The second macronutrient is… PROTEIN! This means you have to eat chicken or beef with every meal, right? Nope! Protein can be found in a number of foods and is so vital to our nutrition. In fact, it’s considered the building block of life. Did you know your skin, nails, hair, bones, muscles, and cartilage are mainly made of protein? Most enzymes and hormones within our bodies are also proteins. At least 10,000 different proteins make us up and keep us running!
So what is protein? Proteins are made up of amino acids. Twenty amino acids are found within the body. Our body synthesizes 11 of those. The other 9? You guessed it! Must be obtained through food, which are referred to as essential amino acids. Protein can be derived from both animal and plant sources. However, protein that comes from animal is considered complete because it contains all essential amino acids. Plant-based proteins are typically lacking in one or two of these essential amino acids which is why most are considered incomplete. Quinoa has a more balanced ratio of amino acids and is often considered complete. 1 cup has 8 grams of protein. Even better, 1 cup of cooked lentils has about 18 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber! (Find my lentil stew recipe here!) Other vegetarian protein sources include: legumes (beans, peas, lentils), seeds (hemp, chia, flax), nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews), nutritional yeast, spirulina, edamame, tofu, and tempeh. Vegans and vegetarians can easily meet their protein needs if they include a variety of these whole foods within their diet.
Now that we understand what protein is, let’s discuss why it’s so important. Adequate protein provides us with energy, structure to tissues and cells, supports immunity, and growth. That’s why it’s so crucial that young children receive an ample amount. It’s also used to create many of our hormones. Enzymes are another type of protein in the body that help precipitate chemical reactions. When food is digested, protein breaks it down to usable amino acids which are transported throughout the body to do a variety of functions. It’s also suggested that protein helps to detoxify the body.
Now I’m not into labels, but if you were to ask me what my “diet” or nutritional philosophy is, I would tell you I’m plant-based. This simply means that I base most of my meals around plants. It also means that I do eat animal protein on occasion, with more of an emphasis on fish over poultry or beef. I also get protein through eggs and egg whites. I have found that what works for me is simply listening to my body; not depriving myself of one whole food group, but rather, tuning into my body and what it needs. Do I have animal protein at every meal? Certainly not. Are there some days I don’t have any animal protein? Absolutely. Does this mean I don’t get enough protein? Not necessarily. I supplement when needed, or make sure that I load up on protein-rich foods or powders.
If you are concerned that your protein intake may be lacking, I would suggest supplementing with a protein powder. I make a smoothie nearly every day and am obsessed with the plant-based Tone it Up Nutrition protein. I put it in a lot of dishes too, such as baked goods and overnight oats. Another protein powder I’m obsessing over lately is FurtherFood Collagen peptides. Why do I take collagen? It’s actually the most abundant protein in our bodies but as we get older, our production declines. In order to prevent saggy skin, joint stiffness, and weaker bones, collagen is a great supplement. It also comes with many benefits. It helps with hair, skin, and nail growth and supports a healthy gut. I’ve noticed stronger nails and hair, clearer skin, and it leaves me feeling fuller longer. What’s not to love?! If you want to try it, visit their website and use KLEAN10 at checkout for a discount!
So how much protein should you be consuming each day? According to the Institute of Medicine at Harvard, it is recommended that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day (or 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight.) Need it broken down further? About 20 grams per meal is ideal. But remember, bio-individuality suggests that every body is different and someone who has higher amounts of physical activity may require more protein. It’s also important to rotate the type of protein you eat because your body may build up intolerances to the same source. For example, if you eat chicken for every meal, you may develop a yeast intolerance. The same goes for red meat. Red meat is higher in omega-6 fatty acids so if possible, consume more fish from quality sources. (Remember, an intake of omega-3 fatty acids should be higher than omega-6!)
There’s evidence that eating a high-protein diet may be beneficial for the heart, as long as the protein comes from healthy and sustainable sources. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you’re aware of the increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer due to eating processed red meat. In addition, high-temperature grilling creates potentially cancer-causing compounds in meat. Some tips to consider include: marinating meat before cooking it, partially pre-cooking meat in the oven to reduce time on the grill, or grilling over a low flame. It’s important to shop local and organic when possible. If you choose to include beef in your diet, grass-fed varieties offer an abundance of healthful nutrients. Small portions of higher-quality meat (about 3 ounces, or the size of a deck of cards) is appropriate.
When purchasing fish, make sure it is wild and not farm-raised. Farm-raised means that fish can be exposed to dangerous antibiotics and chemicals. Shockingly, the Food and Drug Administration only inspects about 2 percent of all seafood that comes from abroad. We’ve heard farm to fork, let’s think boat to fork when it comes to fish! This is a great website to find nearby places that offer fresh, wild, and local seafood. While fish is an excellent source of protein, it’s important to remember that mercury in fish can be present and unfortunately sometimes very high. A good rule of thumb is that smaller fish (squid, scallops) contain less, and bigger fish (tuna, swordfish) contain more. Visit this website where you can find a helpful chart that shows which fish are safer to eat and which you should avoid in terms of mercury. When asked what my favorite meal is, my best friend answered “salmon.” Duh! I eat salmon 1-2 times a week. 6-ounces of wild salmon has about 34 grams of protein and is naturally low in sodium. It also contains only 1.7 grams of saturated fat and has excellent sources of omega-3 fats (remember last week?!) And FYI, pesto and salmon makes for a very tasty meal. Yum!
- 1 cup fresh basil
- 1 cup fresh parsley
- 1 & 1/4 cup kale
- 1 cup pine nuts
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil (avocado oil would work too)
- 3 tsp minced garlic
- 1/2 tsp pink Himalayan sea salt
- 1/2 tsp smoky turmeric (regular works too!)
Farm-raised on the left, wild on the right. Notice the difference in color? This is key!
When buying poultry, make sure it’s pasture/free range and organic. Poultry, like beef, can be detrimental to the body if consumed from a poor source. Hence, another reason why I choose to eat fish over chicken and beef.
Recipe of the week:
Protein-packed Matcha Muffins
- 1.5 cup gluten free rolled oats
- 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
- 1 scoop FurtherFood collagen peptides
- 1 scoop Tone it Up Nutrition vanilla protein powder
- 2 eggs
- 2 bananas
- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp Kiss Me Organics Matcha powder
Blend all ingredients in a food processor. Fold in organic dark chocolate chips or cacao nibs. Fill muffin tin and bake for 20 minutes at 350! Perfect for breakfast on the go or a snack!
Want more? Check out Mind Body Green’s article on 14 sources of #klean protein.
Food for thought: Are you getting enough protein at each meal? If not, I highly suggest supplementing with a powder to add to smoothies, baked goods, overnight oats, casseroles, you name it!
Resources used for this post:
- Institute of Integrative Nutrition Module 9 material
- Study at Harvard Institute of Medicine