Protein is the final of the three major players. Besides providing energy, it’s essential for building and repairing our bodies. The stuff we call protein is built from amino acids, which are necessary for life.
The Vegan Dilemma
Not all proteins are made equal. There are twenty different amino acids which your body uses to repair itself. While there are proteins in beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds; on their own none of these contain all the types of amino acids our bodies need.
On the other hand, animal sources like meat, dairy and eggs usually have all the types you need. So, although it’s possible to get the right balance on a vegan diet, you need to eat several different types to get all of the amino acids you need. This isn’t necessarily a bad way to go, but you need to educate yourself first if you want to go off animal sources completely. Otherwise you could get extremely sick.
What happens without enough protein?
Too little protein stunts growth, causes muscle atrophy, lowers your immune system, weakens your heart and respiratory system, among other things. For this reason protein is a recommended and necessary part of your diet. The institute of Medicine suggests you eat about eight grams of protein per every twenty pounds you weigh. To make it simpler, the general recommendation is 46 grams per day for women, and 56 grams for men over nineteen years old.
Besides making sure you get enough whole proteins, how do you figure out how much you should eat? The easiest way is to limit protein to approximately 1/4 of your plate, or 1/4 of what you eat in the day. As the recommended amount is a general recommendation only, some variation is perfectly acceptable.
For meal suggestions check out the recipe section.
Why not more?
Why not more protein if it’s so great?
Well, protein, like other nutrients, rarely comes alone. It has friends and, like your mom may have told you, pick your friends wisely. Sure beef has all the protein we need, but do you know what else it has? saturated fats, lots of them. Ham is better on the fat, but loaded with salt. Processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, salami, etc… have salt as well as other preservatives. There’s also the issues of nitrites and nitrates, but the info on what sort of risk/benefit they provide is uncertain at this point.
On the other hand, wild salmon and other fatty fish are low in saturated fats and high in omega-3 fats which are actually good for the heart, and help prevent diabetes. Beans, nuts, quinoa, and others also pack fiber into mix, and we’ve already talked about the benefits there.
Finally, if you are doing rigorous or strenuous activity regularly it’s not a bad idea to have a higher amount of protein than normal. This is because, as I mentioned before, amino acids (found in protein) are the building blocks your body uses to repair damaged cells. Like sore muscles for instance.
Eating the right amount of protein from the right sources will go a long way to making you healthier and happier, and better able to live life the way you want to.