Protein intake is a common concern for many people, especially those who are active. How much is enough? What are the best sources? It is certainly easy to feel very confused and ooverwhelmed with all of the conflicting information out there. So here I am to clear it up for you!
Protein is one of three macronutrients we derive calories from. Protein has 4 calories per gram. It is made up of smaller components called amino acids, which are held together with peptide bonds. There are 22 amino acids – 9 of these amino acids your body cannot manufacture itself and must be obtained through food (known as ‘essential amino acids’). The other 13 can be manufactured by your body. A protein is therefore either complete, when it has all 9 essential amino acids present, or incomplete, when it lacks one or more of the essential amino acids.
When we eat food, our bodies break apart the peptide bonds and re-arrange them into new protein strands our bodies can use. Proteins – amino acids – are important for countless bodily functions: they are involved in tissue repair, muscle contraction, tissue formation, enzyme reactions, and the list goes on and on. Clearly, protein is important. But here is the thing that no one ever tells you, each and every food that you have ever eaten, aside from extracts or processed foods have protein! Click here and type in any food to get the protein and amino acid content.
It was once believed that all essential amino acids needed to be eaten at once, in the form of a complete protein for our bodies to utilize them. This is where meat and dairy got their fame as they are complete proteins. It is now known that if you take in all the essential amino acids in over the course of a week, your body will be sufficiently nourished. For example, rice and beans together contain all 9 essential amino acids. However, you do not have to eat your rice and beans at the same time for your body to assemble all the amino acids into a complete protein that is useable by the body. If you ate rice on Monday, and beans on Thursday, your body will be sufficiently nourished with all the amino acids it needs to function.
The other thing we now know is that you only need about 0.8-1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, less if you are not very active, more if you are active (noting that these values increase quite substantially if you are pregnant or breast feeding!) This equates to around 40-60 grams of protein per day on average.
Getting your protein from plant sources can be a very safe and effective thing to do. One cup of beans has 15g, one cup of peas has around 8g, and one cup of spinach has around 1g. What these plant based sources of protein provide that meat and dairy do not – is fiber, as well as a plethora of other vitamins and minerals that are also necessary for health.
The truth of the matter is that most cases of protein deficiency are seen in those who are generally malnourished, which can happen for a variety of reasons. Unless you have some sort of medical issue, such as lowered digestive function that actively inhibits your body from breaking down or absorbing amino acids, you do not need to be concerned with being deficient in protein. Just make sure your diet consists of fresh, healthy foods and limit your intake of highly processed or genetically modified edibles as they are known to have reduced nutrient value.
Click here for an overview of Kwashiorkor disease, a form of protein deficiency that occurs with starvation.
The take home message here is, don’t worry! As long as you are eating a wide variety of foods, with adequate caloric intake, all your protein needs will be met, and you can sleep soundly knowing that you are doing your body good.
Want to know more? Contact Ali at firstname.lastname@example.org