Let Food Be Thy Medicine: Part 3, Protein – Mystery but not Magic

Protein is one of 3 macronutrients. The other two macronutrients are carbohydrates and fats. They are all important and quality is much more important than quantity. Balance is the key to healthy eating. The appropriate balance agreed on by most nutrition professionals is 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% fats.

Carbohydrates and Fats:

Carbohydrates fuel the body and the mind and even when a low carbohydrate diet is being practiced the body will take the protein from the lean muscle mass and convert the protein in the liver to form carbohydrates and waste products. The lean muscle that the pilfered protein comes from is what contributes to a higher basal metabolism (calories burned while body is at rest). This process lowers the basal metabolism making it harder to lose weight and at the same time contributes to the  advance of sarcopenia which most often occurs in the aging process. Carbohydrates do not exist in the body for prolonged periods and excesses are stored as glycogen. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glycogen.

Quality Carbohydrates are derived from whole grains where endosperm is accompanied by bran and germ. Fats contribute to good health in a number of ways: fats make up 60% of the brain, they contribute bone absorption of calcium and serves as reservoirs of energy. Quality Fats are monounsaturated and poly unsaturated fats. Omega 3 fats from flax and cold water fish are important in reducing inflammation. https://www.livestrong.com/article/249138-what-are-the-functions-of-fat-in-the-diet/.


Proteins are made up of a combination of amino acids; nine of which are essential. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and must be supplied by food. Grains are usually deficient in the appropriate percentage of at least one essential amino acid, usually lysine. Spelt contains more lysine than wheat; thus it is 12% higher in digestible protein than wheat. A food that does not have the full complement of essential amino acids is not considered a whole protein and should be supplemented some time that day with a bean or legume to round out the actual protein intake.

Proteins from Livestock:

Animal products usually deliver complete proteins but along with that comes cholesterol and saturated fats.  An average adult usually needs only 50-70 grams of protein per day which is between  1-3/4 to 2-1/2 ounces per day. Meat is usually higher in sulfur containing amino acids which translates to higher amounts of acid which could result in depletion of calcium. High intakes of protein can help with individuals who need protein for growth such as infants, burn patients and body builders. For those who do not have increased requirements and who rely on animal sources of calcium it could result in: Negative blood lipids due to high concentrations of saturated fats, renal failure since the kidneys play a major role in nitrogen excretion and liver damage due to the excess protein.

Protein intolerance:

Proteins are not all food and are not always conducive to health. For example, viruses and bacteria as well as cancer and auto immune disorders are made up of proteins. Proteins are digested by enzymes which are also proteins. As of late, it has been universally accepted that Celiac Disease is associated in some way with a protein in grain known as gluten. Celiac researchers have identified other unrelated issues that impact some people when eating wheat and had for a while, referred to them as “non celiac gluten sensitivity” . A leading celiac researcher at the University of Chicago has strongly suggested that the condition be referred to as “Wheat Intolerance Syndrome”. https://www.cureceliacdisease.org/wp-content/uploads/Impact_November_2015_Final.pdf .  Other researchers have found a fourfold increase in wheat related digestive disturbances in the last half of the 20th century. Strangely enough, those 50 years coincide with the time period 1948-2000 when U.S. agriculture placed an emphasis  on creating new hybridized varieties of wheat. It is estimated that between 25000 and 40000 new varieties were introduced during that same period. Spelt, on the other hand, is an ancient grain (8500 years old) that has not been manipulated by man. Wheat Intolerance Syndrome actually deals with two aspects of digestion. One is digestion of simple sugars and the syndrome has been labeled FODMAPS which stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides and Polyols. Apparently some short chain sugars escape digestion in the duodenum and express transit themselves to  the large bowel where the bacteria have a field day. The result is gas, bloating, pain and diarrhea. The symptoms are most often linked with Irritable bowel syndrome. Spelt is the only gluten containing grain with such a low level of fructans that it is recommended for people who are on the FODMAPS diet. The other condition attributed to Wheat Intolerance Syndrome  involves the incomplete digestion of carbohydrates and proteins. Nature, in an effort to protect free threshing wheat kernels on the plant, created enzyme inhibitors, another protein, to discourage insect activity. Amylase enzymes digest carbohydrates while protease enzymes digest proteins. The inhibitors won’t allow the complete breakdown of the nutrients which then manifest themselves in leaky gut allowing undigested food particles (peptides) into the blood stream creating a domino effect involving the immune system , allergic reactions, sensitivity and possible chronic inflammation. Spelt is protected by a tough outer hull which discourages insect activity thereby eliminating the need for enzyme inhibitors.

Gluten and the majority of consumers:

While .7% of the population suffers from celiac disease (700 people in a city with 100000 population), the gluten free trend has caught on with many consumers suffering from maladies which their conventional doctors cannot diagnose or successfully treat. Some of those sufferers have experienced some relief by eliminating gluten which, in all practicality, is wheat. Wheat, especially with all of the recent genetic changes, could be contributing to the problem. Researchers are close to completing the mapping of the wheat genome. It is said to be 5 times more complex than the human genome and is sure to contain some mysterious properties which, once understood, could hold the key to acceptable treatment. It is important to note some physical properties  of spelt which illustrate its superiority as a healthy food and why it should not be put in the wheat pigeonhole when looking for an alternative to wheat.  Spelt has been criticized in the not too distant past by cereal grain professionals because the gluten was, supposedly, too fragile and necessitated that mix times be reduced in order to preserve maximum leavening of bread. The peculiarity saves time and energy while delivering a beautiful, fully formed loaf of finished bread. Another testimony to fragility of spelt gluten is the fact that spelt pasta is completely cooked five minutes after being placed in boiling water. All other wheat pastas require closer to 12 minutes or more. Proteins are broken down by liquid, mixing and heat. Spelt pasta is well on its way to speedy digestion judging by its performance in boiling water.

In summation:

Spelt provides quality protein that is easy to digest and has high levels of essential amino acids as shown by a 12% increase over the digestible protein in wheat. Because it is high in minerals it also means that there is less chance of calcium depletion caused by metabolizing some proteins leaving nitrogen and urea as waste. We have also shown that the present day emphasis on increased protein levels are marketing ploys since the average consumer needs something less than 2-1/2 ounces of protein per day.

We have seen that quality food in the appropriate percentage is key to good health; because there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.” We have seen that animal protein also brings undesirable companions as well in the form of saturated fats, cholesterol and high acidity.

Wheat Intolerance Syndrome can be the answer to many consumers today who have turned, mistakenly, to a gluten free diet when they should, instead, be avoiding modern wheat and be using 8500 year old, unhybridized spelt instead.

We have also examined some properties of spelt which can be easily observed. Short mix times and consciously resisting the development of the gluten by mixing results in a beautifully formed loaf and pasta that cooks in five minutes both serve as testimony to a fragile protein make up that illustrates very effective hydrolysis of the protein matrix.

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