will not grow and multiply unless the right conditions are met.” As it turns out, animal protein provides just the right conditions for cancer development. When the aflatoxin infected rats consume animal protein, cancer growth turns on. But, when the same rats switch to a plant-based protein, cancer growth turns off.
Under current criteria for determining carcinogens, animal protein should make the list. A carcinogen is any substance that induces cancer or increases its incidence. Typically, any substance that is found to induce tumors in animals is presumed to be a human carcinogen. Dr. Campbell’s research shows that animal protein induces the growth of cancer in animals, meeting the definition of a carcinogen. All of his research in this area has been published in highly respected peer reviewed journals. In fact, none of his findings have been criticized, not even by those at Harvard, Berkeley, Cornell, Emory, Yale, Duke, and NIH. Yet this information about the carcinogenic nature of animal protein is largely unknown. As Dr. Campbell himself noted, “I am taking on some very powerful interests and they won’t listen — regardless of the veracity of the evidence.”