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Local groups get dental funding

Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation will provide $3.5 million in funding over three years to 31 Colorado nonprofit organizations to support projects that create accessible oral health care across the lifespan and advance oral health equity. Over the past two years, Delta has awarded $6.9 million in oral health-focused grants to Colorado communities.

Included in the Access to Care category are funding for Colorado Mountain College Foundation in Glenwood Springs to create a dental hygiene program for residents living in rural mountain communities; and Mountain Family Health Centers in Glenwood Springs to expand the organization’s dental program into school-based health centers and integrate electronic dental and health records.

“We believe oral health equity means everyone can have a healthy mouth regardless of life circumstances,” said Adeeb Khan, executive director of Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation. “Partnering on community-driven solutions is essential to achieving our mission. With a 21% increase in applications during our second open grantmaking cycle, there is a clear need for on-going, dedicated oral health funding in the state.”

A variety of social determinants — including race and ethnicity, income, geography, age, housing and food insecurity — impact Coloradans’ oral health and their overall well-being. The second group of Delta open funding grantees have identified solutions that address oral health disparities aligned with the foundation’s focus areas: access to oral health care, prevention of tooth decay and strengthening the connection between oral health and overall health.

“Whether they live in a dental health professional shortage area or cannot afford care, too many Coloradans lack access to proper oral health care,” continued Khan. “Our open funding partners have identified dynamic solutions to oral health challenges. We’re honored to invest in their implementation and broaden our collaboration with communities to help more people live healthier lives.”

In addition to annual open grant-making, Delta’s portfolio features a variety of projects including the Colorado Medical-Dental Integration Project, policy organizations such as the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Center for Health Progress, and partnering with other foundations to fund Cavity Free at Three, a program at the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.

WindWalkers set to secure its long-term future with purchase of Missouri Heights ranch property

Riding arena renovations and new classroom space to support expanded programming are now the focus for the WindWalkers equine-assisted therapy center near Carbondale, as the organization is set to take a big step toward securing its future.

WindWalkers, now in its 15th year, announced last week that it is set to close next month on the purchase of its now-leased 15-acre ranch in Missouri Heights.

“The opportunity came quickly, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, in the middle of our year-end campaign. But we couldn’t pass it up,” Gabrielle Greeves, executive director for the operation, said.   

A group of anonymous donors put up the money to allow WindWalkers to proceed with the down payment on the $1.45 million purchase.

“We are so pleased to announce that WindWalkers will now have a secure permanent home that will allow us to grow and thrive for years to come — a place we hope you will continue to be a part of and dream with us about what it can become,” according to a statement announcing the purchase plans.

With the decision, WindWalkers is also launching a new capital campaign — “Hearts and Hooves Make the Difference” — to secure the remainder of the funds for the purchase and begin a three-year renovation plan.  

Another $1.7 million is needed to complete the campaign.

WindWalkers has had an option to purchase the ranch for the past four years since the ranch, located on Garfield County Road 102, was put on the market.

When two other offers came forth late last year, WindWalkers had to make a decision, Greeves said.

The deal actually comes in under the listing price, and will allow the organization to trade its monthly lease for a slightly smaller mortgage, she said.

The ranch purchase means they can also proceed with some capital improvements on the property, Greeves said.

In addition to updating the insulation in the indoor riding arena and adding new heaters, WindWalkers plans to build a new heated classroom.

“This will allow us to do more year-round programs and camps,” she said, adding the organization is expanding to offer services geared toward behavioral and social-emotional health using the equine approach.

“We’re not just a therapeutic riding facility. We are branching into more social/behavioral health support,” Greeves said. “That focus has grown for us throughout the years.”

WindWalkers, which has an annual budget of $600,000, now serves over 75 clients per week during the warmer months, using 15 to 18 equine therapy horses.

A successful annual campaign will also allow WindWalkers to add some staff to support the new programming, she said.  

Currently, WindWalkers has a staff of seven people, including three full-time staff, plus a herd of 18 horses to feed and take care of. Some hay is grown on the ranch, but most is purchased, which is a significant expense that needs to be maintained. 

Most of the horses are older, and have been retrained as therapy horses.

“These are animals that are getting second and third lives, and it’s a huge offering to the community for us to be able to do that,” Greeves said.

The regular routine of therapy sessions is set to start back up next week, after a reprieve during the colder winter stretch.

More information about the capital campaign, as well as the annual campaign and WindWalkers’ horse and rider sponsorship programs can be found on their website

jstroud@postindependent.com

Colorado bill would require insurance to cover colorectal cancer screenings beginning at age 45

Scott Wilson was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer at the age of 48.

A bill recently introduced at the Colorado legislative session has garnered Wilson’s support, as it would require health insurance carriers to cover preventative colorectal cancer screenings for both average-risk men and women beginning at the age of 45 as opposed to 50.

“I think it’s safe to assume that if I had been diagnosed at 45 rather than 48 I would have at least been early stage,” Wilson, a survivor advocate with the Colorado Cancer Coalition, said. “It may have been prevented altogether.”

Colon cancer and rectal cancer often get grouped together due to their commonalities.

According to the Colorado Cancer Coalition, treating colorectal cancer in its early stages leads to a 90% survival rate.

However, individuals diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal cancer, like Wilson, have an approximately 10% survival rate according to the Colorado Cancer Coalition.

“When they say survival rate, that means surviving five years beyond diagnosis,” Wilson said. “I am 29 months into that journey.”

House Bill 20-1103, which Rep. Perry Will (R-New Castle) sponsored, would provide preventative health insurance coverage for screenings in accordance with the American Cancer Society’s guidelines.

The American Cancer Society recommends that individuals with an average risk of developing colorectal cancer begin regular screenings at age 45.

However, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force’s guidelines, which state law currently adheres to, recommends screening for colorectal cancer beginning at 50.

“Our argument is that the American Cancer Society’s guideline is a more up-to-date and more recently based on science guidelines,” Wilson said.

In 2018, the American Cancer Society released updated guidelines concerning colorectal cancer screenings, recommending screenings at 45.

In addition to adopting the American Cancer Society’s updated age guideline, the bill would also mandate coverage of a follow-up colonoscopy should the initial medical test or procedure come back as being abnormal.

In 2020, the American Cancer Society estimates there will be over 104,000 new colon cancer cases and more than 43,000 new rectal cancer cases in the U.S.

The American Cancer Society also estimates over 53,000 deaths as a result of colorectal cancer will occur in 2020.

“All the evidence is there to say, ‘We need to catch these cases earlier,’” Wilson said.

mabennett@postindependent.com

Doctor’s Tip: Carbohydrates, the good and the bad

There are three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fat. Macro comes from the Greek word makros, which means large. Macronutrient refers to large nutrients you can see, and large quantities of which you need to eat every day for optimal health. Protein and carbs contain 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9. Last week’s column was about protein, and next week’s column will be about fat.

Carbohydrates refer to the sugars, starches and fiber found in vegetables, fruit, grains and milk products. At the chemical level they contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They supply 45 to 65 percent of human energy needs, and are an important part of a healthy diet — in spite of what advocates of some non-evidence-based diets claim. In particular, carbs provide energy for the nervous system including the brain, and for muscles.

Carbs can be divided into simple and complex. Simple carbs contain one or two sugars. Fructose in fruit and galactose in milk are examples of single-sugar carbs. Examples of two-sugar simple carbs are table sugar (sucrose), lactose in dairy, and maltose in beer and some vegetables. Simple sugars in whole foods such as fruit and vegetables are fine. However, simple sugars alone (e.g. table sugar or candy); in fruit juice; or added to soda, cookies, cakes, pastries, energy drinks, and other processed foods contribute to many health problems — including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Simple sugars are often disguised on food labels with names such as high fructose corn syrup, organic cane sugar, honey, maple syrup and agave.

Carbs can also be divided into whole (unprocessed) and processed. The latter are bad for you, but there’s a lot of evidence that whole, complex carbs are good for you, even if you have diabetes — in spite of what some dietitians and diabetic educators are still telling people. Whole complex carbs are found only in plants, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes (beans, lentils, chick peas, split peas). These “good carbs” are high in fiber, which supports health-promoting bacteria in our gut microbiome. They help you achieve and maintain ideal body weight. They contain multiple vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients. They have anti-inflammatory properties. They help prevent obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Processed carbs are not good for you. Dr. Fuhrman, author of many books including “Eat to Live,” says “the whiter your bread the sooner you’re dead.” When grains are processed, most of their nutrients are removed. As an example, over a century ago, Europeans introduced white (processed ) rice to Africans who had been doing just fine on natural brown rice. Gradually the Africans started to develop strange symptoms and dying, from what was finally determined to be beriberi, a B-vitamin deficiency. It’s important to get the most nutrients possible per calorie of food you eat — but with refined food you get lots of calories with few to no nutrients. This also applies to foods such as white pasta, white flour tortillas and most chips.

Another problem with refined grains is the high glycemic index. High swings in insulin levels contribute to many health problems, including diabetes. If you eat an apple your blood sugar remains stable — we call that a low glycemic index food. Apple juice (basically flavored sugar water), however, causes an immediate blood sugar spike — we call that a high glycemic index food.

When you’re grocery shopping, how do you tell whether a grain-based product has whole grains and is therefore a healthy choice? You can’t trust the color of the bread — Dr. Fuhrman says “brown bread is just white bread with a tan” — often food companies add raisin juice to produce the brown color. You can’t go by statements on bread wrappers or cereal boxes, such as “multi-grain” or “whole wheat.” Look at the food label and see what the number is for grams of total carbs per serving. Right below that is the number for grams of fiber per serving. You want the total carb:fiber ratio to be 5:1 or less. So, multiply the fiber number by 5, and if the result is higher than the number for total carbs, that product has lots of fiber and whole grains. Also look at the number for sugar per serving size, keeping in mind that 4 grams of sugar is a teaspoon. Finally, look at the number of ingredients, and as plant-based author Rip Esselstyn says, if the number of ingredients is longer than your shopping list, don’t buy it.

Bottom line: Whole (unprocessed) grains are good for us. Sugar and processed carbs are bad for us.

Greg Feinsinger, M.D. is a retired family physician who has a nonprofit: Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He gives a free presentation at 7 p.m. the first Monday of the month at the Third Street Center in Carbondale; is available by appointment for free consultations (379-5718); and conducts a shop-with-a-doc session at 10 a.m. the first Saturday of the month at Carbondale City Market.

Garfield County hears about cooperative program to lower insurance rates

Representatives from Peak Health Alliance came to Garfield County Thursday to gain support for a unique health-care group that has successfully reduced insurance premiums by negotiating lower group rates for medical care.

Health care costs on the Western Slope are among the highest in the country. That affects insurance costs as well, and has caused a health insurance crisis, according to Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky.

The rate of uninsured in Garfield County went from 12% to 20% in the past few years, which puts the local care providers at risk, county commissioner Tom Jankovsky said Thursday.

“Forty percent of (a local provider’s) customers are uninsured, and the sustainability of their model is in question. Can they continue if the uninsured continue to grow like that?” Jankovsky said.

Enter Peak Health Alliance, a nonprofit that formed in 2019 and has reduced the high prices of health services and insurance premiums in Summit County. It’s now looking to do the same in Garfield County.

“We feel very strongly that empowering consumers and communities is the only way to solve this problem,” Peak Health Alliance CEO Tamara Pogue told a group of 75 people crowded into the Garfield County Administration Building in Glenwood Springs.

A second presentation was given in Rifle Thursday afternoon.

Peak Health started the process of talking to hospitals and other health-care providers in Summit County several years ago. They got 5,000 people to sign letters of interest in participating in an insurance package arranged by Peak Health.

With that theoretical group of insurance purchasers, Peak Health began talking with hospitals and other providers to negotiate lower prices.

At first, they were laughed at, Pogue said.

“At the end of the day, (providers) recognized that as a purchasing alliance we had the ability to actually make life better for them,” Pogue said.

For hospitals, the benefit is that more Summit County residents might get care locally if it were affordable, rather than traveling to the Front Range for services.

The program only works if the hospitals buy into it and are willing to be transparent about costs, Pogue said.

The fee schedules hospitals provide to insurance companies do not always reflect the actual cost of the services, according to Pogue, which is where Peak finds room to negotiate.

Price transparency in hospitals has been a hot topic in the health-care world for some time, and Peak Alliance doesn’t address that for consumers. Peak Health representatives sign non-disclosure agreements while they negotiate lower prices.

After that, Peak solicited bids from insurance companies and landed on several plans from Centura, which were the lowest premiums that company had ever offered.

Before Peak Health Alliance and the reinsurance bill sponsored Sen. Bob Rankin and signed by Gov. Jared Polis last year, prices for health-care services in Summit County were as much as five times what Medicare pays for those services.

After reinsurance and Peak’s work, costs dropped to be two to three times the cost of Medicare.

That’s not perfect, but it’s better than what it was, Pogue said, and was enough to drop premiums for the individual market.

Peak’s model doesn’t change the way people buy insurance, Pogue said.

Right now, Pogue is asking individuals and representatives of local businesses to sign non-binding letters of interest in the proposal. The more people who express interest, the more hospitals might be willing to negotiate.

After collecting signatures, Pogue will start working on a fee schedule with Garfield County health providers.

“Our hope is that we can get a fee schedule done by the end of February. We’ll take that fee schedule and we’ll bid it out to the insurance carriers,” Pogue said.

Then, Peak will do the same thing as in Summit County — shop for an insurance carrier to put the insurance packages for businesses and individuals in Garfield County on the market for 2021.

Peak is also working with other counties in the mountain west (though not Pitkin or Eagle Counties, as they have other programs) to find lower rates, because insurance companies look at costs regionally.

Health-care costs are higher in the Rockies and on the Western Slope for a number of reasons, including distance from larger metropolitan centers, which Peak can’t change.

“Our prices may always be higher,” Pogue said. “The question is, how much higher?”

tphippen@postindependent.com

Garfield County offers vaccination and education in response to state’s Hepatitis A outbreak

Since October 2018, Colorado’s Hepatitis A outbreak has sickened over 300 people and taken the lives of two.

Subsequently, Garfield County Public Health has ramped up its educational outreach surrounding the contagious virus by encouraging routine hygiene practices and the Hepatitis A vaccine itself to those without it already.

According to Garfield County Public Health Immunization Coordinator Danielle Dudley, no confirmed Hepatitis A cases have been reported in Garfield County during the current outbreak.

A liver infection caused by the Hepatitis A virus, symptoms of Hepatitis A can last for weeks or months and may include fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea and jaundice, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Hepatitis A generally spreads when an individual unknowingly ingests objects, food or beverages contaminated with undetected amounts of stool from an infected person, according to the CDC.

Hepatitis A can also spread as a result of close, personal contact with an infected person.

According to a recent Garfield County news release, “the risk of illness to the general public is low.”

Garfield County Public Health does offer the Hepatitis A vaccine to high-risk individuals at no cost.

According to the news release, affected individuals have primarily been “experiencing homelessness or unstable living conditions; people with substance abuse issues; and people who are or have recently been incarcerated in city or county jail facilities.”

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said the Sheriff’s Office was taking extra precautions at the county jail, such as providing the Hepatitis A vaccine to inmates.

“I can’t say that every jail is doing that but we certainly are,” Vallario said. “We’re trying to get a handle on it.”

Eighteen of Colorado’s 64 counties have reported cases of Hepatitis A as part of the outbreak, with the vast majority being along the Front Range.

Denver County reported 92 Hepatitis A cases and El Paso County confirmed 133 cases, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Adults and children over 12 months of age may receive the Hepatitis A vaccine at either of Garfield County’s Public Health offices in Glenwood Springs (2014 Blake Ave.) or Rifle (195 W. 14th St.).

“It’s not something too many people pay out of pocket for,” Dudley said. “Most insurances do cover it.”

mabennett@postindependent.com

Public Health ramps up response to Colorado Hepatitis A outbreak

Garfield County Public Health has increased vaccination and educational outreach efforts in response to Colorado’s hepatitis A outbreak. The outbreak has sickened more than 300 people statewide, mostly on the Front Range, since October 2018, according to county news release.

Most cases have resulted in hospitalization, but two deaths have occurred. Though there have been cases reported on the Western Slope, the majority of the cases have been concentrated in the Denver area.

Those affected have primarily been people experiencing homelessness or unstable living conditions; people with substance use issues; and people who are or have recently been incarcerated in city or county jail facilities, according to the release. There have also been cases among men who have had sexual intercourse with other men.

Individuals in these groups are at greater risk of contracting hepatitis A and may be able to receive vaccinations at no charge through Garfield County Public Health. 

Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus.

“It is a serious illness that can last for weeks or even months,” according to the release. “It is found in the blood and stool of an infected person and is spread easily from person to person.”

Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, joint pain, fever, fatigue, dark-colored urine or yellow skin or eyes. 

The hepatitis A vaccine is considered safe and effective in preventing a person from becoming infected with the hepatitis A virus, the release states.

“People who are at risk for hepatitis A should get vaccinated. You can also reduce risk by washing your hands thoroughly, as the virus can be present on surfaces.”

The risk of illness to the general public is said to be low. The hepatitis A vaccine has been part of standard childhood immunizations for more than 10 years. “Unvaccinated adults should discuss vaccination with their health care providers.”

Any person who thinks they may have hepatitis A, or are at risk, is advised to see a health-care provider. 

Garfield County Public Health has hepatitis A vaccine available for children over 12 months of age and for adults. For more information, contact Garfield County Public Health at 970-945-6614. 

Torres column: Life is a cycle of ups and downs

One of the habits that have completely changed my life and helped me become successful in many areas of my life is reading. When I was in depression, reading gave me the answer to overcome it. When I was failing in my business, reading gave me the answer to make it grow. When I was unsuccessful in my public relations, reading gave me the answer to improve it. When life is not working the way I want it to, reading gives me an explanation to understand or overcome such issues.

If I need an answer or to improve myself, reading is one of the keys. And one of the best books I have ever read and that has the best life instructions is the Bible. It is a difficult book to understand, but many theologists have helped me to understand many of the stories or parables.

I am by no means an expert on the Bible. And I think I will never be even though I’ve almost finished reading it. I am probably going to read the Bible many times before I die and still not understand it 100 percent. It has so many secrets, from the whole Bible story, to the individual books, to verse and parables. However, that does not mean that I am completely ignorant about it.

If you follow me, you probably have read the article “Be Prepared For The Unpredictable” (you can find it on the Post Independent website or my website, or simply search for it online). It talks about how life is not all happiness or all sadness, yet many of us think that when depression hits in any way or form that is how life will be forever. But that too “shall pass.”

This is what I think Jesus means when he says:

“Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their father treated the false prophets.”

That is important to know to be ready for bad times. I have noticed that many people do not prepare for bad times, and when bad times come, they become worried and irritated. They start getting desperate and make bad decisions.

For example, when someone has a good job and is making good money, they don’t save money for the future or for undesired events, and when the economy collapses, or they lose their jobs, or the car breaks down, their response is to be upset with life and borrow some money or sell their house to get out of debt and get their head above water. I have been there, and I know the feeling.

The same reasoning applies with their health. Many drink, eat junk food and processed foods, don’t exercise and make bad health decisions and years later become ill to the point they are desperate to find a cure for their illness.

Nevertheless the verse continues with this:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man.”

That also means that bad times will not be there forever, that the person who cried will also smile. So this is only a cycle. For instance, if you lost your job, you are ill or have family problems or any other issue, it means that is going to pass and you will get to smile again. That does not mean that you should not work to get out of the downside and put effort into it. It means that your life will change for the better soon and your effort will pay off.

The truth is that no one is exempt from these lows and highs — no matter your education, economic status, marital status, nationality, religion, age or anything.

One of the requirements of my career is listening to people and finding out why they have not achieved their goals. And this is one of the reasons: They can’t handle the down side of life. They forget that the moment, weeks, months or even years are only a part of their life, not their whole life, and they stop moving forward.

So if you’re having a storm of bad news, think about it, and you will find that something similar happened at some point in your past and you overcame it. You will overcome it again, and you will be smiling. Also, when you are smiling, be ready for the downside of life, because it will come. The good news is that you will be ready for it, and it won’t be so painful.

Sandro Torres is owner of Custom Body Fitness in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs and author of the books “Lose Weight Permanently” and “Finding Genuine Happiness.” His column appears on the second Monday of the month.

Garfield County hosts Peak Health insurance presentations Thursday

A Colorado nonprofit cooperative that negotiates lower health care insurance premiums comes to Garfield County this week to discuss a new regional effort to explore better rate options for citizens and businesses.

In November, the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners approved a $50,000 grant from the Department of Human Services budget to bring Peak Health’s services to Garfield County.

Representatives from Peak Health have been invited for two presentations Thursday — at 9:30 a.m. at the Garfield County Administration Building in Glenwood Springs, 108 Eighth St., and again at 1 p.m. at the Rifle County Administration Building, 195 W. 14th Ave., Building D.

The meetings are open to the public, and are designed to inform individuals, businesses and health care providers about the Peak Health program and its potential to help lower insurance premiums in Garfield County.

The cooperative, which was founded in Summit County, purchases health insurance through carriers that have demonstrated competitive rates and comprehensive plans. It is licensed through the state, but is not a part of the state government.

“Peak Health helps members to make price-conscious decisions without sacrificing quality of care,” according to a county press release.

Peak Health made a presentation in November to the county commissioners, who have been looking into solutions to the high cost of health insurance in Garfield County. The entire Western Slope, except for Mesa County, is in geographic rating area nine, which sees the most expensive health care insurance premiums in the country.

Peak Health Alliance provides a model to help lower health insurance premiums for individuals and small and large groups.

“Health insurance across the United States, and in western Colorado in particular, is a very big issue,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said in the release. “It’s very expensive, and we were very pleased when (state) Sen. Bob Rankin got the reinsurance bill passed. That bill brought down the cost of insurance for individual policies by close to 30 percent, but we need to do more.”

The Reinsurance Program (House Bill 19-1168) provides reinsurance payments to health insurance providers in the state’s Connect for Health insurance marketplace to help cover more expensive claims, thus lowering costs in mountain communities, where premiums are much higher.

Peak Health CEO Tamara Pogue Drangstveit told the commissioners during the November presentation that Summit County saw the percentage of working-class families’ budgets increase from 10% to 40% for health-care costs.

“Much like here, families were spending $2,500 a month more than their mortgages and child care costs on health insurance,” Pogue Drangstveit said. “Many of them were moving away and small businesses were closing because they couldn’t find employees that they needed.”

In Summit County, Peak Health has negotiated rates of care to between 250% and 300% of Medicare costs, helping insurance carriers to lower premiums by 20%.

All the prices are set, so customers know exactly what they will be paying for care, she explained.

“I’ve heard from about 10 customers that their savings are going to be about $800 to $1,400 a month on their premiums for a family of four,” Drangstveit said. “One business with about 95 employees, told us that it anticipates saving 25% off its annual health insurance premiums.”

Added Jankovsky, “The Peak Health Alliance model will further lower health insurance premiums for individuals as well as small and large groups, helping all of Garfield County.”

Doctor’s Tip: A primer on protein

There are three macronutrients (large nutrients, that you can see): protein, carbohydrates and fat. Today’s column is about protein and will attempt to set the record straight on the many misconceptions surrounding it. This column is based on Dr. Michael Greger’s evidence-based website nutritionfacts.org (search protein on it if you’re interested), his 2015 book “How Not to Die,” his new book released last month “How Not to Diet,” and former elite triathlete Rip Esselstyn’s book “The Engine 2 Seven-Day Rescue Diet.”

