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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Protein...and not being a vegetabletarian

One of  the interesting aspects of my recent adventure into the health care system has been yet another interesting tidbit of information about how we fuel out bodies, and how interesting that process can become.  While undergoing the many tests and analysis of my somewhat deteriorated condition, it was discovered that I needed to pay more attention to how my previously massive protein consumption has affected my kidney function.  And a bit about that whole kidney function thing.

One of the myths many of use operate on is that we have these miraculous kidneys, and that they can heal themselves, that we have two (hence a spare, if you will) and that they function like filters sort of like an oil filter for our blood.  To some degree, these ideas are more true for your kidneys than they are for say, your pancreas or liver. However, they are filters that cannot be changed or flushed, it turns out that two kidneys are sort of the norm, and one is not a spare and that while they have some ability to heal themselves, they have a finite life span, which means, so do you.  One of the things that can actually damage a weakened kidney is protein.

So how much is too much, interesting question, as there are different needs based upon how you live and exercise.  My current situation finds me limited to 6 ounces or so per day, in grams this would be 198 grams of protein.  Prior to this latest round of illness, when actively weight training, I would supplement close to 50 grams of protein per post workout recovery drink and closer to 8 ounces of meat (226 grams) or other protein per meal.  I was ingesting closer to 700 to 800 grams of protein per day.  For a healthy kidney, this is simply excess material to be processed and dumped.  With a compromised kidney, much of this protein ends up as residual material that can lead to clogging and failure.  Certainly vegetarianism holds the answer, that is what everyone seems to think.

Of course, this would be simple, life is so rarely simple.  Vegetable protein is not a direct substitution for meat based proteins, the chemical constituents such as mineral content and amino acid structure vary widely between animal and plant.  The minerals phosphorous, potassium, magnesium and sodium play key roles in the muscular function (think heart here) of the body, the composition of amino acids in plants is often not complete in singular form and then there is the pesky matter of hormones in everything.  Faced with my particular situation in which potassium and phosphorous is excessive and magnesium and sodium are deficient, it turns out that plant based protein sources are actually potentially more damaging than lean meats to my overall dietary requirements. Staples in my prior diet, things such as bananas, beans, whole grains and soy are now foods I have been directed to avoid. Meats such as poultry, fish and lean cuts of pork are now the items that I am to build my diet around.  Anyone who has paid attention to 'common wisdom' in today's nutrition culture would be surprised to find that vegetarian protein is not the panacea to our dietary woes.

What is a BBQ aficionado to do. A big part of my passion for BBQ is eating the low cost, gristly, fatty cuts of meat such as ribs, brisket and pork shoulder, and in mass quantities too boot.  I am not certain if the direction I will be taking from here, although there are some references in my life that I am thinking about.  Growing up, we lived with my grandmother, in fact, I cannot remember a time in my life as a child that a grandparent did not live with us.  And their diet was very Japanese in nature, this meant limited protein, heavy on vegetables such as leafy greens, roots, herbs and fruit.  I also grew up at least in part in a rural setting, we grew out vegetables and they held a lot of the table space as well. I think in coming posts, I will begin to explore this avenue to cuisine, and as I return to the kitchen, I will cook in a manner that is more in keeping with this thinking.

Does this mean no more smoking, hardly likely.  For me, BBQ has never been about sitting here eating my cooking by myself.  As opportunities arise, I will do as I have done all my life and cook for others.  Those who do not share my particular disability can still enjoy mass amounts of meat, I can still be the guy who cooks it. In terms of this blog, there will still be some pork butts burned up, some brisket flame dried and a few oddly cooked tri-tips, it is just that there will also be a little more of those heritage dishes along the way.


  1. Hi there. My friend Jeff C. pointed me to your blog. I'm sorry to hear about your illness.

    I've been cooking since the age of five, but only since moving to the South have I started BBQ'ing. Actually, we've been in GA two years and I only started BBQing three months ago.

    In those three months, I've also lost 45 pounds and got my BP down. It's been a combination of exercise, cutting way down on sugar and carbs, and major portion control. If I make a rack of ribs, I eat one or two and after the family has eaten their share, I'll give what's left to a friend.

    I had an epiphany one day. I realized that for foods I love, I don't have to eat a lot of it to enjoy it. I'm sure you'll find a way to make the most of your condition.

    Since I have the grill fired up more often now, I'm going to be experimenting with all kinds of recipes, especially Indonesian, as that's where my family is from. I'll keep reading your blog for more ideas.

  2. Thanks for the support, I think that process is going to be similar for me. Although my BBQ chicken and ribs are pretty irresistible. Not sure I know what Indonesian food is, I bet it is good though.

  3. I am looking forward to seeing how you evolve your cooking. I am sure the bbq and live fire techniques will carry through to whatever culinary path you take.

    I didn't realize how bad the protein issue was until you explained it quite well in this post. I can't imagine being in your same situation. Very tough. I think you have shown a really great attitude about it and that goes a long way. Rock on Bob.

  4. I will be working on the October four ingredient challenge, so we shall see how the cooking evolves. I am not a fan of pomegranate in cooking, so that will be a challenge.