What “Protein” do you have to Add to my Salad?

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Last week I had lunch with a dear friend.  I had been warned that she is now following the “Paleo Lifestyle” and that she was pretty sensitive to any criticism about this (as the Paleo people are taught to be!). She ordered a salad at the coffee house where we were eating, and then asked the barista “what proteins do you have to add to the salad?”  To her credit, the barista either feigned or was genuinely perplexed by the question.  “What do you mean?” she asked.  My friend replied, “well, like chicken,” to which the barista happily announced they could provide.  And I, untactfully and forgetting the warning, said “or like spinach, or bok choy, or edamame – or many other foods that are protein dense.”

My friend, of course, in the parlance of Paleo devotees, was dutifully using the word “protein” as a synonym for “meat!”  You know – protein, meat – two words meaning the same thing! The Korean café next door displayed a wall menu with a whole category of choices labeled “Protein” – and all the choices were meat.

As you may remember from a recent blog post, spinach, bok choy, and edamame are all more protein dense than is, say, bacon or pepperoni or cheese.  Moreover, virtually every variety of meat is first and foremost a source of dietary fat, and secondarily a source of dietary protein.  Salmon, bacon, chicken, hamburger, ham, eggs – all of these items that the Paleo people refer to as “protein” — are denser sources of fat than they are protein, and in many cases much denser sources of fat.  For example, a calorie from bacon contains over twice the fat as it does protein, and a calorie from eggs delivers almost twice as much fat than protein.

So why doesn’t the Korean café’s menu show all those meat choices under a category called “FAT?”  And why didn’t my friend ask the barista “what fats do you have to add to the salad?”

I think you know the answer. But if you don’t, see my next blog for the story behind this untoward bastardization of our food language.