Protein-we need lots of it, right?
Although protein has a variety of important functions, including the formation of various building blocks, hormones, and enzymes in our body, you may be surprised to learn that we don’t need quite as much protein as most people believe. The average person only needs 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight; this is 54 grams for a person who weighs 150 pounds. Some athletes as well as women who are pregnant or breastfeeding require a little more protein than this (0.5 grams per pound or about 75 grams for a person who weighs 150 pounds).
Here are three common myths about dietary protein:
Myth 1: You can’t get enough protein if you don’t eat animal foods.
Protein can be found in just about everything except for fats, oils, and fruit. The protein found in meat and dairy foods are considered complete proteins, because they contain all of the essential amino acids needed for health. Unfortunately, animal protein foods also contain saturated fat and cholesterol that contribute to chronic disease. Animal protein foods do not have the nutrients such as fiber and phytochemicals that protect us from cancer and heart disease.
People who choose to eliminate all forms of animal foods from their diet (vegans) can still get adequate protein assuming they are eating enough calories. Good plant sources of protein for everyone includes soy products such as tofu, edamame, and soy milk; beans, lentils, nuts, and whole grains. Quinoa is higher in protein than most other grains and also contains all of the essential amino acids, making this a complete protein food with the added benefits of fiber and phytochemicals.
Myth 2: A high protein diet will help me lose more weight.
Protein is known as a satiety nutrient. In other words, eating some protein foods with your meal can help prevent hunger and keep you satisfied for longer periods of time. However, it’s not necessary to go crazy with protein in order to lose weight. In fact, too much protein, especially from animal foods, can be damaging to your kidneys as well as bone health. While it’s true that people who go on low carbohydrate/high protein diets do tend to lose weight quickly, it’s important to acknowledge that much of the weight loss is due to the dehydrating effects of a low carbohydrate/high protein diet rather than fat loss. Since these types of diets are difficult to sustain, most people who lose weight tend to gain all of their weight back, and then some!
If you’re trying to lose weight, pay attention to portion sizes and aim to get some protein at each meal. Choosing mostly plant-based proteins will also provide fiber to help you feel full and satisfied.
Myth 3: Protein builds muscle.
Although protein is an important nutrient for muscle repair, protein does not build muscle. Exercise builds muscle. If you participate in rigorous strength training activities, then your protein needs are higher. However, it’s a mistake to believe that eating extra protein will build more muscle. It’s also important to note that excess calories your body does not need are calories that are converted to fat, even if the excess calories are from protein foods.
When it comes to healthy eating, shifting your focus to your plate rather than specific nutrients will lead to longer term health gains.
Not sure what a healthy plate looks like-check out the My Whole Food Plate. If you’re looking for specific guidance on how to incorporate a whole food eating plan into your daily habits to meet your health goals, take a look at individual services, webinars and classes offered at Whole Food is Medicine.