The whole food vegan fraternity are often criticised for an alleged lack of protein in their diets but US doctor, Pam Popper, dismisses the suggestion and says misunderstandings about protein go back a long way.

In an interview at a 10 day health conference in New York earlier this year she says the protein issue is often linked with the deficiency issue.

“People think we are deficient in everything which is why people take so many dietary supplements. Furthermore the idea is that a little bit of something is a good idea. Lots of it has got to be better right?”

Dr Popper believes protein has been overemphasized in its importance.

“Really human protein needs are very low and, in fact, as little as 2.5% of calories for adults which means that its mathematically impossible to eat a diet that provides no calories everyday that does also provide enough protein.

“If you were to live on the lowest protein foods you can possibly eat which would be thinks like rice or potatoes which have eight or nine percent of calories and protein then you will have enough protein. You don’t need any more than that.”

She says she’s not suggesting people actually do this “but the point is that, if it’s enough calories every day, you will eat enough protein.”

As a student of medical history Dr Popper believes the misunderstandings about protein goes back to the days when it was first discovered.

“It was really the first nutrient isolated from food so if you don’t know that there are hundreds of thousands of others you might think that your discovery is a little more important but, from the beginning, protein was over emphasised in its importance.

“It’s very interesting because if you track through medical history you have these dual tracks. You have these proteins, more protein is good and you can’t get enough of the stuff. And then, right along in parallel is research study after research study showing that eating so much protein is not a good idea.”

She says, in this duelling narrative, the high protein folks won.

“If you consume too much animal protein you increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer a lot. If you consume too much protein from any source … eventually you can blow out your kidneys so it’s a dangerous practice in many ways.”

Popper interview: time slot breakdown

Here are some of the key questions covered in Dr Poppa’s 1hr 20min interview. The interview has been set to commence at the first time slot. The following time slots have been added to show the range of questions covered.

Time: 4.42
Don’t we need protein to build muscle?

Time: 8.20
The difference between plant and animal protein

Time: 19.29
On the cause of multiple sclerosis

Time: 30.05
Why fish is not a healthier form of animal food.

Time: 37.10
How a vegan diet helps Hep C patients.

Time: 44.41
On the influence of the food and pharmaceutical industries

Time: 1.04.43
On the value of tests like colonoscopies, mammograms etc

Time: 1.09.35
The risks of having a mammogram

Time: 1.10.55
The overuse of CT scans

Time: 1.14.54
Why clinical studies should be viewed with scepticism

Time: 1.16.49
How lifestyle and diet contributes to diabetes

Time: 1.18.45
On the effectiveness of drugs and surgery in cardiovascular disease.