Protein is the nutrient of the moment! My guess is that if you're reading this, you have recently wondered, "Am I getting enough protein?"
Protein is not a magical powder that grows on trees in vanilla, chocolate and cake batter flavors. Protein is a collection of amino acids, and it's one of three macronutrients, the other two being carbohydrate and fat. All of the food we eat is made up of some combination of these macronutrients along with water. We need to consume protein to repair and build new muscle, for healthy bones, skin, hair and nails, and while it's not a panacea, there are many benefits to enjoying a protein-rich diet:
- High-protein foods move more slowly from your stomach into the intestines than simple or refined carbohydrate meaning you feel fuller long.
- Protein has a steady effect on blood sugar, so we don't experience the quick rise and fall in blood sugar that can happen after eating quickly digested carbohydrate, like white bread
- The body uses more calories to digest protein than it does to digest fat or carbohydrate, which is a good thing!
But the truth is that we need far less protein than the pushers of protein-enhanced water, whey powder, soy protein isolate and protein-packed cereal would have you believe. The Recommended Daily Allowance for adult women is 46 grams of protein (71 for lactating women) and for males, 56 grams, though your size and level of activity make those needs greater or lesser.
An active 130-pound female would need 65 grams of protein daily, which is shockingly easy to accomplish without ever adding a bar, a shake or a scoop of powder. A sample meal plan could include...
Breakfast - 15 grams of protein
6 grams - 1/2 cup oatmeal
9 g - 1 oz of pumpkin seeds
Lunch - 14 - 20 grams of protein
A big salad with...
2 g - various vegetables
6 g - sunflower seeds
8 g - kidney beans
Add a hard boiled egg for another 6 grams
Afternoon snack - 16 - 19 grams of protein
15-18 g 6-oz cup greek dairy or non-dairy yogurt
1 g banana
And you'll see that before we even get to dinner, our subject has already eaten 47 - 53 grams of protein! Add a piece of vegan or animal protein, and she's at or over her daily needs Add some whole wheat pasta or quinoa, some peas or a slice of 100% whole wheat toast and she's exceeded it--without ever touching a sandy grain of protein powder:
34 g - 4 oz chicken OR
21 g - 4 oz tempeh
7 g - 2 oz whole wheat pasta
4 g - serving of green peas 3/4 cup
5 g - green salad with lots of vegetables and oil & vinegar dressing
Excess protein doesn't create muscle and strength; it turns to fat just like any excess of calories. If you're looking to build more muscle, eat a balanced diet that includes not only protein but healthful, preferably whole food sources of carbohydrate and fat, and exercise.
Need some help finding a healthful way of eating? Let's talk!