This is probably the most common question I get asked in my practice.
Protein? … and then a blank stare with a “Help Me” look.
So here you go, everything you need to know about protein in one quick, and dare I say funny, article.
First off lets start off with something shocking that I wish everyone knew. Vegans are not about to die from a protein deficiency. Phew!!
I was a vegan for 8 years (I eat a little meat now), and inevitably when I tell people this I get looks of deep concern, shock, horror and sometimes pity. People can't seem to understand how I didn't die from a protein deficiency …
The real truth is meat eaters and vegans alike might actually be getting too much protein .... let me explain.
Basically all you need to know about protein is that its made of amino acids, roughly 20 of them (sometimes scientists discover new ones).
10 are considered Essential, 10 are considered Non-essential.
Essential amino acids have to be obtained through our diet. Non-essential amino acids are actually made in our bodies.
It's funny, we often forget that we are protein and our bodies create protein. I like to explain it like this:
A cow is a vegan - but that doesn't make it any less of a protein source than a lion that isn’t a vegan. Or ... if you want to get weird about it, your vegan friend wouldn't be any less nutritious to eat than your meat eater friend. In fact your vegan friend would probably be the healthier option to eat because they will have less toxins ... but we will get to that in a moment.
We are both Vegans!!! - Actually if you want to get technical cows aren't really vegan ... its a bit of a long scientific story.
So, What is the difference between plant protein and animal protein?
Yes you read that right, plants have protein - actually a lot of it.
A portobello mushroom has just as much protein as an egg. Broccoli has protein, in fact parsley even has protein.
The difference is animal protein is “complete”, plant protein is “incomplete”. Now, lets be clear, this does not mean better or worse it just means different.
Animal protein has all 10 essential amino acids, plants don't. BUT that doesn't mean you cant get all 10 being a vegan. Beans and Rice are an example of a complete protein. Kitcharee is also a complete protein.
All this means is that vegans need to eat a variety of foods to get all the 10 essential amino acids, and its not hard. In fact it is is way more common to have too much protein than not enough.
Vegans and Vegetarians should be far more worried about eating too many carbs and not getting enough fats than not getting enough protein.
How much protein should you actually be eating?
If you want an exact number then multiply your body weight by .36.
Body Weight X .36 = Protein requirement in grams per day
This will give you the amount of protein you should be eating in grams, according to the US governments nutrition guidelines … (not that I believe the US government really knows what it is talking about when it comes to nutrition, they still classify tomato ketchup as a vegetable). But, if you really wanted an exact number - there you have it.
HOWEVER, everyone is different. A body builder might need more protein than that. A woman who practices yoga might need less, and a woman who is breast feeding might need more.
But just know it is pretty impossible to be protein deficient in the United States. The only time I really see it is in clients with eating disorders, or Fruitarians - I do not recommend being a fruitarian, although it worked for Steve Jobs for a while and he was pretty smart - but he did die young …
So, let me show you just how easy it is to get enough protein.
If you were to follow the "really smart" government formula, then a 180lb man should eat 66g of protein per day. A 12oz steak actually has 77g of protein … pair that with broccoli and you are way over your protein limit!!
** Transverse lines on the nails, hair that easily falls out when pulled, depression and eating disorders are some signs of protein deficiencies**
But, is too much protein bad for you?
Yep, it definitely is. If you are a giant man, or woman with muscles so big that you cant put your arms down you have probably been getting too much protein. Body builders are notorious for kidney problems from too much protein, and too much protein has been linked to cancer … but then again so has everything.
So what is the key?
The key is making sure that your diet is 60% veggies (not fruits and veggies, veggies). Veggies and fruits are different things, although that really smart government of ours classifies them as one food group ... hmmmm.
Anyway, plant protein reacts a lot differently in the body so as long as your diet is more veggies than animal protein you should be super healthy. The added benefit of a diet heavier in plants is that you will have a lot of fiber which drags toxins from the body.
Whats the deal with protein fasting?
Studies suggest that it is really good for you to protein fast, and I would tend to agree.
All protein fasting means is giving your body a break from ingesting protein for 12-24 hours.
