I loved reading what everyone thought about their protein intake! There were some “definitely don’t get enough protein” answers amongst a majority of “I’m sure I do!” answers. Up until a few days ago, I would have thought I don’t get enough, too…but really, protein is far easier to come by than we think, and I’ll bet you don’t actually need as much as you think you do. This in terms of what your personal DRI is – though I’m sure we all know that some people do best with a high-protein diet, and some do just fine with meeting their DRI.
First up – what’s DRI, anyways?! The dietary reference intake. For protein, it is based on body size, whereas other things like carbs and fats have an upper and lower level preset. To determine your DRI, multiple your weight by 0.8. But wait! Since it is based on kilograms (0.8g protein per kilogram) you’ll need to first divide your body weight by 2.2 and then multiplying that number by .8. If you are a vegetarian, (gosh I hate labels) it is recommended that you actually multiply by 1. (although…I guess I could also say you just don’t multiply by anything, since, well, multiplying by 1 gives you the same answer, now, doesn’t it?!)
So. You’ve probably determined that your DRI is something like 40-60g per day. Now that’s not so bad, is it?! Note: this is for the “average” adult, and simply the recommended intake. Yes, there are different recs if you’re pregnant, lactating, an infant or a child. The World Health Organization does propose a lower and upper limit – 10% and 15% of calories, respectively.
Now, moving on to my main point: if you’re eating a well balanced diet, you probably are getting enough protein even if you don’t eat meat every day. Gasp*Shock*Awe. It’s true – sufficient protein intake is rather effortless if you consume a balanced, varied, nutritious diet.
However – if you’re following a primarily vegetarian or vegan diet, you’re probably not getting as much complete protein as those consuming meat, fish, cheese, eggs, milk, etc. While it’s true that most soybean products (hey, tempeh!) are complete proteins and may be a part of your diet – if you don’t find other ways of getting in complete proteins, basically – your body organs begin to become compromised. (And if you want the scientific reasoning, it’s all essential amino acids. When essential amino acids in your body dwindle is when organs are compromised. Essential amino acids are what is present in complete proteins.
So, what are other ways to get complete, or complementary proteins? By combining, of course! By eating a combination of plant foods, you’ll be eating some foods that are low in amino acids, while others make up for it. By mixing legumes and grains, for instance – something I think a large majority of us know and love! – you’ll be balancing your meal to supply all of the needed amino acids to yield a complementary protein. This is because what grains lack in, legumes can supply in abundance, and vice versa. The fun part is that they don’t need to be eaten together, as long as the day’s meals supply them all in balance with one another.
Here’s a look at a purely hypothetical day’s eats and the protein content:
1 Banana – 1g
1/4 c. dates – 1g
1/2 c. oatmeal – 3g
1 med. apple – <1g
Total: 1 g
Running total – 6g
2 Slices WW bread – 8g
1/2 c. boiled lentils – 9g
total – 17g
running – 23g
1 c. plain, low fat yogurt – 13g
1/2 c. black beans – 8g
1/2 c. baked sweet potato – 2g
1 c. kale – 2g
1 c. soymilk – 4g
final total: 52g
So it looks like a somewhat accurate hypothetical day, but this was actually an exercise in seeing what 225 g of carbohydrate looks like, that we were then asked to calulate protein for. So, while there’s a large part of that that is definitely something I would eat, there’s also areas to differ. Like 2 more snacks, but that’s for a later discussion. The point is, I was trying to account for carbs, not protein. I thought for sure I would be short in protein.
Honestly, I was surprised how “easy” it was to meet my DRI, and not only meet it, but surpass it.
But most of that you already know…so what’s protein do for us, anyway?!
- Supports growth and maintenance – whether it be building new tissue in embryos, muscles, growing children, bloods cells to replace lost blood in hemorrhages, menstruation or surgery, building scar tissue or new hair and nails as well as internal cells and worn-out cells.
- Building enzymes, hormones, and other compounds – enzymes speed up reactions and facilitate chemical reactions, there is an abundance of hormones made up of proteins (amino acids) and did you know that protein is even responsible for your hair, skin and eye color?!
- Building antibodies – what helps your body develop immunity against infection.
- Maintain fluid and electrolyte balance – the quantity of body fluids is critical to your life, and cell proteins help regulate them in addition to holding specific fluids in their specific chambers within your system.
- Maintaing acid-base balance– blood proteins act as buffers, maintaining your blood’s pH level.
- Blood Clotting – you know what that means!
Protein does all that, but it can also provide energy and glucose, too. If your diet is well varied, you probably only use about 15% of your protein intake for energy. Carbs and fat is what gives us the most energy! But, when you don’t provide enough of either of those, protein use is sped up so that your body has energy to live.
Too much? Too little? How do you tell when you’re having too much or too little, anyway?! Well – let me disclaim that this is not just “I eat a little extra protein”. This is extreme cases of too much or too little. As mentioned – athletes, children, infants, pregnant woman – all utilize more protein. Not only that, but some people feel they function best with extra protein! But yes, there is such thing as too much. Often times, too, it’s thought that if you’re eating high-protein, you’re probably eating a lot of animal protein, and in turn, a lot of saturated fat – but we know this is not always the case. If it is for you or anyone you know, though, you’ll want to know there is then a heightened risk for heart disease, kidney disease, adult bone loss, and cancer. In fact, people substituting vegetable protein for animal protein have a lower risk for heart disease. Based on what I’ve read – a lot of the cons of high-protein diets are related to the protein coming from animal sources, with not enough research having been done to support the same outcomes with vegetable proteins. This is, again, because of the saturated fat content in some animal protein sources.
That said – don’t go upping your protein like crazy because you think you’ll build muscle. If that’s all you change, you won’t magically have a six-pack and smoking guns. You’ll probably put some of your body system under stress, however. Namely, your kidneys. If your protein intake accounts for more than 30% of your intake, toxins called ketones build up. You may have heard of ketogenic diets before. What happens then is your kidneys go into overdrive, doing what they’re supposed to do – protecting you from the ketones and working hard to flush them from your body. If you exercise heavily, you’re then at a risk for dehydration, too. Yippee. And if it’s done in hopes to lose weight – well, yes, you’re losing water weight – but also muscle mass and bone calcium, and putting a burden on your aforementioned kidneys and heart. There are said to be positive side affects for ketosis, and while I wouldn’t intentionally try one even short-term myself, I don’t put much belief in a long-term ketogenic diet having many positive affects.
…and that’s hardly the start of it. I never realized protein does so much! Or that it’s not as difficult to meet your DRI as it seems to be. But, remember: I am no professional. This is simply what I learned from my book, from my teacher and class discussions, and from class readings. I’ve probably mis-spoken about something, actually – but I try and be careful. So, if you see anything blatantly wrong, do tell.
From: Nutrition: Concepts and Controversy. Sizer and Whitney, c. 2008 The Thomson Corporation.
I so did not intend for this post to result in diarrhea of the mouth…but if nothing else, at least it was a fun review for me – but I hope you learned something! If not…well, check back tomorrow, I’ll have the results of this for you: