Did Somebody Say Protein?

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
Total: 5g

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
total: 13g
running: 36g

1/2 c. black beans – 8g
1/2 c. baked sweet potato – 2g
1 c. kale – 2g
1 c. soymilk – 4g
total: 16g
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:

And now I need to go edit senior pictures 😉


Filed under health, health food, healthy living

16 responses to “Did Somebody Say Protein?

  1. Love all the protein info! When I first gave up red meat, my parents were concerned about my protein intake but once I showed them how much protein I was actually getting a day (well over twice my DRI), they quickly changed their mind. And that was before I even started supplementing! Back when I was drinking protein shakes, I was getitng close to 200 g..but being sure never to go over 30% of my calorie intake since that’s harmful to the liver. I stopped doing that because my body wasn’t really able to keep up with it all, but I’m still getting plenty.

    Honestly, as meat eaters in general, we get way too much protein than needed. That’s why they always think vegetarians don’t get enough protein..and it’s true it’s harder to get complete proteins outside of red meat, but it’s not hard to get the protein our bodies need and plus some.

  2. I always got the “where do you get your protein?” question from family members, coaches, teammates, friends…and now I just don’t try to give as many answers but just say I get enough plant protein from beans, soy (organic tempeh), whole grains, and more. I am happy you clarified it more! I definitely feel like I will be upping my protein when I up my running, but that also will come with just overall upping my food, yay!

  3. Is that bread!? It looks amazing!

    Thanks for this post, Jess.. I love it! It’s funny, because I can relate to so much here. My protein intake has been all over the map, and at one point when I was restoring my weight, I needed tons of protein. (I say ‘need’ based on my own feelings. Legit, right?) I seriously could not feel satisfied if I didn’t have at least 30g per meal… no joke! That was mostly from yogurt or chicken though, so I don’t think I really had to worry about saturated fat at that point. My appetite for protein has gone way down since my body has ‘healed’ itself… and now eating 20g worth of protein from yogurt in one sitting would actually make me feel really sick. I think it’s awesome that the body can tell us what it needs… even if it is hard to read sometimes.

    Another thing I wanted to mention was the fact that my mom is actually on a ketogenic diet right now. It’s got some fancy clinical name, but she swears it’s the only way she can successfully lose weight (*eyeroll*). I’ve been trying to tell her that it’s not healthy… but coming from someone with my dieting history it isn’t exactly sinking in. I did make her promise me though to let me help her with a healthy maintenance program once she is done… with healthy carbs and fats!

    Thanks again for the post smartie-pants 🙂

  4. Great informative post!!!! I too thought i wasn’t getting enough protein when i became a vegetarian but then i realized that i usually surpass the recommended dose as well!!
    Can’t wait to see what you have in store for us tomorrow!!

  5. Meg

    SUCH a good post! I love this and I love learning more about a balanced diet, and high/low protein info!

  6. I’m sending this to my little sister…she is really into nutrition, and I know she will find it a valuable resource (as I did!) On a different note…Thank you for all your kind words on my blog…your thoughts are so appreciated.

  7. This is exactly my kind of post! I feel at home surrounded with so much scientific information 🙂 .

    I am completely against ketogenic diets, too. When we use ketones for energy, our bodies turn them into substances which can poison us. Like acetone, for example, which does much more harm than causing awful breath. Who needs such a diet? Balance is the key.

    Looking forward to learning more for this bread 🙂

  8. Oi, great post! Thank you. How come I didn’t know the 0.8 thing? And the cool thing is, I weigh myself in kilograms already, ha 😉

  9. Verrh interesting! When I ate chicken and fish, I always used to wonder how people who were vegetarian/vegan got their protein. But then the more I researched it, the easier I saw it was. Plus, I then realised that I’d been eating too much – like 100g+ a day! Too much protein can steal calcium from your bones..so that was good to find out!

    Is that bread I spy you’ve been baking!? It looks like it rose…..:D

  10. I used to find it quite difficult, being a veg. and getting a good amt. of protein…I used to rely on Clif bars, and other soy protein bars and such…but only about 1/2 a year ago i started to eat fish, eggs, and some cheese again…best thing i really could have done for myself!
    I remember immediately feeling more energy and less lethargic after about a week of eating probably 20 grams more protein than i was(i was consuming very low before) it really showed me how a lack of protein can affect you a lot..Now i try to get in as much as possible, nuts, seeds, nut butters, grains, beans, eggs, and Greek yogurt…all things in my daily diet! But that calculation thingy must be wrong, i got 27 grams as what i need a day, what!? so low..non? lol.. ;P
    any way, great post lovie,


  11. Actually, ketones occur when our carbohydrate intake is <50-100g / day. We need sufficient amounts of CHO to break down fatty acids and when we don't have enough, fatty acids aren't completely catabolized and ketones are a result, which can build up in our blood.

    Also, ketones are in our body under normal conditions as well, so though they're a concern under high concentrations, they're also not anything to be feared as "poison".

    Nice post though, you really hit home on the idea that protein isn't something we should be worried about. We had to do an assignment where we analyzed a salad to show that they could provide us with the nutrients and protein that we need when we eat one for lunch. I’m really looking forward to getting to the protein section of our lectures now that I’ve seen what kind of stuff you guys have been learning! We just finished up CHO and are working on alcohol now.

    That loaf looks seedy and scrumptuous btw. (And an fyi, don’t mix flax with steel-cut oats instead of chia seeds, it gets really gooey and ruins your breakfast. :()

  12. Love this post! I love reading about what you learn in your nutrition class! We haven’t really gotten into this interesting stuff in my nutrition classes yet. 😛

    It’s so true that it’s actually pretty easy to eat enough protein, even as a vegetarian. It makes me wonder if protein powder is even really necessary… I’ve been kind of interested in trying it, but this post makes me realize that I definitely don’t need it since my diet contains ample protein!

  13. teenagehealthfreak

    nice post, always nice to learn about these things! my body tells me when i’m low in protein! i tend to not worry about what the heck i eat (its just all real)… i just hear hunger calls and feed them. lol but i know what you mean about those crazy high protein diets..like you know those people be wanting some carbs in their life!! i know someone that tried a high protien diet..and she kept fainting and getting sick..all she was drinking was like shakes..ew. who wants to live like that!! just eat some REAL food! 🙂

  14. Thanks for the info! Even though I find that I “remember” a lot of health details and stats, reading them again helps ingrain them in my head 🙂

  15. Loved this post! I find this kind of stuff so interesting (another reason I should have studied nutrition)! On a completely different note in reference to protein, my sister-in-law and Tony have celiac (intolerance to the protein in wheat). My sister-in-law had problems with her kidneys and Tony gets random sharp pains in his (which he needs to get checked out), but I wonder if that is associated with protein digestion. Also, Tony is realizing now that he does not really digest meat that well anymore. I start to wonder about how celiac is associated with the digestion of protein in general? I could go on and on talking about it, but I won’t bore you. Oh I got the best little package in the mail yesterday! Thank you so much! I am so excited to get to using all of it! Thanks Jessica for your friendship! It really means a lot!

  16. I loved this post..but then I love them all 🙂 But I find it SO interesting to learn about nutrition and you’re really helping me with learning what my body needs so a hugeeee thank you!! Please keep giving us some nutrition classes Miss Jesssica 🙂
    And oh my goodness, you’ve been making bread again! I’m SO impressed..it looks absolutely delicious!

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