Our bodies need to detox and in order for detoxification to occur you have to give it a break from digesting food; and when you give your body a break from protein it really kicks detoxification up a whole other notch. It takes 7 hours (roughly) for food to leave your stomach. So the best tip I can give you and one of the easiest things to implement is:
Wait 12-14 hours between dinner and breakfast (14 is ideal).
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but the word breakfast just say's, “Break Fast” - these instructions say nothing like, “you must do it first thing in the morning.”
If you chose to take it a step further by protein fasting for 24 hours you will notice big health benefits. This allows your body to really get into those toxin stores and start removing them. But it can be challenging. Staying below 15g of protein is hard! Cucumbers can put you over that. But it is worth it. I had a client last week tell me that during his day of protein fasting he noticed he was a lot more mentally clear and could study better!
So What is the best protein source?
Want to know something scary … well I am going to tell you either way.
In the United States, Cows are legally allowed to be fed up to 6lbs of stale candy a day! Told you the government was really good at nutrition ... It really gives a whole new meaning to chocolate milk!
The quality of your protein matters. You are what you eat, eats.
Quality meat is so important! I don't believe being a vegan works for everyone, it doesn't work for me any more (although it was great for years and I still hardly eat meat), but I would rather you be vegan than eat poor quality meat. Look for Grass Fed Organic, buy locally if you can, and look for not so common meats, buffalo, bison, venison etc isn't factory farmed.
If you want to supplement PLEASE do not use soy protein, it has so much estrogen that it will give you man boobs or turn you into a blubbering mess on the couch watching cat videos and crying over a bowl of ice cream … or both.
And Seriously! No one wants to be a grown man with man boobs, crying over cats!
Whey protein really isn’t that much better either. It has an addictive component in it called casein which has been linked to cancer. However, there are some companies who do upgraded Whey that might be some-what okay. If you have an intolerance to dairy just skip this one altogether.
As for things like beef protein to add to your smoothie … um I just think that it is common sense that we shouldn't have done that. We have turned an animal into a powder than can now have a shelf life of years and be mixed into a smoothie. Im pretty sure that is ethically wrong.
It is like mixing grandmas ashes into your blueberry, banana almond butter smoothie. This one is more of a “we have taken nutrition way too far in a creepy science fiction kind of way” than a based in science comment, but its my article so I can say what I want.
If you want to supplement with protein here is what I recommend (and I do think a protein shake is great when you are busy at work or with the kids or pre or post work out).
Supplement with a plant protein, in my opinion, plant protein is the best. Hemp is my favorite, pea and rice are close behind and a combination is great.
Plant protein is actually easier to digest than animal protein. Why?
When you eat plant protein your body immediately uses it. When you ingest animal protein your body breaks apart the amino acids that makes up that protein and reassembles them to look something more like human protein. So your body basically turns that piece of chicken into something that looks more like your best friend.
When you eat plant protein you skip this rearranging step all together.
So!! I hope this helped clarify protein for you! Next I'll take on carbs.
The governments recommendations for carbs are between 20-60% of your daily diet ... which is really like them saying, "We just have no F_ _ _ ing idea."
But I would rather that than these mumbo jumbo food pyramids that they keep coming out with!!
Lots of Love and Support,
And if you liked this article please share! It helps me a lot
Chelsea Newman CTNC, Holistic Health Specialist
If you are suffering from any health, weight loss, or emotional issue that you feel could be helped through food please feel free to contact me to talk about a custom program and Nutrition Counseling Session.
About the Author:
Chelsea Newman is a Certified Transformational Nutrition Coach and Food Relationship Expert based in Hawaii but working around the world. She has worked in the health industry for over 8 years, owns a Corporate Wellness Consulting Company, and specializes in the psychology of intuitive eating for women and children. Chelsea has taught nutrition and consulted for some of the top companies and spas in the world including GNC, American Savings Bank and United Health Care. She is a graduate of the Institute of Transformational Nutrition, and has a background in the Healing Arts and Chinese Medicine. Chelsea loves helping people reach freedom over food, their bodies and their minds. She has worked with hundreds of women from around the world and her articles are frequently featured by some of the industries top nutritionists. Her long term business goals involve a non-profit company focusing on soil quality for a better planet and food for our children.