Okay, I want to start by apologizing for cutting the conversation short last week – I know it was abrupt, but in order to make this topic bearable to read, I felt the need to split it into two posts. I hope this makes the information more manageable to absorb, so hopefully you can forgive me as we wrap up the discussion on protein today. If you haven’t read part one of this topic, you can give it a read here before coming back to this post.
As we discussed, protein is an essential macronutrient required by your body, and therefore it is important to be mindful that your intake is adequate. However, many people eating a Western-style diet are already consuming more than enough to meet their bodily needs, especially since a large majority of the population is quite sedentary or inactive, resulting in lower requirements. In fact, most of the population could probably benefit from reducing their protein intake (especially from meat) and replacing that food with fruits, vegetables, and grains – although 100% of Canadians get enough protein, the majority don’t consume enough fibre!
When determining an ideal protein intake range for yourself, it is important to consider all the things we have discussed – are you athletic, pregnant/lactating, or elderly? Then your protein intake should probably be on the higher end. However, if you are mostly sedentary, you probably don’t need much more than the 0.8g/kg of body weight recommended for adequate health. For anyone that is somewhere in between, I’ve linked some valuable and fairly accurate protein requirement calculators here and here. I suggest plugging your information into a couple of them to get an average range as opposed to one holy-grail amount.
As with everything, I think it is so important to listen to your body and find what works best for your body and your lifestyle. For example, I weightlift approximately 4-6 times a week and therefore would be recommended to consume a moderate- to high-amount of protein. However, I personally find that if I eat too much (> 100-110 grams/day), I have digestive upset issues. As a result of experimenting with my own diet and the information I have personally read and researched, I’ve found that eating a more moderate amount of protein (usually 70-95g, or 15-20% of my calories) makes me feel most optimal.
What are some healthful protein sources? I’d personally recommend steering clear of processed meats, avoiding or limiting red meat, and limiting cheese – these foods are extremely high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and have been linked to chronic disease and cancer risk. If you consume animal products, fish and seafood (despite being high in cholesterol) are packed with healthy fats and are great sources of protein. Eggs have a great balance of protein and fat, and unsweetened/unflavored yogurts can be a healthy protein option, especially because of the gut-healthy probiotics. Some good-quality plant protein sources that I consume on a regular basis include tofu, plant-based protein powder, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds (chia, hemp), peanut butter, whole grains such as whole wheat toast, and high-protein vegetables like broccoli, brussel sprouts, and green peas.
Now before signing off on this post, I wanted to quickly fire off some common protein myths, especially those pertaining to plant-based diets, and offer some clarification on each. These explanations will be short and sweet, but if you are interesting in knowing more about a specific topic, I can dedicate a future blog post to any single topic.
Myth #1: Protein only comes from meat
If you ask anyone, they will associate protein with meat or animal products. And although meat products contain a large portion of protein, they aren’t the only food in your diet that provides protein! There is tons in grains (your whole wheat toast in the morning), vegetables (the steamed broccoli or baked potato at dinner), and nuts and seeds (trail mix on your road trip or peanut butter sandwiches). McKel over at Nutrition Stripped has a great post on healthy, plant-based protein sources.
Myth #2: Animal protein is required for optimal health
This myth has long been debunked, as both the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada have position statements declaring that vegetarian and vegan diets are nutritionally adequate for all stages of life. Although whole-food, plant-based proteins may be slightly less digestible than isolated or animal proteins (because of other naturally occurring compounds in the plants), they still provide all of the necessary amino acids – AKA protein building blocks – to meet protein requirements. Here’s a great post discussing this in detail.
Myth #3: Complementary proteins must be combined at meals
Although plant proteins contain all the essential amino acids required by the body for protein synthesis, some plant proteins have low levels of one or two essential amino acids. Because of this, they are commonly deemed “incomplete” proteins, and therefore of lower quality than a “complete” protein. Enter the concept of complementary proteins – combining two protein sources that are low in different amino acids to create a full amino acid profile. Examples of this include rice and beans, or whole wheat bread and nut butter.
Despite being debunked long ago, many people still believe you need to consume complementary proteins together in a single meal to get the benefits of a “complete” amino acid profile. However, as long as you are consuming a variety of foods throughout the day, you will effortlessly consume adequate amounts of all the amino acids your body needs – without all the planning!
Myth #4: Eating more protein is always better
Protein seems to be the cure-all for a variety of things in the media: weight loss, weight/muscle gain, and overall health and longevity. Although incorporating a protein source into your meals will improve satiety and meal satisfaction, it hasn’t really been shown that eating more of your calories from protein as opposed to fat or carbohydrates will help you lose weight. The same goes for gaining weight or muscle; eating excess protein won’t exponentially increase muscle growth, there is a muscle synthesis threshold (also discussed here).
And as more research emerges, more links are being found between high animal protein consumption and the prevalence of gastrointestinal diseases, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Although all of these disorders are multi-faceted, there has been a correlation of increased chronic disease as the country becomes more affluent, and is eating more meat than ever. Long-term studies on the Seventh-day Adventist population in California provides great support for eating less meat for lower mortality and morbidity rates.
I hope this two-part posts clears up some of the confusion you may have had regarding protein, including sources and the amount required by your body. As always, you can contact me in the comments below, here, or on Instagram and Twitter.
Talk soon friends!