Are you confused about how much protein you should be eating? Believe me, you’re not alone. One of the most common dietary mistakes I see in my clinic is women not eating enough protein to meet their body’s needs. In fact, part of the reason I got so sick is because I went vegetarian, eating mostly carbs and not enough protein.
We sometimes forget that protein is essential for life to exist.
Enzymes are made from the amino acids that come from proteins, and enzymes are required to make ALL chemical reactions happen in the body. For humans to be alive, chemical reactions must be occurring all the time, so protein is essential for life to continue. Some amino acids the body can make, others you must consume.
Rather than making yourself crazy worrying about it, simply make sure you are varying your sources of protein.
Protein from animal sources is more easily digested and, therefore, available to the body. However, you can get your protein from a plant-based diet. If you choose to eat a low-meat, or mostly plant-based diet, you must make sure you educate yourself about where you are getting protein from and if you are getting enough. (I’m in full support of you being conscious about what you eat! It’s wonderful. But to make a choice without a lot of understanding is to put your body at risk.)
Here is an easy way to estimate your needs:
- Sedentary: Weight in pounds X .4
- Active: Weight in pounds X .6
- Competitive Athlete: Weight in pounds X .75
- Light body-builder: Weight in pounds X .85
If you are active, or when your body is stressed and healing, the demand for protein goes up. Based on your activity level, take your body weight and multiply it by the number below and you will get an estimate of the amount of protein in grams that is right for your body.
If you are under a lot of stress and/or healing and not very active, multiply your body weight times .6 to estimate your body’s needs. However, in doing this, decrease the amount of starchy foods you eat, so you do not gain weight from overeating.
How to estimate protein in food:
- A 3-ounce piece of meat has approximately 21 grams of protein (the average size of a person’s palm)
- A 3-ounce piece of fish has about 16 grams of protein
- One egg has 6 grams of protein
Beans or legumes, nuts, and grains vary, depending on the grain. Protein amounts can be easily found on the label (if you are buying them in packages), on the bin label if you are buying them in bulk, or with a quick internet search.
For example, 1 cup of almonds has 30 grams of protein. However, unlike meat and egg protein, beans, nuts, and grains are not complete proteins, so different kinds of foods must be combined together in a day to make sure you are eating all the essential amino acids. A grain with a legume or bean, for example, has all the essential amino acids.
If you are using protein powders as your main protein source, know that these powders have been altered from their original form, which means they are not a whole food. In my clinical experience, protein powders can be used for a short-term cleanse, or to fill in a need when we travel or some other factor limits our protein intake. If you do need to use protein powder, make sure it is made from food (except soy), and not in a lab, and return to eating food as soon as possible.
If you eat a low-meat to no-meat diet, taking some time to research where you will get your complete protein will help to keep you healthy. Hemp seeds, buckwheat, and quinoa are some of the few plant sources of complete proteins. Beyond that, it becomes necessary to combine your foods together to obtain a complete amino-acid profile.
Regardless of whether you choose to eat meat or not, eating a large variety of plant-based foods is what helps your body be resilient. If you want to avoid the flu, eat your veggies, but not the same old veggies every day. VARIETY is the key to sustained good health.