Whether you’re thinking about becoming a vegetarian or just want to cut down on the amount of meat you consume, you might be worried about how this will affect your health. And you are right, because meat and other animal products are major sources of protein in our diets.
Or maybe you are joining the protein craze and looking to diversify your protein sources? Keep reading—you’ll find lots of helpful information.
Why is protein important?
- It is an essential nutrient that helps your body build and repair all kinds of tissue from bone and muscle to skin and cartilage.
- Protein is also used to produce various chemicals, such as enzymes and antibodies to keep your hormones in check and your immune system up.
- Upon consumption, protein gets broken down into amino acids—the building blocks of life.
- Your hair and nails are mostly protein.
- Unlike fat, protein is not stored in your body—it is used up as it comes.
How much protein is the “right” amount?
As you can see, your body needs protein for many reasons. How much protein? It largely depends on your age, weight, activity level, overall health and many other factors. The current U.S. recommendation is 0.36 grams of protein per 1 pound of body weight, which translates into somewhere between 40 and 60 grams of protein per day for an average adult.
To give you a better idea:
- McDonalds Double Cheeseburger: 25 grams of protein
- Subway 6″ Pastrami Melt: 27 grams of protein
- KFC Chicken Pot Pie: 29 grams of protein
Of course, there is no such thing as “an average adult” – athletes, as well as pregnant or nursing women will need more protein than someone whose physical activity is limited to walking a dog, for example. Talk to Cara-Michele to determine how much protein is the right amount for you if you feel like you might not be getting enough.
The majority of the U.S. population, however, doesn’t suffer from protein deficiency. Quite the opposite—we might be consuming too much protein due to our reliance on animal-based protein sources.
Will consuming too much protein harm you?
Not necessarily, but let’s not forget that protein is not zero-calorie. Moreover, if most of your protein comes from animal products, it’s often accompanied by fat—something you might want to keep in mind if you are watching your weight.
A recent study has also linked red meat consumption to the risk of death in a young age from heart disease, cancer and other conditions. Processed red meat is even worse in terms of affecting your longevity.
Protein quantity vs. quality
Let’s pause for a second and go back to amino acids—the tiny particles that make up protein. Amino acids are very important for our health and wellness and our bodies, in fact, produce some of them (they are called non-essential amino acids.) However, some amino acids we get exclusively from our diets. These amino acids are essential and it’s crucial that the food we eat provides them.
While animal products such as meat, eggs, fish and dairy typically contain the full range of essential amino acids, you can also get them from plant-based sources. Soy and soy-based products like tofu and tempeh also meet your body’s amino acid needs.
There are many other foods that contain proteins with essential amino acids, but usually not all of them at once like soy does. This means when you eliminate animal products from your diet or cut down on their consumption, you should carefully think through your new diet. You will need to consume a variety of different protein-rich foods to make sure you get all essential amino acids.
You don’t have to get all of your essential amino acids in one day. Eating a full cup of hazelnuts or a stalk of broccoli in one setting might not be the best way to get your protein. Spread almond butter on your whole wheat toast, sprinkle some almonds in your salad or make a side dish of beans—you get the idea! These little bits of protein here and there eventually add up to your daily dose.
Remember—meat and animal products are not your only sources of protein. You can absolutely meet your daily protein and amino acid requirements by consuming plant-based food (and cut down on cholesterol in the process!) Need help figuring out your body’s protein needs or planning a vegetarian diet? Give Cara-Michele a call at (410) 296-4028 or contact us online for nutritional counseling and acupuncture in Towson, Maryland.