General Health

Why You Need Protein In Your Diet

Protein is one of the most essential macronutrients in the diet.

If you don’t get it right, you open your body up to rapid aging, malnutrition, and infections that can be life-threatening.

But how much is enough? What is the best source?

These are commonly asked questions that everyone needs an answer to – and ones you’ll find the answers to here.

How much protein do I need?

The amount you need is a highly debated topic by health and nutrition experts. Bodybuilders swear their muscle mass is dependent on a very high level in their diet.

Success in the gym often depends on whether or not they are digesting enough protein to rebuild their muscles.

For example, how many people do you know who eat sparsely, work out with weights, and complain they aren’t seeing any results? They haven’t learned about the critical level of protein their body needs to repair muscles after working out.

Protein needs are usually based on a person’s body mass index or BMI. A rough estimate of your needs can be calculated by multiplying your weight in pounds by 0.66 to 1.5 grams.

Therefore, a 150-pound man would need 99 grams per day to get the minimal amount needed to keep his body running. But if that person’s job involves a lot of physical work, you could bump it up to 1.0 gram, which gives you 150 grams per day.

And then there’s the case of someone who is recovering from extensive surgery or burns. These types of people would have the greatest need: 2.0 grams of protein for every pound of body weight.

Their body has to create brand new skin – and that’s a huge demand and requires a lot. A 150-pound man here may need up to 300 grams (150 x 2.0) per day in an exceptionally serious situation.

Good protein sources

One of the problems with the Western diet is that most of our breakfasts and lunches are low in protein and high in carbohydrates. It is better to spread your intake more evenly throughout the day.

Eggs are the perfect protein source for breakfast. A medium egg contains approximately 6g. Boil them, scramble them or make an omelet. The best thing about omelets is that you can fill it with nutritious vegetables of your choice. Milk is another great option you can drink by itself or in smoothies or over cereal.

However, I would advise avoiding dairy milk. There are many alternative options which taste just as good and for which you get all of the pros and none of the cons. Almond milk, coconut milk, or goat’s milk are all excellent and healthy substitutes for dairy.

When it comes to animal protein, white poultry like turkey and chicken are your leanest sources. Fish and seafood are also great sources and typically low in fat. Other varieties which are high fat, like salmon, contain good, heart-healthy fats like omega-3.

If you opt for beef, make sure it is grass-fed. Grass-fed beef is higher in B-vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin E, vitamin K, and trace minerals like magnesium, calcium, and selenium.

Studies show grass feeding results in higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid, the “good” naturally occurring trans fat. It also contains good ratios of omega-3 fats whereas grain-fed beef contains almost none. To put it simply: choose grass-fed beef over grain-fed beef.

Protein sources for vegetarians

Recent studies have uncovered information about some plant-based proteins that have never been known before. Some plant proteins are just as wholesome as the animal proteins.

For example, the protein in hemp is quite complete. What that means is that it contains the complete array of amino acids which are needed by the body to rebuild tissues, create neurotransmitters in the brain, and make hormones.

Quinoa is another complete source which contains 8g per cup. It is often called a superfood because it includes all 9 amino acids the body needs for growth and repair. It’s also full of fiber, iron, magnesium, and manganese. You can use it as a rice substitute or toss it in a salad.

Soy-based proteins such as tofu are also excellent plant-based sources. And when buying remember that the harder the tofu, the higher the protein content. Tofu is a great source because of how versatile it is. You can throw it a soup or a salad, or scramble it or even use harder varieties as meat-replacements in meals.

Along with those mentioned above, nuts, chia seeds, nuts, peas, beans, chickpeas, hempseed, are all great ways to source your protein.

Protein equivalents from food

One ounce from animals or poultry provides you with 7 grams of protein. Thus a 5-ounce chicken breast provides you with 35 grams protein, which was calculated like this:  7 grams protein/ounce x 5 ounces = 35 grams.  A 4-ounce salmon steak provides you with 7 grams protein/ounce x 4 ounces = 28 grams for the meal you are eating.

Eight ounces milk provides you with about 12 grams protein.  With plant proteins such as hemp, you have to read the label to see how much you are getting in one serving, and then make sure you get the required amount of servings your body needs.

For example, if you only get 12 grams protein in 1 scoop of hemp, then you would have to add two scoops of the hemp powder to give yourself 24 grams protein. 

There’s one more thing you should know. Nuts are generally counted as fats, not protein. This is because the nutritional composition of nuts is higher in fat. For a 2-ounce portion of nuts, you may get 9 grams fat and only 2 to 2.5 grams protein.

Check the labels of any nuts you are eating or while grocery shopping because it will be a big revelation to know and understand this fact. Getting your protein has to be based on fact – not what you think you know.

Sources

  1. Pesta DH, Samuel VT. A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2014;11(1):53. Published 2014 Nov 19. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-11-53
  2. Hoffman JR, Falvo MJ. Protein – Which is Best?. J Sports Sci Med. 2004;3(3):118–130. Published 2004 Sep 1.
  3. Rogerson D. Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:36. Published 2017 Sep 13. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0192-9

About Our Author Dr. Donna Schwontkowski

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Dr. Donna Schwontkowski received a Doctorate in Chiropractic Medicine (D.C.), from the National College of Chiropractic, Lombard, IL, in Dec. 1990. In addition to running a medical practice, Dr Donna has had a long and distinguished career as a medical teacher, both running courses at various universities and also as a published author of several books and as a television presenter on health issues.

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