How Much Protein?
By: Herbert M. Shelton
Ever since it was decided that
protein is the most important and
most essential part of our food,
there has raged a controversy
over how much protein a day is
required to meet the needs of
At first, the efforts to determine the
amount of protein needed were made
by merely striking an average of the amount of protein actually eaten by
certain groups of men, who are now known to have been gluttonous eaters.
Next, an effort was made to determine the amount of protein needed by
experiments on dogs. Imagine, trying to discover the protein needs of man by
making tests on dogs.
Without going into the matter of these experiments and measurements, suffice
it to say that both of them helped to establish a high protein standard, which,
although since repeatedly shown to be much too high, is far from dead, both
in lay and in professional thought and practice.
Indeed, within the last few years, there is apparent a growing tendency to re-
affirm the old high-protein standards established by the earlier investigators.
Liebig conceived the idea that albumens and proteins are needed in direct
proportion to a man's or woman's activity.
He thought that the human body is run on the substances of which its
muscles and viscera are composed.
Of this notion, Drinkwater says:
"If muscles are worn away by exercise of their normal function, according to
the old view, it would be like a locomotive having to have its wheels and
machinery renewed at the end of each journey, instead of needing simply water
and fuel." (Food in Health and Disease, London, 1906.)
Following Liebig, Voight declared in 1881 that man requires twenty percent of
his daily diet to be protein. A little later Atwater made it twenty-five percent,
and Moleschott and Veirordt made it twenty percent. Voight experimented
upon dogs in his effort to determine the protein requirements of man.
These standards demanded for the adult, who has ceased growing, 7% to
12% more protein (more tissue building material) than nature herself provides
for an infant which doubles its weight in six months and trebles its weight in a
Not until Lahmann in 1892 appreciated this discrepancy and set about to
determine the proportions of protein, carbohydrate, fat and salts in mother's
milk, and used this information as a basis for calculation for adult diets, was a
really decisive blow struck at the old school of dietetics.
Lahmann was an old school physician who had associated himself with Louis
Kuhne. He noticed that Kuhne's patients, fed as they were on fruits and
vegetables, were not receiving the "required" amounts of protein, but fared
well on their low protein diet.
Analyzing the ingredients of dried milk that is water free milk he found that the
fat, sugar and minerals amounted to 85.5 percent of the whole; the protein
present amounted to only 13.5 percent.
Thus for a growing baby, producing more tissue daily than does the adult,
nature provides a diet, which, apart from water, contains only 13.5 percent of
the tissue building material called protein.
But relative to the total bulk of breast milk taken by an infant, the protein is
really only 1.6 percent, because it is 88 percent water. Only in relation to the
ingredients other than water is the amount 13.5 percent.
This is said, however, not to be wholly a reliable basis of calculation, because
unless we know the adult's activity as compared with that of the baby, we
cannot accurately assess the adult's need.
Drinkwater says that:
"The most strenuous muscular labor does not increase in the smallest degree
the metabolism of albuminates (proteins) in the body; it is the non-nitrogenous
alimentary principles, the fats and carbohydrates, whose consumption is
increased by muscular activity."
It would seem, therefore, that our need in accurately assessing the protein
needs of the adult as compared to that of the infant, would be a knowledge of
the relative differences in tissue building activity that goes on in the two
In 1887 Hirshfeld made a series of experiments and placed the protein
standard at 47 grams, but the "scientists" rejected his standard. A young man
of twenty-four years, Hirshfeld performed heavy labor, weight lifting, mountain
climbing, etc., on a diet containing less than half the protein thought to be
He lost neither weight nor strength, while the "nitrogen balance" showed that
he did not lose body protein.
Hindhede says of his work:
"It is strange, indeed, that Hirshfeld's investigations have been permitted by
science to drift almost into oblivion. He was a young man (twenty-four) who
could make little impression upon the weight of Voight's authority."
The low protein standard attracted little attention until after Horace Fletcher
startled the "scientists" out of their lethargy.
Chittenden in 1904 protested against the over-consumption of protein and
established three ounces daily as the average adult requirement.
It was not, however, until a little later, when it was shown that the amount of
urea excreted is by no means proportionate to the activity indulged in, that
Liebig and his school, together with the whole of the dietetic conventions that
were supported by his ideas, were ultimately shown to be completely false.
