The Myth of the High Protein Diet (NYTimes)

Sounds like Soylent…

Sounds nothing like Soylent. The article is about the danger of a diet with a lot of animal fats and proteins in it. Soylent has none of either.

Edit: Unless you meant “Sounds like the author of the article would approve of Soylent,” in which case I agree!


No, I think it’s directly applicable here.

There are always debates about protein content in Soylent… with 1.0 and 1.1, a lot of people were concerned about the “very high protein content.” With 1.4, people are complaining about the “very low protein content.” Both contents are within standard reference ranges.

People trying to lose weight on Soylent (many of us) debate between drinking less, or finding / making “keto” soylent to have a high-protein, low-carb version.

What made us fat? The carbs? Sugar? Wheat gluten? Fat? Bacon? Oil? Grease? All of these were around for a long time and didn’t make us fat before. Why are some of them ‘evil’ now?

Dr. Ornish, in this NY Times article, reminds us of the basic truths:

Although people have been told for decades to eat less meat and fat, Americans actually consumed 67 percent more added fat, 39 percent more sugar, and 41 percent more meat in 2000 than they had in 1950

Let that sink in. Our consumption of everything went up. Why?

Most of us don’t work physically harder, life is easier. Most of use aren’t exposed to more cold, we’re much better insulated (houses and workplaces have more heat than ever, we have super polar tech fleeces and goretek coats and insulated boots…) Back in the day, cars, if you had them, were parked outside or in detached barns, they didn’t have heat inside, and when you got to your destination, there was no parking lot. Today? We put on a North Face coat over a polar fleece to get from the door to your car in your attached garage, to drive to a parking deck that’s built adjacent to an indoor mall. (I have to say “indoor mall” because people now think mall means “indoor,” when actually it just means stores in a a row… indoor malls are a new invention so that we don’t have to step outside between stores.)

So we hardly need to keep ourselves warm. We don’t work hard. What happens to all the extra calories? They got stored away in fat, they get burned off in weird and unhealthy ways…

Americans consume “24.5 percent more calories than they had in 1970,” Ornish writes. Eating an excess that big makes most of us less healthy as well as fatter.

The more I read, experiment, and study, the stronger this idea becomes to: the main problem is over-consumption. Possible solutions?

Low carb: cut out foods high in carb. This reduces your calories. Bloodwork improves, weight drops.
Low fat: cut out foods high in fats: This reduces your calories. Bloodwork improves, weight drops.
Vegetarian: cut out animal foods: This reduces your calories. Bloodwork improves, weight drops.

Any of these diets benefit from having more whole foods and vegetables in lieu of refined foods with lots of oils, fats, simple sugars and starches. If you go low-fat, but eat Gummy Bears and Pixie Stix, you won’t get healthier. If you go low-carb, but drink bacon fat by the cup, you won’t get healthier. So in all cases, when you “diet,” you also switch to healthier foods, like veggies and greens. How much of the improvement is because of the vegetables, versus because of not having excess fat and sugar? Hard to tell.

Dr. Ornish has long been a strong advocate for a “a whole-foods, plant-based diet,” and I doubt he would whole-heartedly approve of Soylent, though he might agree that Soylent, as it stands, is a better choice than the typical American diet. It’s easier to tell how much you’re eating, and therefore not to overeat… and it’s not high in animal-anything.

But what mostly I get from his opinion piece is yet another reminder that we should stop worrying so much about exactly what it is we’re overeating, and instead, think about reduce our intake to match our needs.


Yes, I meant the author would approve of Soylent! I understand the title is a trigger on this forum as some would prefer more non-animal protein in Soylent and the author really should have said “animal protein” more than just “protein”. But such is the nature of click-bait :smiley:

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i’ve actually been trying to gain weight on soylent, and have succeeded! went from 135 to 150 in 6 months. about 90% of my diet is soylent


Actually, Dean Ornish advocates a relatively low-protein diet. In an unrelated interview, he said “if you eat a variety of vegetables, whole grains, and soy, you’ll get enough protein on a vegan diet.” And he against soy protein powder, he means eating soy beans and whole soy products. The title is an honest reflection of the author’s position, even if this article focuses on the specific dangers or particular animal proteins.

And the NY Times isn’t click-bait - the page is not littered with obnoxious ads!

