Why am I so interested in protein?
I became fascinated by the subject after noticing the rise in popularity of protein supplements (so much £$£$ those companies are making :O) and I had an ex boyfriend who over-did it on the shakes. As a result had kidney problems in his mid 20’s.
When gradually moving onto a plant based diet, eggs were actually the last animal product I stopped eating. Why? I really held onto them as I believed that I needed them for post-workout recovery, especially seeing as I wasn’t getting it from chicken and fish any longer.
Well, that was until I learnt the reality….
The Marketing Myth
When researching protein I soon realised that marketing (funded by the meat industry) has made me have 2 very incorrect beliefs about protein:
1) Animal products are the best way for us to gain protein
2) We need a lot of it
‘The animal protein push is not only based on lies, it’s killing us, luring us to feast on a rotunda of factory-farmed, hormone- and pesticide-laden, low-fiber foods extremely high in saturated fat’ (Rich Roll, Ultra Athlete)
What do we need protein for?
In short: growth & repair of our cells.
A little longer: All parts of our bodies; hair, muscles, fingernails etc are made up mostly of different kinds of proteins, which consist of varying combinations of amino acids. Similar to how the 26 letters of the alphabet make up words, the 20 different amino acids make the proteins in our bodies.
Half (10) of these amino acids can be made in our bodies, whilst the other 10 need to come from our diet
This protein explanation by The Happy Pear does a really good job of summing things up!
How much protein do we need?
What is the time in your life when your body is growing the most rapidly?
- When you are a baby. Therefore, this is the time when you need most protein.
What is the ideal nutrition for babies?
- Breast milk.
So does that mean breast milk is extremely high in protein?
- Actually it is about 6%.
- Therefore the World Health Organization reccomends that as an adult we have a diet of about 5% protein to suffice the standard everyday lives we lead.
As a grown adult it depends on what your goals are. Usain Bolt obviously needs more protein but he also needs more of EVERYTHING to power through his training.
The primary reason that we eat food is for energy. It is therefore carbs that fuels our bodies. Both protein and fat can also be converted into energy sources too, but this is a far more inefficient process and only happens when we have no carbs to use, e.g. during starvation. It now all makes sense to me why I feel great after big bowls of porridge, rice salads and masses of pasta.
Have you ever met anyone with a protein deficiency?
It is pretty unlikely as only 3% of the world which are protein deficient but these people are also malnourished of all macronutrients (fats, carbs & protein).
However, another interesting thing I discovered is that 97% of the US is fibre deficient, and where do we get fibre from? carbs (note that fruit and vegetables are carbs too). Why do we have no focus on improving this? There is no money in it for the big meal businesses.
Consider this: some of the fiercest animals in the world — the elephant, rhino, hippo and gorilla — are Plantpowered herbivores.
Dangers of too much protein
We still obviously need protein in our diet, at least 5% but ideally, no more than 10% of calories. Various studies have found that high protein diets can become damaging on our bodies.
Maybe you’ve heard of the China Study and the relationship between animal protein and cancer?
Other dangers include stress on kidneys and liver (which breaks down protein), dehydration and speedier ageing
Where do we get protein from?
Restaraunts can be misconceiving asking ‘what protein would you like to add?’ whereas actaully ALL food has protein.
There are of course the animal based sources….meat, fish, eggs but also, fruit, veg, grains, and of course the more obvious plant based ones such as legumes, nuts.
The next thing that I’ve learn is that protein doesn’t just come from animal products and beans/lentils….it comes from EVERYTHING we eat! Even fruit is apx 5% protein, there is plenty in veg and grains too.
Animal based protein is in fact inferior to plant based sources (source: Dr Holly Wilson MD)
To give you a few interesting protein stats:
Therefore I now know that as long as I’m eating enough food in general, there is no doubt about it, I’ll be getting enough protein and never, ever need to drink a protein shake, no matter how my exercise I do!
If you ate nothing but a variety of fresh fruit, you still would never suffer a deficiency of protein (Rich Roll, Ultra Athlete)
After I switched eggs for breakfast for oats, I noticed a significant change in my energy throughout my morning and improved post exercise recovery.
How do I ensure I get enough protein each day?
To help any worriers out there: vegetarians and vegans actually average 70% more protein than they need every day (over 70 grams). An example day for me would be as follows:
An Example Day
Seeing that it is recommended to eat 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of weight that you hold, a 58kg girl should eat apx 47 grams of protein per day.
I actually plugged in what I ate on one average day into Cronometer to check and verified I’m getting plenty and have no issues with an active lifestyle!
- Breakfast: Oats + Fruit + seeds (24 grams)
- Lunch: sweet potato + quinoa + avocado + black beans + spinach (20 grams)
- Dinner: pasta + lentil bolognaise sauce + brocolli (25 grams)
- Snacks : fruit, hummus, sweet potato chips, wholemeal bread, raw brownie (16 grams), soy latte
You can see there that I’m eating in excess of 85 grams of protein on an average day, way over the RDA.
I need not worry whatsoever, as long as I eat enough food each day I will easily get enough.
I’m definitely no professional athlete but you can’t deny that fellow vegans such as Carl Lewis, Novac Djockovich and Mr. Universe (Billy Simmonds) are in incredible shape.
So maybe next time we should be changing the question from ‘where do you get your protein’ to ‘Where do you get your fibre?’ to focus on a truly relevant problem we’re facing.
2. Dr Holly Wilson MD, 2013 on Free from harm website.2013