Proteins are made up of various configurations of 20 building blocks called amino acids. Our bodies can synthesize 11 of these, which are called non-essential amino acids. We have to get the other nine in our diet — these are called essential amino acids. There are over 10,000 different kinds of protein in our bodies, each with a specific role. Protein is important in the structure of almost every part of the human body — for example tissues such as hair, muscle, bone, and skin, as well as things like enzymes, hormones and antibodies.

The official recommendation for daily protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, which would be 50 grams for a 150-pound person. In addition to the amino acids and protein we take in as food, our bodies have large pools of free amino acids floating around to use as building blocks. Furthermore, each of us has a built-in recycling program of 90 grams of protein that are dumped into our system every day, from breakdown of cells and tissues.

Following are some of the common myths surrounding protein, followed by what we now know are the facts:

• Myth: Plant proteins are incomplete.

Fact: This myth comes from rat studies done over a century ago, and was disproven decades ago. All plant proteins contain every one of the essential amino acids. As the American Dietetic Association says, “Plant sources of protein alone can provide adequate amounts of the essential and nonessential amino acids.”

• Myth: In order to get all the essential amino acids from plants, we need to combine different plant proteins, such as rice and beans.

Fact: The only source of protein that is incomplete is gelatin, so no, you can’t live on Jello alone.

• Myth: We need large amounts of protein in our diet every day.

Fact: This myth is spread by false but effective advertising by the meat and dairy industry. People on the standard American diet get 30 percent of their calories from protein, but a healthier percentage would be 5-10. Okinawans are some of the longest-lived people in the world, and just 7 percent of their calories come from protein. The average American gets too much protein — 100 grams a day for men, 70 grams for women. This excess of mainly animal protein contributes to several health problems.

• Myth: Athletes need more protein than the rest of us.

Fact: Due to training and competing, elite athletes burn up more calories every day and therefore need to eat more calories, so 10 percent of their higher calorie intake would involve additional protein. The extra protein can easily be obtained from plant sources.

• Myth: Protein provides energy.

Fact: Energy comes from carbs or fat, not protein.

• Myth: In order to avoid loss of muscle mass, older adults need to increase their protein intake.

Fact: This has been disproven. Age-related muscle loss results from inactivity, not lack of protein.

• Myth: Pregnant women and infants need extra protein.

Fact: High protein diets during pregnancy contribute to premature birth and low birth-weight infants. Excessive protein during pregnancy also contributes to obesity when these infants become adults. Meat and fish protein in pregnant women cause a lifelong elevation of the stress hormone cortisol. The perfect food for infants is human breast milk, which less than 1 percent protein by weight — the lowest percentage of protein in any mammalian milk.

• Myth: Animal products have more protein than plants.

Fact: When you look at protein per calories, plants win — e.g. broccoli has more protein per calorie than steak.

• Myth: Plant proteins are somehow inferior to animal proteins.

Fact: Not true. Look at big, strong animals that are 100 percent plant-based such as elephants, gorillas and horses. Animal proteins — but not plant proteins — are linked to most of the chronic diseases we suffer and die from, including obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, many types of cancer, chronic kidney disease, cardiovascular disease and dementia.

• Myth: Real men eat meat.

Fact: Animal protein lowers testosterone levels. Animal protein clogs and narrows arteries, resulting in erectile dysfunction, among other things. Watch the recently-released documentary “The Game Changers” about elite athletes who have gone plant-based to enhance their athletic performance — including endurance athletes, many NBA players, some NFL players, and the strongest man in the world, Patrik Baboumian. Even The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is now plant-based.

Bottom line: We need protein in our diet, but not too much, and plant proteins are best.

Greg Feinsinger, M.D. is a retired family physician who has a nonprofit: Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He gives a free presentation at 7 p.m. the first Monday of the month at the Third Street Center in Carbondale; is available by appointment for free consultations (379-5718); and conducts a shop-with-a-doc session at 10 a.m. the first Saturday of the month at Carbondale City Market.