Lettuce is the New Chicken If You Want Healthy Protein
The majority of Americans subscribe to the idea that we must all eat animal protein in order to survive. This is because most of us were raised according to the government’s daily Standard American Diet (SAD) recommendations and taught to believe the myth that animal protein is the only “complete” source of protein. However, this simply isn’t true, as you will see. Vegetables like lettuce are much more nutrient dense – even with protein – than meat.
Fact: Lettuce is over 50% protein by calorie and 18% healthy essential fat. It also contains more nutrients than can be listed here!
Unfortunately, most people continue to think the key to better health and losing weight is not eating more lettuce but eating more chicken. This “grilled chicken” approach to health is partly responsible for the meteoric rise in chicken consumption between 1970 and 2004, which more than doubled from 27.4 pounds per person to 59.2 pounds (boneless, edible weight).1 That equates to more than 1 million chickens being consumed per hour in the US alone! 2 On the other hand, we now only eat salad about three times a month, 20% less often than we did in 1985.3
The fact of the matter is that chicken is not a healthier choice, especially in comparison to the lettuce it sits atop. Even though ounce for ounce, chicken has less total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than beef, 4 it is still making us sick. This is because, despite popular belief, the most harmful substance in all meat (even chicken) is protein, rather than fat.
In The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University explained that animal protein is the most carcinogenic substance we consume.5 According to his research, animal products not only cause, but also fuel cancer and other deadly diseases.
“The data from the China Project suggests that what we have come to consider as ‘normal’ illnesses of aging are really not normal. In fact, these findings indicate that the vast majority, perhaps 80 to 90% of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented, at least until very old age, simply by adopting a plant-based diet”6 that is nutrient-rich.
Do we really need to eat animal protein?
One reason why we eat so much chicken and so little salad is because we have been indoctrinated into believing that animal protein is an essential part of our diet. Most of us have probably been told at one time or another that we need to eat upwards of 0.8 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 lbs) of our body weight every day. If you do the math that means that if you weigh 130 pounds, you should be eating 47 to 83 grams of protein a day. That equates to two chicken breasts and a pork chop a day!
Now that’s a lot of protein! And just think – many of us are actually far exceeding these established recommendations by eating as much of 1 to 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, particularly athletes and bodybuilders. Add this to the fact that most people are eating animal products for breakfast, lunch and dinner, whether they are athletes or not, and we are certainly getting more than our fill of this “revered,” yet nutrient-poor protein.
The truth of the matter is that we don’t need so much protein in our diets – especially from animal sources. Let’s think about this…at birth and during our most rapid period of growth in early life, the only food source we consume, our mother’s milk, is only made up of 6% protein.4 According to the top plant-based nutrition experts, in a normal diet, protein should only make up about 10%12 of your total calorie intake, which is approximately 30 grams of protein a day.7
So even with a 100% vegan diet of 2000 calories, you would get between 50 to 70 grams of protein, which is approximately 25 or more grams per 1000 calories (as long as you aren’t deficient in calories, and you aren’t eating junk food). That’s more than enough to meet your body’s protein needs.
Plants are the best source of protein
Here is a major reality check – all protein comes from plants. Plants make all of their own amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). They start with glucose from photosynthesis and take nitrogen from nitrates and ammonia in the soil and through a variety of chemical reactions synthesize amino acids, which in turn are used to build proteins.
Animals, from chickens to humans, can only naturally produce a small number of the amino acids needed to build proteins. The rest comes from what they eat. So a cow or a chicken gets the protein they need from every leaf, stem and root they eat, while most humans get their protein from the chicken or cow. This means that a steak or a chicken breast is nothing more than a second-hand source of plant-based protein that is also loaded with animal substances that we do not need, like animal fat and the animals’ cholesterol.
So why don’t we just cut out the middleman and get our protein straight from the source – plants? The easy answer is because many people believe that animal foods contain protein that is superior in quality to the protein found in plants, 8 but that’s simply not true.
According to Joel Fuhrman, M.D., a head of romaine lettuce is approximately 50% protein and 18% healthy fat by calorie, which is more protein per calorie than chicken! The same is true for other green vegetables, like broccoli. In fact, according to Dr. Fuhrman’s book, Eat to Live, 100 calories of broccoli, which is about 12 oz of food, contains more protein than 100 calories of ground sirloin, which is just 1 oz of food.9
If you want to be able to eat a lot of food, but not over consume calories, it is important to dine on the full array of fiber, thousands of phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, water, protein, carbohydrates and good fat (not the animal fat and cholesterol that your body doesn’t need). This is why if you want all of the benefits of a healthy eating style – health, ideal weight, performance, youthful aging and longevity – a head of lettuce is the new chicken breast.
Starting to eat two nice-sized, borderline huge salads a day (something very natural to all primates) is a great place to start! And, even though you may still decide to put a small amount of chicken on your salad (ideally equating to 10% or less of the total calories consumed), you don’t need to add chicken to your salad to get enough protein. You are already getting all of the nutrients you need from the lettuce plus the green and colored vegetables, and beans you may add to it. In fact, not only is Romaine lettuce the 13th most nutrient-dense food in the world,10 but eating raw salad every day could reduce the risk of dying from heart disease by 26%.11 (Of course you will also want to add a whole-food nut and fruit-based dressing for improved nutrient absorption, calories and amazing taste.)
Nutrient-rich, healthy eating
Obviously we aren’t saying that all you should eat is lettuce in order to stay healthy. That would be monotonous at best and you wouldn’t get enough calories. But, what we are saying is if you truly want to lose weight and feel great you need to start transitioning away from eating chicken and moving toward making leafy greens, green and colored non starchy vegetables a major part of, if not the basis, of your meal.
When you make the Switch to Rich, you will start seeing a head of lettuce (like the one in our logo) and other leafy greens as the new “chicken” or the “protein” of your meal, rather than just a side dish for “vitamins.” This is because when it comes to nutrient-rich healthy eating it’s not about how much you eat, but about what you eat. When the protein in your diet is nutrient poor, meaning it is devoid of vitamins, minerals, and fiber and phytochemicals, then you will overeat and get too much unhealthy protein and fats, cholesterol etc.
However, when you eat your way up to 90% or More Plant-Based Nutrient-Rich®, you’re going to get all the protein you need (as well as micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals) and you will eat a lot fewer calories as a result.
As an added bonus – lettuce (leafy greens, green vegetables and colored vegetables) are super convenient and cost effective and taste great especially when you understand how to buy and or make great whole food dressings. When you Switch from eating chicken as your main source of protein, your food bills will go way down too. So greens are not only good for your health – they are also good for your wallet!
Learn how to make the Switch by getting your copy of Switch to Rich, the starting point of The Nutrient Rich® Healthy Eating System – the most direct path to success – at nutrientrich.com!
1. Buzby J, Farah H. Chicken Consumption Continues Longrun Rise. http://www.ers.usda.gov/amberwaves/april06/findings/chicken.htm. April 2006.
2. Dan Bauer, Farm Sanctuary founder.
3. Nassauer S. The Salad Is in the Bag. The Wall Street Journal. Business; July 27, 2011. Available at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424 053111903999904576469973559258778.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
4. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/
5. Campbell TC. The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. Dallas, TX: BenBella books, 2003.
6. Campbell TC. Why China Holds the Key to Your Health. http://www.vegsource.com/event/campbell.htm
7. Nutrient Rich. The Lifestyle Health & Science Advisory. http://www.nutrientrich.com/expert-panel
8. McDougall JA, McDougall MA. The McDougall Plan. Ingram Book Company; 1983:98-100.
9. Fuhrman J. Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company; 2003.
10. Wilson B. Aggregate Nutrient Density Index “ANDI” by Whole Foods. http://discovertheregion.org/blog/?p=2266. February 7, 2012.
11. Key TJA, Thorogood M, Appleby PN, et al. Dietary habits and mortality in 11,000 vegetarians and health conscious people: results of 17-year follow up. Br Med J. 1996;313:775-779.
12. WHO, World Health Organization Protein Recommendations.
The Top 30 Super Foods
1. Collard, mustard, and turnip greens; 2. Kale; 3. Watercress; 4. Bok choy; 5. Spinach; 6. Brussels sprouts; 7. Swiss chard; 8. Arugula; 9. Radish; 10. Cabbage; 11. Bean sprouts; 12. Red peppers; 13. Romaine lettuce; 14. Broccoli; 15. Carrot juice; 16. Tomatoes and tomato products; 17. Cauliflower; 18. Strawberries; 19. Pomegranate juice; 20. Blackberries; 21. Plums; 22. Raspberries; 23. Blueberries; 24. Papaya; 25. Brazil nuts; 26. Oranges; 27. Tofu; 28. Beans (all varieties);29. Seeds–flaxseed, sunflower, sesame; and 30. Walnuts.