Am I Getting Enough Protein?
Posted on June 15 2018
Most of us were raised on animal products, these included meat, milk, cheese, eggs, cream, butter and the list goes on. We were told that these were necessary in order for us to “get enough protein” and maintain good health. As nutritional biochemist Dr. T. Colin Campbell once said, “In my early days, I was enamoured with the idea that protein was very important, in particular, animal based protein”. He was of the opinion that diets high in protein were optimal to human health; however, his views changed when he went to the Philippines. Instead of augmenting his stance on protein, this experience revealed to him the sad truth about animal protein: it was causing liver cancer in the children from the few families that consumed the most protein. This would eventually lead Dr. Campbell to write the powerful China Study, a compilation depicting his extensive studies in China, nutritional guidance and observations, which all work together to highlight the correlation between protein and cancer.
Basic Amino Acid Structure
Now, before you start ridding your pantry of protein rich foods, let’s talk about what protein really is and how to use it properly. Protein is a fundamental nutrient, required for the building, maintenance, and repair of tissues in the body. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein can be synthesized by the body or ingested from food. There are 20 different amino acids in the food we eat, but our bodies can only make 11 of them. The nine essential amino acids that cannot be produced by the body must be obtained from the diet.(1)
In the past and even in present day, some people believe that we could never get too much protein. We have been convinced by food enterprises, the public and even nutritionists, that our bodies require copious amounts of protein in order to function properly. Even more astounding, this protein is believed to come mostly (only) from animal derived foods. Au contraire! Eating a variety of grains, legumes, and vegetables can provide all of the essential amino acids our bodies require. There are many people that thrive on eating solely plant-based – from your typical moderately active person (raises hand) to body builders and athletes. If you don’t believe me, just head on over to Google or check out these personal accounts of people that are simply radiant due to their plant-based dishes: Vegain Strength and Shine with Plants.
It is also believed that athletes require more protein than others people. In actuality, athletes only require a bit more protein, which they obtain in larger servings based on their higher caloric intake. Vegetarian diets have shown to be great for athletes. (2)
It should be noted that before the widespread popularisation of the vegan lifestyle, we were also under the impression that certain foods had to be eaten together in order to get their full protein value, this was called protein combining or protein complementing. The reason for protein combining is due to some foods being incomplete proteins. Complete protein foods have all the essential amino acids. Animal foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, dairy and fish are complete protein sources. Incomplete protein sources contain low amounts of some of the essential amino acids. Combining two or more foods with incomplete proteins will form complementary proteins, which provide adequate amounts of the essential amino acids. Current research shows that complementary proteins need not be eaten together, just as long as the day’s food intake supplies them all.(3) Nutrition authorities, such as the American Dietetic Association, believe that protein needs can be easily met by consuming a variety of plant protein sources over an entire day.
Still not convinced you’d get enough protein from a plant-based diet? It has been said that by following the traditional Western diet, the average American consumes about double the protein his/her body needs. As the main sources of protein tend to be animals products, we must also remember that these animal foods are sometimes high in fat and saturated fat – ironically, some books encourage high- protein intake for weight loss. This concept may lead to various health risks along with the successful weight loss. Excess protein has been linked to various conditions including kidney disease, osteoporosis, calcium stones in the urinary tract and some cancers.2 When individuals switch to a vegan diet, they are surprised to learn that their protein needs are much less than what they have been consuming.
According to the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), the protein for the average adult is 0.8 g per kilogram of body weight. In order to get the most benefits from the protein you consume, it is vital that you eat enough calories to meet your energy needs. Determine your average individual protein need by simply performing the following (4) :
Body weight (in pounds) x 0.36 = Recommended Protein Intake (g)
If your actual Protein Intake exceeds the Recommended Protein Intake, then perhaps it is sign that you must slow down on meat and dairy consumption. Excess protein can result in a number of serious health risks, including but not limited to:
as a result of the excess nitrogen taken into the system, which puts a strain on the kidneys to expel the additional nitrogen.
Fat is most singled out substance for increasing cancer risk but protein is also involved. Populations that eat meat regularly are at risk for colon and prostate cancer.
Osteoporosis and Kidney Stones
High protein intake is known to encourage urinary calcium losses.
In order to consume a diet that has just enough protein, replace the animal products with grains, vegetables, and legumes.
As all protein needs are individual, the following can help guide you to meet your daily protein needs:
5 or more Grains
This can be either ½ cup Cereal, 1 oz Dry Cereal or One slice of bread.
Each serving contains roughly 3 grams of protein.
3 or more servings of Vegetables
1 cup Raw Vegetable, ½ cup Cooked Vegetables or ½ cup Juice
Each serving contains about 2 grams of protein.
2 to 3 servings of Legumes
½ cup Cooked bean, 4 oz Tofu/Tempeh, 8 oz Soy Milk or 1 oz Nuts
Protein content tends to vary particularly among these milks. One serving may contain 4 to 10 grams of protein.
If you have access to them, meat substitutes are also great sources of protein that can be added to your daily diet.
As long as one is getting a wide variety of plant foods, sufficient to maintain one’s weight, the body will obtain enough protein and perform normally.
Written by Nayelie Vernon, for VILMA Boutique
Physician’s Committee. (Publication date unknown). The Protein Myth. Retrieved 14th June 2018 from http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vegdiets/how-can-i-get-enough-protein-the-protein-myth
Physician’s Committee. Publication date unknown. The Protein Myth. Retrieved 14th June 2018 from http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vsk/vegetarian-starter-kit-protein
Guzman, S. & Boutin, D. A. (2018). What are complementary proteins and how do we get them? Retrieved 14th June 2018 from https://health.bastyr.edu/news/health-tips/2011/09/what-are-complementary-proteins-and-how-do-we-get-them
Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients) (2002); Food and Nutrition Board (FNB), Institute of Medicine (IOM) Retrieved 14th June 2018 from www.nap.edu/books/0309085373.html.