Protein 101

By Samantha Gilbert, FNC, CHNP, CNC     Last updated on September 23rd, 2021

Protein 101

I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately asking about what I eat, and more specifically, the role protein plays in healing undermethylation. As a high copper, undermethylated individual, I thrive on a higher protein diet.

Protein and Undermethylation

Contrary to all those “studies” citing how bad animal protein is for us, the role protein plays in repair and healing is critical, especially when it comes to brain health and cognitive performance.

Unfortunately, it’s been hammered into our heads that higher-protein diets cause cancer and kidney disease and that the only way to achieve optimum health is through big bowls of kale.

So if you’ve bought into the acid-alkaline myth (foods don’t influence blood pH), or the belief that too much protein turns into glucose by spontaneous gluconeogenesis (there is no solid evidence to support the idea that excess protein is turned into glucose because gluconeogenesis is demand-driven, not supply-driven) then this article is for you.

It’s taken me years to figure out how to eat optimally for my biotype, but one thing’s for certain, I feel a heck of a lot better eating more animal protein than I ever did subsisting on avocados and green leafy salads.

And to be clear, I love vegetables (I eat about a pound of them per day) and at the time, I loved being vegan, but my health really declined on this lifestyle because I wasn’t honoring my true biochemistry.

Of course, there are valid reasons for limiting protein intake for certain folks, but to suggest that animal protein causes kidney disease/failure and cancer is really misguided.

Keep in mind that everyone’s protein requirements will vary based on activity and stress levels, methylation status (overmethylators do better with less protein and more plants), blood sugar levels, and metabolic issues. And as you know, my motto is “we are all biochemically unique, each requiring different nutrients to thrive.”

Why is animal protein important (especially for an undermethylator)?

  • Unlike plant-based proteins, animal proteins are much more similar to human proteins, which makes them more readily available for our own protein synthesizing reactions. This includes supporting methylation cycle enzymes to ensure SAMe, homocysteine, and creatine synthesis.
  • Plant proteins are compromised by their limitation of one or more amino acids, aren’t so great at regulating blood sugar, and contain chemical defense systems that can be toxic to humans and animals (this is why cooking is important for many vegetables because heat neutralizes these toxins).
  • Animal protein also contains the most abundant supply of bioavailable zinc, which is critical for proper brain function (not to mention the healthy functioning of over 300 enzymatic processes in the body).

Who might benefit from a high protein diet?

  • Individuals with methylation imbalances. Undermethylators thrive on higher protein diets because protein is needed to create methyl; whereas carbohydrates and fats have no effect. Overmethylators thrive on folates (folate is a powerful demethylating agent) and thus do really well on a plant-based diet (but still need some protein). Keep in mind that a high folate, plant-based diet is a cancer-promoting diet for undermethylated individuals.
  • Individuals with blood sugar and metabolic problems. High protein diets have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar. Excess copper reduces zinc levels, which interferes with glucose metabolism and therefore blood sugar regulation. Zinc is also needed to create/regulate insulin, so when these levels stabilize, inflammatory markers from insulin sensitivity to cholesterol and triglycerides also stabilize.
  • Women who are estrogen intolerant. Copper affects men and women differently. It is especially damaging to women because we have higher levels of estrogen. Copper rises with estrogen when a woman is pregnant and should naturally lower after baby is born, but too often copper levels do not go back to normal. The baby is out of the womb, but copper is still feeding the blood vessels that were created to support the child in utero. Protein is an excellent stabilizing macronutrient and craving eliminator when copper and hormone production is imbalanced. Keep in mind copper also comes from exogenous sources such as birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, multi-vitamin and mineral supplements, and water.
  • Individuals that are under a lot of stress and suffer from depression, high anxiety, and panic disorders. As I mentioned above, protein has a calming, stabilizing effect on blood sugar. High stress levels frequently lead to hypoglycemia and other blood sugar imbalances. Starting your day with protein can boost energy levels, improve sleep, sharpen brain function, and reduce anxiety and mood swings.

Are you confused about all the conflicting information out there on protein? If so, try these:

  1. Have protein for breakfast to see if your energy increases.
  2. Have protein at regular intervals throughout the day to see if your mood improves.
  3. Create a food mood journal notating physical and emotional responses.
  4. Check out my Low Folate Cookbook for help with meal planning, food lists, and delicious recipes.

As always, I’d love to know how this works out for you in the comments below. It is through sharing your experiences that we create community, eliminate guilt and shame, and bring about healing.


39 thoughts on “Protein 101”

  1. Hi I have high cholesterol at 8.9 n blood sugar issue hypoglycaemia n undermethylated. I try to cut out red meat n eat 2 x week n eat more fish n poultry. Under a lot of stress anxiety n get dizzy n hangry if I don’t eat. shall I add red meat in but lean one to help balance out pls? Pls help. Am on statin by dr 2 wks ago only but prefer not if possible. Thanks. Julia from Sydney

  2. Hello, I tested for high copper and high histamine. How many leafy greens such as broccoli and salad can an undermethylators have a day? Surely they need some folate to get the cycle going but not too much. What two serves of leafy green vegetables a day?

  3. Hey Sami,
    Thanks for the lovely article. What are you thoughts on the role of animal proteins on the microbiome and more specifically how high animal protein diets have shown to enhance purtrification in the gut and shift our microbial communities to the dominance of less favourable species?

  4. I am undermethylated and do well with higher proteins where I feel like my energy is stable throughout the day. I was diagnosed with CIRS, POTS, and MCAD. Because of POTS, my digestion is slowed. I am intolerant to histamine. My question is, if I consume protein at every meal and my digestion is slower, will the undigested protein produce more histamine as it sits? Also, do you know of any protein powders that an undermethylated individual can consume without reacting? Is it the histamine in whey protein that make me react or the glutamate? Forget vegetarian protein powders, they make me feel “crazy” and anxious when I drink them due all the greens. Would love a free consultation with you! Btw, 3 years ago I had my copper IUD removed because I felt like it was turning me into a different person. Whew, so glad I did that!

  5. Hi Sami – I’m happy to say I’ve had great results switching to a low copper diet, focusing on animal protein, avoiding folate and taking a couple of key supplements like zinc, B6, magnesium, wholefood C. I feel really good and from what I can see there is more improvement to come.
    I’m 47, have had issues with eating and weight my whole life and until very recently was a vegetarian eating lots of avocadoes, spinach, empty carbs and feeling increasingly terrible. A couple of big events in my life tipped me into a fairly significant depression and luckily I was very motivated to do something about it, and ended up reading a lot of your blogs and taking a few simple principles on.
    Thanks very much for the information I really appreciate it, and am grateful for the reasonably direct message you’re promoting, without to much focus on the finer details and confusing chemistry I could never hope to understand.
    Dave (Sydney, Australia)

  6. Hi Sami! I am so excited to have a consult with you next month and to start working with the Mensah clinic!! This is a huge piece of my health puzzle and it only took me 5 years to find it! (ugh). Anyway, what do you and Dr. Mensah do with regards to the large portion of the population that have the Apoe 4 gene or a partial mutation? Dr. Dale Bredesen has a protocol to monitor lipids, sugars and other issues with Apoe 4 (and apoe 3/4) and the Apoe’s are hyper absorbers of FAT so it was suggested for me to increase my consumption of olive oil and avocado (now I know to avoid that as I suspect copper and undermethylation) but also to have up to 10 cups of veggies per day and much more fish and even vegan sources of protein. Very confusing. Also when you and Dr. Mensah see copper levels in the normal range but people are presenting with copper toxicity symptoms do they they have to go out and get hair analysis? Thanks so much!

  7. Hi Sami, thanks for this article. How much protein as a percentage of total calories are we talking for an under-methylated individual with pyroloria, high copper and low zinc?
    Would be helpful to know what to shoot for. Thanks 🙂

  8. Dear Sammy,
    I’m very thankful for your site and all your informations you share.
    Just one question: do you take the HTMA test reliable? Or should we go along only blood tests? I just ask it because my HTMA showed lower copper to zinc ratio, and I have huge insuline levels, and a massive insuline resistance too, with worsening blood sugar levels during last years.
    The HTMA advised me more animal protein too, and showed a very elevated tin level, so I need to change my amalgams as well. It also stated that it can lower iron in body, and 20 years of bloodworks seem proving it, with the strong anemia symptoms together.

    But can I trust these results, or is it better to go along blood copper, zinc, ceruloplasmin and other tests?
    Thank you very much!

