From Slime to Humans: Nutritional Geometry & Protein

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By Staff Reports

(DGIwire) Ever wonder why health and weight-loss gurus are always talking about protein?

Protein is the building block of our bodies. The average human body is made up of 60% water, 17% protein, 17% fat and only 5% carbohydrate. All essential components of body tissues such as cell membranes and genetic material are composed of proteins that play a major role in our metabolic systems in the form of blood hormones, antibodies and enzymes. All protein in the body has a function and there is no storage of excess protein as there is for fat in our adipose tissue or carbohydrate in the form of glycogen.

Protein is an important nutrient that helps build muscles. However, it does much more. Proteins are worker molecules necessary for almost every function in the body. They circulate in blood and make up most tissues including fingernails and hair.

Protein in our bodies can be divided into three functional categories with muscle mass being the largest, followed by visceral protein (abdominal organs) along with plasma proteins and plasma amino acids.

There is no shortage of diet advice that revolves around protein: How much to eat, where to get it from and when to eat it. People can find thousands of different answers to these questions. It seems every health expert has a different opinion. How can we make dietary decisions with so many seemingly conflicting recommendations?

Professors David Raubenheimer and Stephen Simpson from University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre have developed a new framework called ‘nutritional geometry’ from more than 20 years of research in the field of human nutrition science. Their model shows that protein is the strongest driver influencing diet and regulates the intake of fat and carbohydrate. ‘Nutritional geometry’ examines how mixtures of nutrients and other dietary components influence health and disease, rather than focusing on any one nutrient in isolation.

“Blaming fat, carbohydrate or sugar in isolation as causes of the obesity crisis is now proving to be incorrect or at least insufficient in explaining how our diet composition influences our body composition. Their findings are consistent with the previously observed ‘protein leverage’ phenomenon, that demonstrates the strong human appetite for protein leverages the intake of fats, carbohydrates and total energy,” according to Tom Griesel, co-author of TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast and Leave Diet and Exercise Rules in the Dust.

In their research, Raubenheimer and Simpson have found a consistent pattern of protein intake across a wide range of organisms from slime mold to mammals. The protein intake observed was 15% of total calories. Every organism they studied followed this pattern and would naturally seek food sources or combinations of choices that provided it. However, they found that when protein dropped below 15%, food consumption and total calories consumed increased in order to achieve the desired balance.

Griesel adds, “Humans seem to be an exception to this natural food selection balance. Raubenheimer and Simpson have proposed that our modern processed food diet provides only 12.5% of total calories as protein. Like other organisms, we appear to be compensating by eating more calories than our actual energy requirement in order to make up the protein differential. We are fighting a built-in survival mechanism and over time, these extra calories could quite possibly be fueling the current obesity epidemic.”

The ‘nutritional geometry’ theory proposes that if we get our protein ratio correct, carbohydrate and fat consumption naturally end up at ideal levels. Could it really be that simple? This is definitely something that needs further research.

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