Where Do You Get Your Protein?

19 Jun

A little plant-based diet humor for you πŸ™‚

This is the cliche question that every “meat as a condiment”-eater dreads. I actually enjoy answering this question because it gives me a chance to address a very hot topic. It’s no secret that Americans love their protein. Especially in the Midwest, a hunk of meat is the star of the show at most meals. But many myths and misconceptions surround protein, so today I’m going to set the record straight.

What is it?

Protein is one of the “big three” nutrients along with carbohydrates and fat. It plays many roles in the body including immunity, skin, hair, nails, and metabolism. But the one most pertinent to this conversation is its role as the building blocks for our body and muscles. You can’t reap the health rewards of lean muscle mass without adequate protein.

How much is “enough”?

You’ve probably heard all sorts of things about how to figure out how much protein you need. The general recommendation for a healthy person is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. If you are trying to lose weight, 1 gram per kilogram of body weight may help kickstart the weight loss. One easy way to get a rough estimate is to take your body weight in pounds, divide it by 2 and subtract 10. So if you weigh 150 pounds, aim for 65 grams of protein a day. I rarely recommend more than that unless it’s for an athlete who is constantly breaking down and rebuilding muscle in strenuous workouts.

Can you eat too much protein?

Many people say “no”, but I say “yes”! This is not a “more is better” situation. More protein does not equal more muscle. Our bodies are very smart. If we give them more protein than they need, they simply dispose of the excess. This disposal process can be hard on our kidneys, especially for people susceptible to kidney issues. Also, the excess protein may cause other systems to go awry. A few studies have actually shown that high protein diets may decrease testosterone (a hormone that contributes to muscle growth)- I assume that’s not the effect those body builders are looking for πŸ™‚ Also, high protein diets are being investigated for a possible link to cancer. The documentary Forks Over Knives talks about this quite a bit. Moral of the story: more is not better!

When should I eat protein?

It’s important to spread out protein foods throughout the day because our body cannot absorb it all at once. Try to include a protein source with each meal and snack. Protein is especially important after workouts, but IT MUST BE PAIRED WITH CARBOHYDRATE! Carbohydrate is like a key that lets the protein into the muscle. So add some fruit to that low-carb protein powder and turn it into a smoothie.

Where do you get your protein?

I’m sure you’ve heard foods called “complete proteins” and incomplete proteins”. This refers to the amino acids they are made of. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. A good analogy for this is a long train with many individual train cars. Not all trains (proteins) are made of the same cars (amino acids). Some amino acids have to come from food and some can be made by our body out of other amino acids. A “complete protein” contains all amino acids that our body needs. An “incomplete protein” is missing one or more of the amino acids our body needs. All animal foods (meat, dairy) are complete proteins.

Is animal protein the best protein?

This DOES NOT mean that animal foods are the best proteins. Our bodies can store amino acids until the right combination comes along. The key is to be sure you are eating a variety of protein foods throughout the day, whether from plants or animals. One downside with animal foods is they usually come with a big dose of unhealthy saturated fat. With plant proteins, saturated fat is not a problem!

Protein rule of thumb: Lean and clean, the less legs the better.
I picked this up from another dietitian and it’s a great rule! “Lean and clean” refers to the amount of fat, so choose lower fat sources. “The less legs the better” is just a fun way to remember which sources are lowest in unhealthy fats: fish and plants have 0-1 leg, poultry has 2 legs, and cows and pigs have 4 legs.

Protein Foods

Do I need a protein powder?

You most certainly do not need one and no matter what the packaging claims, a powder will not make you healthier or thinner than eating real foods. A protein powder is a supplement, so it should be used to supplement your diet and not to replace whole foods in your diet. If a protein powder works for you for convenience reasons, then go for it. But keep in mind that these powders are usually heavily processed and typically low-carb, so use sparingly and pair with a carbohydrate food. My favorite protein powder is Sun Warrior. It’s plant-based and minimally processed.

So back to that initial question, where do I get my protein? I like a variety of plant-based foods with a few animal sources sprinkled in. Stay tuned for a video of my favorite protein-packed smoothie!

Thanks for reading πŸ™‚


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: