Proteines: mythes et réalité

Où trouves-tu les protéines? C’est une des questions qu’on me pose souvent. En effet, on a tous appris à l’école que les protéines étaient essentielles pour grandir et que la viande, le lait, et les œufs étaient les aliments à même de nous fournir les protéines dont notre corps a besoin. D’où la question: comment quelqu’un qui ne consomme aucun de ces aliments, qui plus est quelqu’un comme moi faisant beaucoup de sport, peut-il survivre?

En fait, comme je l’explique ici, c’est un faux problème qui vient du culte que nous vouons à la viande. Il est très très rare de trouver des personnes ayant un apport calorique quotidien suffisant (donc on ne parle pas de personnes victimes de famine ou de dénutrition suite à leur choix alimentaires) et présentant une carence en protéines. Parce que pour faire une carence en protéines en consommant 2000-2500 kilocalories (kcal) par jour, il faudrait vraiment manger systématiquement et volontairement des aliments pauvres en protéines, et/ou manger très peu varié.

Qu’est ce qu’une protéine?

Un tout petit peu de biologie pour commencer: ce qu’on entend par protéine, ce sont des dizaines de molécules appelées acides aminés et dont notre corps a besoin pour son bon fonctionnement. Ces acides aminés remplissent des rôles très variés, à la fois dans la création de cellules et dans le métabolisme cellulaire. Notre corps est capable de produire lui-même la grande majorité de ces acides aminés, à l’exception de neuf d’entre eux. C’est pourquoi on appelle ces derniers des acides aminés essentiels: nous devons les trouver dans notre alimentation.

De quelle quantité avons-nous besoin?

L’autorité européenne de sécurité des aliments a publié en 2012 ses recommandations concernant les besoins en protéines de la population. Il est à noté que, contrairement aux recommandations émises dans d’autres pays, celles-ci ne modulent pas les niveaux en fonction du degré d’activité physique, mais seulement en fonction du poids de l’individu. Il s’agit donc là d’une valeur moyenne, qui pour certaines personnes sera au-delà des besoins effectifs. Selon cette étude, les adultes ont besoin de 0,83 grammes de protéines par jour par kg de poids corporel.
A titre d’exemple, pour une homme de 70 kg plutôt sédentaire, cela représente 58 grammes de protéines par jour, soit 232 kcal ou environ 11% des besoins énergétiques journaliers.

Où trouver ces fameux acides aminés?

Beaucoup de plantes contiennent elles-aussi des acides aminés, certaines en contenant même plus qu’un steak de boeuf ! Le haricot de soja, par exemple, contient plus de 20% de protéines alors que la viande rouge n’en contient qu’entre 15 et 20%. Ce n’est pas pour rien qu’on en a fait une des sources de base de l’alimentation industrielle du bétail. De même, toutes les céréales complètes, que ce soit le riz complet, l’avoine, le blé complet, le quinoa, l’orge ou le sarrasin contiennent entre 10 et 15% de protéines. C’est également le cas des légumineuses comme les lentilles ou les pois chiches, et de bon nombre de fruits à coque (amandes, noix du brésil, noix de cajou, etc) Bref, pour ce qui est de la quantité de protéines, ce ne sont pas les plantes qui manquent. Et je ne parle là que des aliments particulièrement riches en protéines.
Là où les plantes diffèrent de la viande, c’est sur la proportion en acides aminés essentiels, dont nous avons déjà parlé, qu’elles renferment. Il faut imaginer ces 9 acides aminés essentiels comme 9 briques Légo de couleurs différentes. Un morceau de viande contient toujours les 9 couleurs dans les mêmes proportions que notre corps, puisque c’est de la chair animale similaire à notre propre chair, elle aussi animale. Par contre, une portion de riz complet, par exemple, ne contiendra pas ces mêmes 9 briques dans exactement les mêmes proportions.
 
Alors comment être sûr de bien consommer tous les neuf acides aminés essentiels dans les bonnes proportions quand on ne mange pas de viande ou de produits d’origine animale? C’est tout simple, il suffit de manger varié. Ne dit-on pas que pour manger équilibré, il faut manger varié? Et bien ici c’est pareil. En combinant au cours d’une journée, pas nécessairement à chaque repas, différentes sources végétales de protéine, on arrive facilement à couvrir nos besoins en acides aminés essentiels. Il n’est pour cela pas nécessaire de peser, compter les grammes de protéines, ou tenir un journal ! Il suffit d’acquérir un ou deux bons réflexes, comme celui de privilégier les céréales complètes, et manger fréquemment une légumineuse.
A noter que dans ces dernières recommandations nutritionnelles officielles, le ministère américain de la santé classe les différentes sortes de haricots, ainsi que les noix comme parties intégrantes de l’apport en protéines dans le cadre d’une alimentation saine. Qui plus est, les diverses sortes de haricots et lentilles sont classés dans la catégorie des aliments riches en protéines, au côté de la viande, du poisson et des produits laitiers. Etant donné l’épidémie d’obésité (et de maladies qui y sont liées) frappant les Etats-Unis, il ne faut pas s’étonner que l’administration américaine soit à l’avant-poste en terme de recherche sur ce qui constitue une alimentation saine.

Et n’y a t-il pas d’autres avantages à manger des graines complètes?

Si, justement, il y a en a plusieurs. Dans la graine complète sont préservés tous les minéraux dont notre corps a besoin. Ces minéraux, dont certains n’existent pas dans la viande, sont très précieux pour notre corps. En achetant du pain complet, du riz complet, des pâtes complètes, on fournit aussi à notre corps les fibres nécessaires pour le bon fonctionnement de notre système digestif. Tant les minéraux que les fibres sont en grande partie absents des farines blanches, ayant été séparés de la graine au moment du traitement. On vente souvent les mérites des fibres pour le transit intestinal, sans vraiment expliquer ce que ça implique pour notre santé. Tout simplement, ça veut dire que les fibres facilitent l’absorption des nutrients tout en évitant que les aliments ne séjournent trop longtemps dans l’intestin, limitant les chances d’absorption des substances contenues dans nos aliments et nocives pour l’organisme (provenant du traitement des cultures ou de la pollution des sols par exemple.)

En résumé, non seulement c’est très simple de trouver toutes les protéines dont notre corps a besoin sans manger viande, poisson et produits laitiers, mais en plus, en nous motivant à manger équilibré, ça apporte d’autres bienfaits à notre corps pour être en meilleure santé. Le côté radical que certains y voient est le pur produit de notre culture, bien plus que d’une quelconque vérité scientifique.

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