We must cease to think of the adult's activities as involving chiefly the
expenditure of his protein elements, his tissues, but as the expenditure of his
Compared, therefore, with the protein needs of the growing infant, who is
making more tissue daily, those of the adult are very small indeed. Therefore,
to make 13.5 percent of the diet of the adult, protein, would be ridiculous.
Lahmann was in favor of conforming to the proportion of milk. This was too
high, particularly as he used cow's milk as his standard. Chittenden
maintained that: "body-weight, health, strength, mental and physical vigor and
endurance can be maintained with at least one-half of the protein food
He estimated the proportion of protein for the adult at 3.5 percent lower than
for the infant, and thought that health could be maintained much more
satisfactorily on about 10 percent of protein in the diet than on 20 percent.
It was later found that the estimates of both Lahmann and of Chittenden are
much in excess of actual body needs, for active grown men.
Boyd, taking flesh as the source of protein, estimated the minimum daily ration
of protein requisite to maintain body-weight at 30 grams, i.e., only 4.65 percent
in a total amount of 650 grams of food. (Vitamins, London, 1923, P. 61.)
Ragnar Berg, after making a more accurate investigation, found it to be only 26
grams, or 4 percent of the total (Vitamins, London, 1923); while Rose, after
providing a better supply of bases, found it to be only 24 grams, or only 3.7
percent. (Vitamins, London).
After carefully surveying all previous estimates and after conscientious
experimentation of his own, Berg came to the conclusion that the adult body's
need of protein should be calculated on a basis of .58 grams per kilogram of
body weight (Vitamins).
Berg concluded that: "a supply equivalent to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of
body-weight, when a mixed diet is taken provides a margin of safety of from 50
to 100 percent."
Thus a fully grown adult, of say 140 lbs. should consume not more than 2.2
ounces of protein a day—i.e., if he is taking his protein in the form of meat or
cheese, he should not take more than half a pound of beef or curd cheese
altogether; or if he is taking it in the form of cod-fish, not more than 7/8 of a
pound, (14 oz).
It is obvious that the average full-grown man, even of moderate habits, allows
himself a much larger proportion of protein.
If he has eggs and bacon for breakfast, these alone, apart from the bread he
consumes with them, will provide 3/5 of his daily quota of 2.2 ounces of
protein, leaving only 1.6 ounces for his lunch and dinner.
Thus, by the time he has his lunch, consisting of a cut from a joint, a chop or a
steak, he has consumed more than his quota, and the rest is all excess as far
as protein is concerned, quite apart from the bread, potatoes, milk or cereals
he may also have had.
Ragnar Berg allows a small increase of protein for reproduction, and in this
case proteins of high biological value are essential.
But when reproduction is allowed for, it is obvious from the previous figures
that the average man who has ceased growing, indulges to excess in those
kinds of foods which are body building and which he does not require, and
thus, not only deprives his body of other important elements, such as mineral
salts and vitamins, but also impedes the combustion of his running fuel.
Hindhede reared four athletic and wide-awake children on a diet so low in
protein that it has been said: "it would frighten a school teacher into blind
Nixon, who is no vegetarian and has no bias in favor of vegetarianism, writing
in January 1934 said that 100 grams of protein daily (i.e., 3.527 ounces or
nearly 1/4 lb.) is average requirement for physical and mental activity and for
fertility, 50 grams of which should be "first class protein" by which he means
meat, eggs, cheese, including fish.
This is the amount of protein he regards as sufficient for a young man in his
prime when reproductive powers are at their zenith.
This means that one-half the young adult's daily protein consumption should
be high-grade proteins.
Vegetarians would use as proteins of high biologic value nuts, peanuts,
avocadoes, soybeans, bananas, and green vegetables.
In my own work, I have watched hundreds of men; women and children make
steady (often rapid) gains in weight and strength following lengthy fasts, while
consuming less than half the protein daily that is supposed to be required.
I have reared children and supervised the rearing of many more on a diet
containing far less protein than the prevailing standards call for and the
healthiest and finest developed children I have seen have been these very
children. My feeding program conforms closely to the standard established by
the Swiss experiment, an account of which follows.