Over on /r/keto they’ve been tearing it apart. I started doing Ketogenic DIY soylent October 21 2014. Originally I was making QuidNYC Ketofood but that got old fast (WAY too much chia and coconut!) so I adapted @kennufs recipe and have been on Keto Chow since January. It’s been 5 months since I started, I was 258 lbs back then. Now I’m 215 and still going down.

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I don’t mean to direct this directly at MentalNomad.

The entire time I was reading the article I was thinking it sounded like typical vegan propaganda. Any article that lumps all non-plant based foods into the evil group is imedietly suspect to me. While I agree that some animal products are quite bad for you and should only be eaten once in a great while if at all others are not so bad.

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I agree it sounded like that to me too. But i brushed aside that feeling because the recent news about cholesterol sounded like meat propaganda too.

But personally i think people should eat meat too if they like to or want to, within their caloric limits ofcourse.

There is definitely a fair amount of carnetarian propaganda out there as well.

It’s all propaganda and everything is bad for you. (if it isn’t bad for you, you’re wrong, there just hasn’t been a proper study yet)

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Ornish definitely puts out mostly-vegetarian propaganda. He’s advocated vegan in the past; allowing fish seems new to me, unless I’m mis-remembering.

But let’s remember, propaganda is just arguments in favor of one proposition… propaganda is nearly always biased, but not always untrue. Ornish isn’t a vegan-for-vegan’s sake kinda guy; he backs up his position with a lot of good science. Search PubMed for him, and you’ll find he’s a frequent contributor to the science.

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Well, of course they are! Paleo crowds generally tear up anything that doesn’t agree with them.

Where I tend to get annoyed is when someone says all of goup A is good and all of group B is bad especially when no context or caveats are given. You see it on both sides of the great meat debate.

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Agreed! I was only thinking in terms of this forum… Given the raging debate over the reduction of protein in 1.4 some here might see the title as an attack… I read it more as a vegan plea… Even though he does advocate a moderate amount of (non animal) protein and good fats (seeds and such) both of which are hallmarks of 1.4.

An open question to this thread: What is the physical difference between animal and non-animal protein?

To elaborate, I’m fuzzy on what exactly makes animal protein… well, animal protein. I understand that it means it comes from animals, but does the chemical makeup really vary so much that separate categories are needed? I mean, aren’t the amino acids the only components once you get past the additives?

I’m not pushing anything here, I’m just curious. I usually ask questions here when I don’t know how to word them elegantly enough for google to understand.


That’s actually a really good question, @sylass94!

From a “human needs” perspective, protein really means a minimum amount of particular amino acids. Most proteins we need to make, our system makes just fine, as long as we have any raw materials in the form of other proteins - but there are certain basic building blocks of protein that we can’t make from other proteins.

There are 20 basic protein “building blocks” that we can use to make more complex proteins. Some of the blocks we can actually synthesize for ourselves, but 11 of the, we can’t. These are the “essential amino acids,” all of which are simple proteins. Simple proteins can be formed into longer chains to make more complex proteins, similarly to the way simple sugars can be formed into longer chains of complex carbs.

Most animals have a list of essential amino acids that they must consume as food - among mammals, they are usually similar or identical to our own list.

Plants, on the other hand, synthesize all the amino acids. It’s everything they need, and everything we need. Mammals get their missing aminos by eating plants… or they get them by eating other animals that eat plants. One way or another, the essential amino acids come from plants.

For a “human needs” perspective, if you get the aminos you need, you got them - and it doesn’t matter whether they went through an animal first.

Now, when it comes to the “protein as a food category” perspective, you’re asking a whole different question. Most whole foods contain some protein - fish, beef, wheat, kale, seaweed, ryegrass - every living thing contains proteins. But if a food is very low in protein, like kale, we don’t call it a “protein” on a menu. If a food is particularly high in protein, we call it a protein - for example, rabbit and kobe beef are both called proteins. Of course, kobe beef only has about 1/3 of its calories as protein - 2/3 is fat - while rabbit is so lean that if you ate nothing but rabbit, you’d die of “protein poisoning,” because you’re getting almost no fats or carbs.

Meanwhile, things like beans and rice provide a good amount of protein. Potatoes, all by themselves, provide a good amount of healthy protein. And the protein you’re getting from these plants - the amino acids - are chemically the same as the ones you’d get from fish or beef… because, ultimately, the fish and the beef got some of them from the plants they ate.

The three things that really differentiates the food categories animal protein from plant protein:

First, the balances of different aminos - for example, if you ate nothing but beans, you’d not get enough of the amino acid methionine. If you ate nothing but rice, you’d not get enough lysine. But if you have some rice in one meal, and some beans in another meal, it adds up and you’re fine. If you eat a variety of vegetables, you almost can’t avoid getting all the aminos you need. On the other hand, many single animal sources already provide all the different aminos you need, because they’ve eaten enough different plants to collect the whole set already.

Second, the other stuff they come with. Like I said before, a “protein” food is just a food high in protein, but it has other stuff. This is what Dr. Ornish is on about… things like beef come with a lot of saturated fat, which seems to be bad for us in high amounts. Beef also leads to a lot of TMAO in the blood (it’s created by your gut bacteria processing the carnitine in the beef.) And we may not know all the reasons why, but as Dr. Ornish points out, high consumption of animal proteins like beef is associated with higher “all-cause mortality.” Plant-source proteins don’t have saturated fat, and don’t have carnitine. Generally speaking, the plants we use for food which supply decent amounts of protein don’t come with the same amount of potentially unhealthy baggage. Of course, seafood and poultry aren’t beef… and it seems that even the Ornish diet now advocates small amounts of fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy in their “healthy diet.”

The third major area of difference doesn’t matter from a diet perspective - it’s the question of how we get the stuff. Some people have moral/ethical concerns, but on top of that, there’s the question of economics - it takes more land, fertilzers, water, and labor to create a calorie of animal than to create a calorie of plant. For a simple understanding of this, consider that we grow the plants to feed to cattle to make beef… we’ve used water, land, fertilizer to make the plants, but instead of feeding people with them, we feed them to cows… along with more water, and space, and time… and the we have to refrigerate the beef to keep it from spoiling quickly… and then finally feed that to people. Various estimates say we’d have had about seven times as many food calories if we fed the plants to people directly, rather than running them through the beef cycle. This implies that consuming animal is inherently less efficient, and can be argued to be wasteful. On the other hand, beef cattle are pretty much the worst case… Other farm animals don’t have nearly as wasteful a ratio. Chicken, for example, is much more efficient… but still not quite as efficient as feeding those plants to people would be.

So, if you use plant proteins, you want to vary your diet, unless you use a protein source known to provide a complete balance of amino acids (Soylent does.) Some animal sources may come with unhealthy baggage, but then again, some plant sources may, too. Plant sources may be less wasteful, but there will always be questions of how much so, depending on which plants versus which animals.

But in terms of meeting your protein needs when you actually consume them? In terms of the amino acids you get? The same, really.


I agree with your larger point. But there is a source of plant protein (that i am aware of) that also provides all essential amino acids: pigeon pea. It alone is already widely consumed everyday by a quite a few vegetarians because of this.

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Are you by any chance Watson the supercomputer? @Soylent should pay MentalNomad for his quality posts.


There are actually lots of plants that provide complete protein by themselves, Tark!

Pigeon pea protein is popular now, because soy protein powder got a bad rap from fears of estrogen-mimicing soy isoflavones (which you don’t find in soy protein isolate, anyway), but soybeans have long been known to provide complete protein.

Also quinoa. And buckwheat. And potatoes. A whole lot of tubers, in fact. You can eat nothing but potatoes and get all the protein you need!

And if you don’t eat just one type of plant protein, there are lots of common combos that become complete. Peanuts? Low on one thing. Wheat? Low on another. Peanut butter sandwhich? Complete protein!

Hummus and pita? Complete!

Beans and rice? Complete! (Although these last three all qualify as some sort of grain with some sort of bean - popular in history because grains and beans store well.)

Honestly, the whole “vegans may not get enough complete protein” is something of a myth… unless you eat only one thing ever, it’s very hard not to meet your protein needs. (If you eat nothing but raw unprocessed vegan food, it can be hard to get enough calories, and you can end up emaciated, but that’s another matter, entirely - if you manage to eat enough calories, you’ll get enough protein.)

But with plants, you can’t be 100% sure without being told, and that makes them different from animals. Most of us don’t know which plants are complete, and which aren’t - nor which combos do the trick. So it’s possible - though really unlikely - it’s possible that you don’t get all the aminos on a given day. If you’re eating animal-sourced protein, that’s not possible - because animals always have all the proteins animals need. They must, or they wouldn’t have survived! There may be other problems with eating animal protein, but bad amino acid for humans is never one of them. (Unless you do something stupid, like use nothing but gelatin as your protein - gelatin is not a complete protein, even though it comes from animal connective tissue and skin and bones.)