The Stuff You’re Made Of

Your body is largely made of protein; your skin, muscles, internal organs, nails, hair, brain, and even the base of your bones. Only when protein of excellent quality is supplied can each cell function normally and keep itself in constant repair. Since your muscles contain a greater amount of protein than do other body structures, a glance at yourself in the mirror will give you a rough estimate of the adequacy of your protein intake.


Strong well-nourished muscles automatically hold the body erect. When muscles have not received the food necessary for their repair, they lose their elasticity, like old rubber bands, and posture becomes poor. A mother who says to a child, “Stand up straight,” is complaining of her own failure to provide nourishing food. Without conscious effort a healthy person holds his head high, his chest out, his shoulders and abdomen flat; he has only a slight forward curve in the center of the back.

The pelvic bone is almost horizontal, supporting the viscera (the large internal organs of the body collectively, esp those in the abdominal cavity) in the way a large salad bowl holds its contents; the feet have well-defined arches; the step is rhythmical.

It is almost unbelievable how quickly faulty posture can improve. Not long ago I planned a nutritional regime for a sixty-eight-year-old woman. A few weeks later she told me that for the first time in her life it was easy for her to hold herself erect; as a young girl her shoulders were so rounded that she had begged her mother to buy her a brace. It has always been impossible for her to hold herself erect except for a few strained moments, but at last her desire had been achieved. Another case which I found astonishing was that of a three-year-old boy; his chest was sunken; he had an enormous pot belly and feet as flat as a table top. Three months later this child had a high chest, beautifully arched feet, and a total absence of protruding abdomen. The rarity of good posture and a rhythmically, graceful stride tells of our widespread protein deficiency.

Hair and Nails

Since hair and nails are made of protein, this nutrient must be adequate to maintain their health. Like the muscles, hair which lacks elasticity and resiliency and perhaps breaks or refuses to take a permanent will often change to healthy hair after a few weeks of improved nutrition. Nails which break, peel, or crack can likewise change when the diet is improved.


Advantages of an adequate protein intake are that energy is readily produced and sustained, and life is made easier. Although a major cause of fatigue is low blood sugar, there are other causes resulting from protein deficiency which are less quickly corrected: low blood pressure, anemia, and the body’s inability to produce the enzymes necessary for the breakdown of foods into energy.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure means the push or force of the blood against the walls of the blood vessels. Only when the tissues of the vessel walls are strong can the blood pressure be maintained at its normal level. If these tissues become flabby and weak, they expand, making more room in the vessels. Since the volume of blood remains the same, the blood presses with decreased force against the walls; less blood plasma, carrying all the nutrients, is pushed into the tissues. Adequate supplies fail to reach the cells; thus fatigue results. Since relaxation is greatest during the night, person with lod blood pressure finds that is especially exhausted in the early morning; getting out of bed is a chore, and he is usually irritable and sluggish until his blood pressure has been increased by the stimulus of strong coffee. After a diet has been made adequate, however, low blood pressure usually becomes normal in one to three weeks.


Another cause of fatigue, particularly common among women and children, is anemia, or lack of red corpuscles, which are made almost wholly of protein. Without adequate protein anemia quickly results and persists until the nutrition is made normal. Anemia, however, can result from any number of nutritional inadequacies. All energy is produced by means of enzymes, organic substances whose principal component is protein. Vitamins are important only because they form part of certain enzymes. When protein is inadequate, however, none of the enzymes can be formed in adequate quantities. Fatigue is only one of many abnormalities which result.

Disease and Infection

If protein is abundantly supplied and the diet is otherwise adequate, we can expect high resistance to disease and infections. Although there are many mechanisms which help protect the body against infections, two are particularly dependent  upon the protein intake: antibodies and white blood cells. Under normal circumstances, the liver produces proteins known as gamma Globulins, or antibodies, whose purpose it is to combine with and make harmless various bacteria, bacterial toxins and presumably virus. Studies of persons suffering from almost every type of infection, including polio, show that the gamma Globulins of the blood are under-supplied. These Globulins might be thought of as a militia guarding your health.

Within recent years, it has become medical practice to take blood Globulins from the plasma of healthy persons who have built up immunity and to inject these Globulins into malnourished persons; such a treatment has been widely publicized as a means of preventing polio. If your nutrition is adequate, your body can produce all the antibodies it needs and more, but that simple fact is not given publicity. Experimental work has shown that when a low-protein diet is replaced by one high in adequate proteins, the antibody production is increased a hundredfold within a single week.

