Protein is everywhere.
You can't pick up a paper or watch a programme without adverts and articles telling us we need more. Brands haven't wasted any time jumping on this band wagon either – it's been added to breakfast cereals, chocolate bars, bread and even soft drinks.
And yet, underneath all the promise of increased energy and leaner bodies, my concern is that many of us don't really understand protein – in particular, where it comes from and what impact it has on the planet. So what is the problem? Well, it's a few things actually. People are often familiar with the concept of beef production having a negative impact on the planet. To avoid this, many turn to chicken, seeing it as a healthy/more sustainable option. However, would they feel the same if they knew that there are in fact 21 billion chickens on the planet, that's three per person? These chickens rely on feed, mainly soy and maize, which is grown in places like South America, and is one of the main driving forces behind habitat conversion and deforestation.
When put in this light, chicken is suddenly not so beneficial for the planet. Yet, it's more than just chicken. All livestock has a high impact on the environment, be it dairy, meat, fish or eggs. 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gases (GHG) come from livestock. This problem is compounded by the state of oceans, with 85 per cent overfished or fished to capacity.
The truth is that many people still think you can only find protein in meat and fish. My wife is a vegan and we have lost count of the times people ask her "where she gets her protein from" or comment that "you must need supplements". Contrary to popular belief, protein is not just found in meat. Basically, all foods made from meat, seafood, eggs, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, tofu, wheat germ and even soba noodles contain protein.
As long as you eat a balanced diet, it is perfectly possible to be get all the protein you need without being overly reliant on meat or fish. I'm not saying that everyone needs to stop eating meat. Instead, I think it's time for a wake-up call for all of us to start to think the protein we consume and the impact it could be having on the planet.
To begin with, we should be eating more plants anyway – not only for the environmental benefit but simply because they're packed with vitamins and minerals we all need. Next, we need to challenge the concept that lean meat is the only route to being fit, lean and strong. Some of the world's most successful athletes don't rely on meat.
The world's greatest Ultramarathon runner, Scott Jurek, is a vegan. As are the Williams sisters, England Striker Jemaine Defoe and even the boxer David Haye. Lastly, we need to think about our food choices. We don't need products with added protein. The whey protein market is predicated to be worth $13.5 billion by 2022, so a lot of brands have a fair amount riding on consumers keeping up the supplement habit, but that doesn't mean it's the only place we should be looking for our protein. We need to have a more balanced plate of food. Mix it up a bit. Eating less and different protein is good for us and our planet and it will open up a new world of food and flavours.
A triple win.