    1. Hi Vicky,
      It’s a myth that HTMA is the gold standard of testing and superior to blood and urine. All must be used to create a healing protocol.

  9. I also have high copper and undermethylater. I find it difficult to get enough protein in my diet how do you do it. I know it’s the major reason why I’ve had so many problems lately with Lyme disease the methylation and a few other things is because I didn’t get enough protein in my diet so I was lacking amino acids which I knew all about but I just wasn’t getting enough. How much is enough per day?

    Thank you

    1. Hi Patty,
      Smaller meals though out the day will help acclimate your body to protein and reduce digestive distress from larger meals, in addition to balancing blood sugar.

      1. What does this test find place can it be taken in denmark through a hospital doctors ward or lab. What is the name of the test. Does gluthation help methylizing.

  10. cherie allardice


    The only way I got off meds and banished my pain and inflammation from autoimmune arthritis (ankylosing spondylitits) was to give up animal products, but I know I need animal protein because since becoming vegan my chocolate/sugar cravings are very strong, and I feel a vegan diet is not health promoting, long term. Sometimes when I eat animal protein I get short-lived hives afterwards, but only ones that appear where I scratch – if I scratched a word in my skin, I’d get a hive the shape of that word! I’m also very sensitive to sulphur – onions and garlic are a no no, as are beans and legumes, which bloat me. Gave up wheat and dairy years ago, which fixed my asthma and excema. I’m working on healing my digestive tract with a functional practitioner using probiotics and metagenics products, along with HCl tablets so that I can tolerate animal protein but the slow progress is frustrating – whenever I start eating meat again I eventually experience arthritis symptoms. I seem to feel better in every other way when I eat meat, just not physically – does that make sense???? Should I also be avoiding folate? I have a spinach and berry green smoothie every morning for breakfast. A good methylated B12 sublingual also makes me feel super fantastic and was instrumental in my recovery – it’s just that I’d much rather be getting it from a food source (ie meat!). Any pointers you could give me would be most welcome, it might be that next piece of the puzzle that keeps me moving forward. I have various methylation polymorphisms including MTHFR, CBS and MAO. A history of bulimia when younger, a year of pshychoactive (!) partying at university, and some later episodes of pneumonia requiring antibiotics, plus 7 pregnancies (5 births) has definitely played a part I feel – oh, and throw in my age (43), with menopause around the corner! You are spot on the money Sami, thank you!

    1. Hi Cherie,
      You are most welcome. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s difficult to provide guidance without a proper assessment and functional testing to determine methylation status. And as I tell everyone, please do not try and self-diagnose based on general guideline characteristics since everyone’s biochemistry is unique.

  11. Dear Sami, I am glad that I found your site.
    I am suffering from severe depression and so I googled remedies as I have been trying almost everything. Then I read about keto diets and that it could alleviate symptoms. I am not really into it but I have been eating much more proteins (and low carbs) for 2 weeks now and it makes me more even, less mood swings. I’m still having terrible days, OMG, but I’m hoping to handle it with the diet alone. If there are any hints you can give I would be happy to hear them. Thanks again for your infos on this site.

  12. Okay, now I am confused. I am definitely undermethylated, so terribly histamine intolerant, and more than a bit of protein really makes me ill. My nutrahacker/genetic genie/as-much-as-I-can-get-from-the-website-of- Dr. Lynch reports say don’t eat much protein (ammonia), avoid folate, and don’t take methyl groups. I am supposed to take hydroxycobalamon? Do I just have a different flavor of undermethylation?

    1. Yes, all undermethylators are different (autistic individuals are good examples), and I encourage you to exercise extreme caution with those kinds of sites. You must get the full range of functional testing before you can determine your complete biotype.

  13. Heather Barnes

    I recently joined your website and am so grateful to you. This article in particular helps me just recognize what I have gravitated to in my 46 year is what is best for me…the high protein diet. While I have not had the blood work to prove I am an UM -under methlyator and probably high copper, your information is really helpful to me. I am a the begining of a huge learning curve about methlation and copper in balance, and your articles and website is a true treasure chest of important jewels of information for me. i am perimenanapausal and just begining to figure out of this for myself. thank you for the information
    heather barnes

    1. Hi Heather,
      You are very welcome. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so glad my writings have benefited you. Keep up the great work, and remember that healing is always possible for everyone.

  14. Hi Sami,
    I am an overmethylator with homo C677T plus many others and have been following a Paleo Diet with very few processed foods. Today I received blood results after 8 mths of clean eating and losing 16 kgs and my sugar levels are up as is cholesterol. So disheartened! What gives??

    1. Hi Liz,
      A number of factors could be at play here so it’s difficult to advise you without a proper consultation. Keep in mind that as an overmethylator, you need ample amounts of folate to thrive. I encourage you to also look at copper/zinc levels as a possible underlying cause.

  15. I have pyrolles, UM but have MTHFR, CBS and NOS mutations. Eating too much protein makes me feel toxic. I’ve just had to recently up my dose of P5P because I have been starting to react to sulphur vegetables again. So confusing.

    1. Hi CC,
      This is very common with pyrrole disorder because the body is under severe oxidative stress. As the body comes more into balance, the ability to tolerate protein and other vegetables/foods also improves.

  16. If I have mthfr and am an UM, I should not be eating folates (veggies etc). Does the same theory hold true for Vit B12? If UMs with mthfr have a hard time processing folate AND B12, should that person avoid foods with B12 in them? Beef contains a lot of B12 (much to my surprise). I’ve been eating beef to get zinc, but now am wondering if all that B12 in beef is a bad idea or not??
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Anne,
      Yes, if you are an undermethylator, you need to limit folates. B12 from food sources is just fine for us.

  17. Thank you for simplifying this issue. I definitely get these types of questions a lot with my patients who have gone vegetarian in hopes of better health but have found it HARDER to maintain blood sugars, weight and blood lipids. However, I would stress the point that being tested for micronutrient deficiencies is also a good place to start here (alongside methylation) since not EVERYBODY is a ‘high copper, undermethylater’. There are a lot of ways to throw off the imbalance of minerals and I wouldn’t prophylactically recommend avoiding copper when you are an undermethylater b/c I have had many pts with an undermethylation gene mutation but were actually DEFICIENT in copper. I’m vocalizing this not so much to you, Samantha, but to those who use the internet to self-treat – hence why it is so important to work with a professional!

    1. Hi Darci,
      Thanks for your comment. Of course, proper functional testing is key for everyone regardless of biotype. Keep in mind that present genetic tests cannot determine net effect of SNPs that enhance/depress methylation so I don’t recommend them to determine treatment. The same holds true for proper copper/zinc testing. Many practitioners fail to make this connection and think copper is low.

  18. Can you suggest how I can get more calories in hopes this will help me have more energy? I’m also an undermethylator and have been following a low oxalate, salicylate, amine, fructose, sulphur, etc. GAPS diet and reintroducing foods has been challenging I believe in part due to motility issues. I’m eating 5 meals appx 1700 calories with 200 grams of protein,100g of carb (includes 40g of fiber), and 50g of fat. My foods are farm fresh turkey & chicken that are not fed soy, grass fed beef usually but not lately, 2 oz of lettuce juice, sprouted lentils, sprouted peas, choko/chayote and winter squash, rutabaga, goat butter, and my only seasoning is salt. I don’t do well with additional fat or other dairy such as goat yogurt.Thank-you!

    1. Hi Lisa,
      Lack of energy is from oxidative stress so that needs to be addressed in addition to diet. Increasing calories alone will not help in this regard. Based on what you’ve shared, you’re eating foods that aren’t in your best interested as an undermethylated individual such as legumes, which are high in folate and copper. I would focus on the correct foods for your biotype first.

      1. I eat 150g of lentils per day to help provide fiber and would give them up if I thought it would help. What are the foods for our biotype? What specifically do you eat every day? How do you address oxidative stress? Thank-you!

  19. What is your opinion of the theory that the body breaks all foods down to it’s basic constituents and reassembles them to create what we need, including proteins. So as long as we have all the essential building blocks needed for our protein production from plant based diet we are good to go? Further, we do not waste extra energy breaking the complex animal proteins in order to reassemble them. Not that I disagree with you, I’m 13 years a veggie turned carnivore myself for the same reasons.

    1. Hi Simon,
      I appreciate your question, but I disagree with this theory because it’s the source that’s the issue. Far more people have problems digesting plant matter than animal proteins. I see this time and again in my work with clients. Plant-based proteins are just tricky for humans.

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