Ah, protein. Essential for every cell in the body, protein is one of the most contested nutrients these days. With so many people saying such different things about the type of protein we need, it can be hard to know what to eat.

In my experience, raw, plant-based protein is the easiest to digest. I feel like I have a burst of energy when I have a kale salad with tahini and hemp seeds that I know cooked animal flesh could never provide. Some say that cooked animal protein is the highest quality, but actually its just the densest kind of protein.

Quality is determined by how well our bodies can break down and use the protein we eat. Our bodies are not capable of completely breaking down animal protein, and we actually absorb more protein from unheated, plant-based sources.

Proteins are long chains of amino acids, combined in different configurations to make different proteins. The body doesnt use whole protein chains, it breaks down protein in the individual amino acids, and then uses those amino acids to build tissues or perform essential functions.

Truly high quality protein provides the types and amounts of amino acids that our bodies need to make new tissue and carry out certain activities. If the protein we eat is too dense, the body doesnt use it all, and the extra just turns into toxic waste matter.

When protein is heated, it gets very dense, and becomes globular, which means the protein chain fuses and can no longer be broken down into individual amino acids. Its like when small particles of colored glass are melted to make stained-glass windows.

Once they are melted and mixed, you cannot move just the individual particles. You can break the glass into big chunks and use some of it for other projects, but then a lot of it becomes dangerous sharp glass shards.

Heating protein above 115 degrees (F) breaks the hydrogen bonds that maintain the structure of the protein chains. This causes the protein to solidify, like the colored glass particles melting into solid stained glass. Then the individual amino acids melt together and form enzyme-resistant bonds that are hard or impossible to break down through normal digestion.

When food is heated above 115 degrees, at least 50 % of the protein is solidified, according to the Max Planck Institute. This process is also called denaturing. Denatured proteins are no longer biologically active, which means they are basically dead and useless to the body.

Since the body cannot recognize these newly solidified proteins as food, nor use the amino acids because they are fused together, the proteins are treated as foreign invaders. Rather than being nourished by what you just ate, your body works to remove the invading cells, which are called polypeptides.

The immune system revs up, triggering the production of white blood cells. The immune system draws energy away from other areas of the body that might actually need support, to protect you from the toxic byproducts (which are like the broken stained glass shards).

In conclusion, raw protein is better for the body than cooked protein. In order for the body to use proteins, they need to be broken down into amino acids. Cooked proteins cannot be easily digested, because heating proteins causes the amino acids to be permanently fused together. It is best to get your protein from sources that can be consumed raw whenever possible.