veggie burger recipe

How Clean is Your Protein? 9 Questions for Kathy Freston and Bruce Friedrich

Americans are obsessed with getting enough protein, but we’re looking for it in all the wrong places. The new book Clean Protein: The Revolution that Will Reshape Your Body, Your Energy, and Save Our Planet takes a deep dive into the latest nutrition science and food innovation.

Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute, and Kathy Freston, best-selling wellness author, teamed up to write this book about the future of food and the clean protein revolution. They bust the most common protein myths, take a look at the innovative new world of plant-based and “clean meats” (grown in a lab), and give readers practical advice for kick-starting a clean protein lifestyle. They recently spoke to us about the book and why they think we are at the beginning of a food revolution.

Q: Can you give us a brief rundown of what the title means? What is clean protein? 

We Americans are obsessed with protein, but there are different things to consider when choosing what kind of protein to consume. For instance, how much cholesterol goes along with the protein, and is that particular kind of protein inflammatory to the body? How many pathogens or antibiotics might be lurking within the tissue? What kind of damage did the making of that protein do to our country’s land or water; did the processing of it pollute the air that we breathe?

Just because a food is chock full of protein doesn’t mean it’s “clean” – either for the body or for our planet. We’ve researched and assembled all of these factors to determine which kinds of proteins are cleanest, and why those proteins aren’t always the ones that are marketed to us. (HINT: Beans and lentils aren’t big business!)

Clean Protein

Q: What’s the biggest mistake you see people make with what they eat?

The single biggest mistake people make is that they focus on protein grams rather than how many grams of fiber are in the food.  

Fiber acts like a scrub brush; it pushes the gunk and toxicity out of your body.  

It’s kind of a miracle that keeps your weight down, your belly feeling full, and your blood sugar steady and healthful. So if your protein is devoid of fiber, it’s not clean. And as nature would have it, proteins that are devoid of fiber are also usually loaded with fat and cholesterol.  

(HINT: Beans and lentils have tons of protein, and also a ton of fiber. Chicken has zero fiber, but lots of fat and cholesterol.)

Q: What are the big takeaways that you’d like people to take away from the book?

First, most people think that meat is protein and protein is meat; but meat is not the only source of protein, and it’s certainly not the cleanest.  This goes for dairy and eggs as well. Foods that are grown in the ground or in trees are ideal: beans and legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds; vegetables.  (Very Blue Zones!)   

Second, meat alternatives are a whole lot cleaner than the animal versions of burgers and sausage and the like. Yes, they may be a bit processed in much the same way that bread is processed from grains, but plant-based meats usually have as much or more protein than the animal meats, while at the same time have zero cholesterol and very little saturated fat. And they have lots of fiber to push through your system, thus keeping it cleaner!  

Third, clean meat — real animal flesh that is grown in a sort of brewery from cells — is on the near horizon.  It may sound weird at first – flesh without slaughter – but when you think about it, it’s clean – no bacterial contamination like you get from animals that went to slaughter, no need for antibiotics or growth hormones, and no massive resources used to feed and sustain the animals. The post-industrial method of getting our protein needs met is fast on the wane, and a cleaner and more conscious approach is arising.  

Q: Is clean meat (meat grown directly from animal cells without the need for slaughter) healthier than grass-fed, free-range animal meat?  

We think so! This meat does not require animal slaughter; instead it will be produced in, essentially, a meat factory; it’ll be grown directly from animal cells, and is much better for the environment, hence the name, “clean meat.” Clean energy is energy that is better for the environment; clean meat is meat that is better for the environment. It is also literally cleaner; with no industrial farm and no slaughterhouse, there are no bacteria. There are also no drug residues, since there are no farm animals and thus no drugs.

A note here: we’re not suggesting that people stop eating all meat instantaneously; for people who want to keep consuming it, grass-fed beef is probably your best choice, especially if you can find a rancher who uses regenerative farming methods.  

Q: For people who want to move away from animal protein and start eating more plant-based foods, what are a few easy ways they can start to transition? 

Rather than “cutting out” the proteins you’re used to, you might just want to start “crowding them out” with cleaner versions.  So if you love burgers, have a plant-based burger with all the same fixings … tomato, onion, relish, and we guarantee that you’ll love it nearly as much, if not more (Somehow, just knowing a food is clean tends to make it very enjoyable!). If your family loves tacos, crowd out the ground beef with black beans and just pile on the regular accouterments like avocado, salsa, and shredded lettuce.

If you enjoy “Wine at 5,” have it with hummus and whole grain crackers rather than cheese and crackers. In all these cases, you’ll be getting just as much or more protein, far less cholesterol and fat, and much more fiber. The rituals and traditions remain virtually the same. We provide a comprehensive list of clean protein options to choose from in the book, and once you realize how many there are, you’ll see what an easy transition “clean” can be.  

Q: What are some of your favorite recipes from the book?  

Aside from Dan Buettner’s Ikarian stew, which is a steady go-to favorite, we love the red lentil waffles with smoked almonds, the tofu chorizo, and the wild mushroom Tuscan white bean pizza. We have a hearty mix of different kinds of proteins in easy-to-make recipes written by some all-star chefs and personalities. It’s not a cookbook, per se — it’s really a book to answer every question you’ve ever had about protein. But that said, we gathered some killer recipes from some of our favorite people!

Q: There has been a lot of movement in plant-based eating in the past few years. What do you see in the next few years? And what would you like to see in the next few years?  

There’s been a profound shift in awareness, both on the human health front as well as how food affects the environment, and the younger generations (millennials and Gen Y) are insisting on cleaner options than what their parents and grandparents had. This is at the same time that plant-based meats have gotten so, so much better.  

So the next few years will have menus offering a lot more traditional foods that have the upgraded, cleaner proteins. We’d love to see menus totally flip so that the majority of the offerings are plant-based with only a few animal offerings. Instead of 95 percent chicken, beef, and fish with 5 percent plant-based, we’re rooting for 95 percent plant-based with the occasional chicken, beef, or fish thrown in for flavor or special occasion. (Again, very Blue Zones!).  

Q: How did you two team up to write this book?  

Both of us have made careers of writing and talking about food – how to make it healthier and more conscious, so when Bruce started The Good Food Institute and asked Kathy to join the board, we figured it was a good time to focus on protein. Because protein — clean protein — is “good food.”  We divided up the chapters, wrote them, then exchanged and edited each others’ work!  



Q. What do you think is the most important non-food-related thing people can do to improve their health?

Having friends that are curious and excited about getting healthy; it’s so much fun to do it together! Also, get enough sleep and don’t take yourself too seriously.

by Naomi Imatome-Yun

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