Some recent experiments made in Switzerland should go far to settle a long-
sought-for solution to the problem of how much protein is required daily for an
Unlike most experiments that have been made in an effort to solve this
problem, this experiment was made on human beings and on large numbers
If its conclusions do not agree with the findings of the rat-pen dietitians, this
will merely be hard on the boys in the rat-pens.
The British Association for the Advancement of Science was addressed at its
regular meeting about two years ago by a Swiss speaker, Prof. A. Fleisch.
He told the assembled scientists that experiments carried out with scientific
thoroughness on 4,000,000 people in Switzerland showed that the amounts of
calories, proteins and fats formerly considered essential in civilized countries
were utterly unnecessary.
He asserted, on the basis of these experiments, that the United Nations
minimum standard of 2,400 calories a day is too much and that 2,160 is
sufficient for all except heavy manual workers.
The conclusion reached through their experiments is that one gram of protein
per kilo (0.035 oz. per 2 1/4 lb.) of body weight is correct.
Before the war the protein requirements were supposed to be 100 grams (3 1/2
oz.). This amount he asserted, was not only unnecessary, but was actually
He said that a large part of the meat and eggs eaten before the war and a large
part of the refined fats, sugar and white bread and macaroni could have been
replaced by vegetables, fruits and darker bread.
Finally, be said that today, when great nations of the world are suffering from
hunger, it is absolute waste to convert large quantities of wheat into eggs,
thus losing 90 percent of the nutritive value of the wheat, and to convert
tremendous amounts of maize (corn) and barley into fodder (food for cows)
and thus lose 75 percent of the calories and proteins.
This is a direct stab at our traditional but nonetheless foolish agriculture,
which first raises huge quantities of food for animals, feeds it to the animals,
and then feeds man a small percentage of the food value thus converted into
It will seem amazing to most of my readers that only about one-half the amount
of protein considered necessary before the war is needed daily by the
individual for health and strength.
The old high protein standards thus go glimmering through the things that
were. No doubt the packers and the poultry men will not like this and a great
howl will go up from the rat pens.
The radio touts who look after the interests of the meat packing industry will
shout themselves hoarse denying the validity of these tests made on men and
women instead of rats.
Nonetheless, there is but one-way to determine the nutritive requirements of
man. In dealing with the young, the requirements of a rapidly growing animal
and those of an animal of slow growth are very different.
While the efforts of most investigators seem to have been directed to
ascertaining minimum protein requirements, it may be debatable as to whether
or not this can establish a valid standard for protein intake.
It is quite clear, however, that greater sobriety in the matter of nitrogen
(protein) ingestion is essential not only to achieve a return to health, but also in
order to maintain health at its highest peak at all times and for all purposes.
Reinheimer truly says that: "nitrogen, the chief ingredient of protein, is
universally a good servant, but a bad master."
It is well known to physiologists that both fat and protein metabolism depend
upon carbohydrate metabolism. There is a delicate balance between
carbohydrates and proteins, to which we have to conform - disease and
degeneration resulting from failure to conform.
It has been shown that excess nitrogen is detrimental to the capacity for work,
while very generally, it is the accumulation of a nitrogen product, kinotoxin, in
the muscles that is the cause of fatigue.
Men are poisoned by excessive protein ingestion. More than any other food
factor, excesses of protein foods fill the body with toxins.
Indeed, the whole system becomes overcharged with poisonous products of
protein metabolism, which the eliminative functions eventually fail to cope
The calamitous moribundity of a body poisoned by unsuitable and excessive
protein is similar to the case of alimentary anaphylaxis.
In middle-aged adults, perfectly normal kidneys are the exception rather than
the rule. By a careful selection of a low nitrogen diet, it is possible to reduce
the amount of work required of the kidneys to a level at which they are able to
keep the waste products in the blood within normal limits.
We can say, without fear of successful contradiction, that a disproportionately
increased amount of protein in the diet, due to the arbitrary addition to the diet
of foods rich in protein, such as flesh, eggs, cheese, etc., proves harmful, as a
continual excess of protein results in severe disturbances of health.
Yet these are the very foods that the advocates of much "high-grade" protein
place greatest stress upon. An excess of protein thus provided, (this
improperly prepared and wrongly combined), is the source of much trouble.
By: Herbert M. Shelton
Excerpted From His Book:
Shelton’s Hygienic System Updated
Library Of Hygienic Books Free Online