F***! you Protein

Fuck you, protein. For most things that I don’t know jack shit about, I have friends who do know precisely jack shit, but not about protein. My friends are just as clueless as the rest of the world. Everyone seems to be drunk on the protein Kool-Aid. There are zillions of “high-protein” diets.

There are “low-fat” and “low-carbs,” but unless you’ve got rare genetic kidney cooties, no one is talking about a low-protein diet. When I was learning to cook on TV, every dish had to have its protein. Menus now have protein sections. Everyone is sucking protein’s dick. The way I now understand it (we know this will still be wrong), no food is really protein.

Every single goddamn little tiny cell in every single goddamn living organism, plant or animal, has up to 10,000 proteins inside. Every single fucking cell of every single fucking living fucking thing. Proteins really are the building blocks of all life. But that doesn’t mean you have to eat a T-bone covered in peanut butter cheese sauce every four hours. In fact, the protein we eat isn’t even the protein we use. The protein we use is synthesized by our genes.

That’s what genes are: recipes for making 25,000 proteins. The DNA in each of our cells makes that shit all the time. We’re little peanut butter/cheese/fish factories. Using amino acids, our cells make all the protein they need. That’s all a protein is: just a sequence of twenty amino acids. (Wikipedia agrees with CrayRay on this—I checked. Some articles say twenty-one amino acids are needed; let’s just call it “a bunch.”)

The order and length of the amino acid sequence gives protein its function and a 3-D shape without clunky 3-D glasses. Everyone makes the comparison to the twenty letters of our alphabet and how those twenty letters make words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books. “Wait just a minute,” you say, “we don’t have a twenty-letter alphabet, we have a twenty-six-letter alphabet.” And then I say, “Oh, I guess I left out U R A Q T!” And then you say, “That’s still only twenty-five.” And I say, “I’ll give you the D later.” And then you say, “I guess what you really meant is that there are twenty amino acids, so your analogy to our twenty-six-letter alphabet is off by six, asshole.”

We don’t use even one single protein from any other organism without first breaking it down into its parts.

We eat protein from other animals and plants and break it down into the twenty amino acids, and then use that abbreviated alphabet to build our own protein “words” from the individual “letters.” Those amino acids circulate around our bodies in a very small pool of alphabet soup. We don’t store amino acids the way we store fat, which is why we need to replenish the supply. Of those twenty (or so) amino acids, our body synthesizes eleven of them all on its own. Fuck you, protein—we can just make them ourselves. We’re like fucking plants—life out of nothing, solar power. We never, ever, ever need to eat any of those eleven, those “nonessential amino acids.”

Let’s try this analogy. It’s as if the alphabet had twenty letters and we could draw eleven of them on our own as long as we had ink and paper, and that ink and paper can come from just about any food. But we couldn’t draw the other nine letters, the “essential amino acids,” so we had to eat magazines and digest them to break down the words into those nine letters. So we need to find magazines with the nine letters we can’t draw. Is that clearer? But those nine letters aren’t rare. It’s not like we have to find the elusive X, Z, and J—nope, the nine we can’t make are like fucking T, H, and E—they’re fucking everywhere. You can eat Dickens and Melville, or you can eat the National Enquirer, and you’ll get plenty of those nine letters that you can use to spell everything your body needs to spell. The proteins in your body are made of these twenty amino acids, eleven of them in your handwriting, the other nine cut and pasted like a ransom note or an old Sex Pistols album cover. Picture a really stupid kidnapper who cuts out nine letters and then writes all the rest in his own handwriting. No matter how badly read our kidnapper is, he can find those nine letters in whatever hole in the wall he’s hiding out in.

We make the eleven nonessential amino acids, so we don’t have to worry about them; everyone knows that. But people go bug-nutty over those nine essential amino acids, because we do have to eat those. No animal is able to make all twenty. Every animal needs to eat some amino acids. Only plants make all of them, because plants don’t eat (except for Venus flytraps, pitcher plants (we have some in our terrarium with the lizards), Audrey II, and a few others). To get those nine we eat a plant or we eat an animal that ate a plant, because only plants make them all. Every animal we eat to get our essential amino acids got them originally from a plant. Why not go right to the source and ask the horse (I made a bet that I could get a Mister Ed reference into this book). Horses don’t eat anything but plants, and they build strong bodies that some women find sexy in a way that’s a little creepy. The point is that although we do need to eat “protein” to get these nine essential amino acids, we don’t need a lot of it, we don’t need it often, and we can get it pretty much anywhere.

Excerpt from "Presto! How I made a 100 pounds disappear and other magical tales"
by Penn Jillette