Another marvelous mechanism which helps to protect our bodies from infections is the production of cells known as phagocytes. Phago  means to eat; cyte means cell. Some of these white blood cells circulate in the lymph and blood. Other phagocytes are stationary and remain in the walls of the blood vessels in the tiny air sacs of the lungs, and in other tissues where they, like the antibodies, stand constant guard. When bacteria invade the body, the phagocytes mobilize, surround the enemies, and digest them. These valuable cannibals are made of protein and are produced in adequate amounts only when proteins of high quality are obtained in the diet.


Adequate protein is also necessary to maintain normal digestion. Since enzymes necessary to change food into particles which can dissolve in water and pass into the blood, are made of protein, the stomach, small intestine, and pancreas can pour out enzymes only when adequate protein is supplied. The walls of the stomach and intestine are muscular and, like other muscles, contract and relax alternately, thus mixing foods with digestive juices and enzymes and bringing already digested food into contact with the intestinal wall where it may pass into the blood.

Furthermore, the entire digestive system must be held in a normal position to work efficiently. When proteins are under-supplied, muscular walls and ligaments become flabby, and the “internal posture” suffers: the stomach may sag, the transverse bowel, or colon, may coil in snake-like fashion on the pelvic bones; the uterus or urinary bladder may be tipped; and other internal organs may be displaced. The flabby muscles of intestinal walls no longer contract normally; much food remains undigested.


This food, on reaching the large bowel, supports the growth of billions of putrefactive bacteria; gas formation and flatulence result. Because flabby muscles are unable to push waste material from the body normally, constipation often occurs. Laxatives or cathartics may be used, causing food to be forced through the body before the protein it contains can be digested; or enemas may be resorted to which further break down the worn muscles. Only when the protein intake is entirely adequate does digestion become normal again.

pH Balance

Proteins help to prevent the body fluids from becoming too acid or alkaline; they can combine with and neutralize either acid or alkaline substances. They are the raw material from which most of the hormones are made.

Clotting of Blood

Proteins are also necessary in helping blood to clot. They have almost endless other functions.

Water Retention

In still another particular way proteins are immensely important in regulating body processes. A protein known as albumin, produced by the liver provided all the building stones are furnished by the diet, makes urine collection possible. As the blood cruises through the capillary beds, the force of the blood pressure pushes the plasma into the tissues; when the blood thus becomes concentrated, the protein albumin attracts fluids from the cells back into the blood. In these fluids are dissolved the waste materials, urea, uric acid, carbon dioxide, and others from the breakdown of tissues within the cells. These wastes are then carried to the kidneys and lungs.

When the diet is so inadequate that sufficient albumin cannot be formed, waste materials are not completely removed from the tissues. Many weeks or months of mild protein deficiency may occur without the accumulated water becoming noticeable; such a person merely thinks he is overweight and often tries to reduce by cutting down still further his protein intake. If the deficiency becomes more severe, the tissues are noticeably puffy, and the entire body is waterlogged. The ankles swell, especially toward the end of the day; swollen face and hands and puffy bags under the eyes are evident in the morning. This condition is extremely common in persons of all ages. For example, most reducing diets are now fairly high in protein. It is not unusual for a person staying on 1,000 calories a day to lose 8 or 10 pounds during the first week; 3 pounds of this loss may be fat, and the remainder is usually water held because of previous faulty urine collection. Not long ago I had young woman for whom I had planned a reducing diet lost 18 pounds the first week. Two women who came with legs and ankles badly swollen from waste-laden liquids lost 18 and 24 pounds respectively in two months, although neither was given a reducing diet.

Unfortunately, water held in the tissues gives the appearance of chubbiness often associated with health, especially in children; thus this abnormal condition may be looked upon as advantageous.

Studies of youngsters suffering from polio and many other diseases show that the blood proteins, both the albumin and the globulins, or antibodies, are low and have been low long before the onset of the disease. Children entering the hospital with diarrhea or various infections or diseases are frequently so waterlogged that they appear to be fat; when a diet high in protein is given them and normal urine collection is resumed, they can be seen to be extremely emaciated.

Protein Selection

It is my belief that only when the role of protein in building and maintaining health is understood will persons make the effort to select food with sufficient care to promote health.

Taken from the book Let’s Eat Right To Keep Fit by Adelle Davis. With kind acknowledgement to Adelle Davis.

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