What you need to know about protein

What you need to know about protein

Science shows benefits of plant protein

Where do you get your protein?

This is a question almost every plant-powered eater will hear at some point.

But is the concern justified?

How much protein do you need?

Can you get too much?

Are some proteins better than others?

And what ARE the best sources?

In this article from the Food Revolution Network these questions and more are answered.

“But where do you get your protein?”

Anyone who adopts a plant-based diet or even considers going
vegetarian is likely to hear this question with alarming frequency.

You don’t have to look far to see what can sometimes border
on something of a protein obsession. From protein shakes, bars, and powders to
cereals, cookies, and protein-focused diets and meal-delivery services,
attention to protein seems to be just about everywhere.

But what is protein? How much protein do our bodies
really need?
 Is more always better? Or is it actually possible that
some people could be getting too much?

Let’s take a look.

What Is Protein, Really?

Protein is something you need to eat almost every day. Why?
Because your body doesn’t store it the way it stores fats and carbs — the other
two main “macronutrients” in food.

OK, but what is protein?

Protein is an essential nutrient for the building,
maintenance, and repair of almost all the tissues in your body
, including
your bones, muscles, blood, hair, nails, and organs.

Protein also gives your body energy, although
that’s not its main role. In addition, protein helps keep your immune
system strong
 (because your immune system is made
 of proteins), and eating protein can help keep you
feeling full longer

What we call protein is made up of 21 amino acids.
Your body can make 12 of them, but there are nine that are called the
“essential” amino acids because you need to get them directly from your food.

As long as you’re eating a variety of whole, natural foods
and getting enough total calories and enough overall protein, you should meet
your needs for all nine essential amino acids. The notion that you need
to combine foods in order to get the right balance of amino acids is,
essentially, a myth.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

In the U.S.,
the official recommended
daily allowance of protein is 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of
body weight. 
That means, at 150 pounds, you’d need about 54 grams of
protein per day to meet this target.

If you’re an athlete who is trying to build muscle, if
you’re pregnant or lactating, or if you’re under exceptional emotional 
the recommendation is to get at least 0.45 grams of protein daily per pound of
body weight (which means, at 150 pounds, you’d need about 67.5 grams of protein

New research
is finding that
older adults tend not to absorb protein as efficiently, so seniors may
need more of it

The Mayo Clinic
recommends that anyone over age 65 should get between 0.44 and 0.52 grams
of daily protein per pound of body weight
. (This means a senior who weighs
150 pounds might need between 66-78 grams of protein per day.)

Here’s a chart that can help you assess what your protein
needs might be
. It was developed by
New York Times bestselling author and Food Revolution Summit speaker, Kris Carr:

Your Daily Protein Needs*

1. Find your “P”
Kids ages 4 to 13 = 0.43
Adolescents ages 14 to 18 = 0.39
Adults ages 19 to 64 (moderately active) = 0.36
Seniors ages 65+ and special needs = 0.44 to 0.522.

2. To calculate your
needs, multiply your lean body weight (in pounds) by your “P” value to find out
how many grams are recommended for you each day. (If you are significantly
overweight, you may adjust the formula down to base it on what you might
consider a healthy body weight.)

*=Based on the
available research, these suggestions are intended for general health, disease
prevention, and longevity. But for specific contexts, such as power athletes
and weightlifters, there is also research showing that higher protein intakes
may be advisable in some instances. Also, we are each biochemically and
metabolically unique, so listen to your body, use your own best judgment and,
wherever applicable, consult with your healthcare professional for guidance.

What If You Want More Protein?

If you want to boost your protein levels, you might
consider using shelled seeds (hemp, flax, and chia seeds are excellent), or
seeds that have been ground into a powder
, so you get all the benefits of the whole foods.

What about more
refined protein supplements? That may not be the best idea. In 2018, the Clean
Label Project tested the most popular protein powders on the market.
They found that virtually all of the 134 protein powder products tested
contained detectable levels of at least one heavy metal, and 55% tested
positive for BPA

Strangely, the
plant-based and organic protein powders were not exempt from these problems
 — and in many cases actually fared

But the good news
is: So long as you eat a varied diet based around whole foods and get enough
total calories, chances are you have no need for protein supplements anyway.
(More on that later — keep reading!)

Guess What? Protein Deficiency is Shockingly Rare

According to
2014 research from The NPD Group, almost 80% of U.S.
consumers say they want more protein in their diet. But do they need it?

This may come as a
surprise, but protein deficiency is virtually nonexistent in industrialized countries.

Most American
adults eat substantially more than the recommended amount — 
averaging more than 100 grams of protein per
day. And most Europeans get more than
they need, too.

If you’re eating enough food, so you don’t lose weight,
and you’re eating a variety of whole foods, it’s almost impossible to consume
too little protein

In general, the only
people who are truly deficient in protein are those who aren’t eating enough
calories — which is a serious and potentially life-threatening
concern for hundreds of millions of people on the planet who don’t have enough
food to eat.

deficiency can also become a problem for “junk food vegans”
 who eat no animal products and a lot
of processed
. There’s no protein in sugar or bottled oils and very little in fries
or chips. And protein deficiency can also be a problem for alcoholics, people
with eating disorders such as anorexia, and addicts — all of whom tend to have
diets that are deficient in many important nutrients.

But with these
exceptions, in the industrialized world, where starvation is relatively rare,
inadequate protein consumption is almost unheard of. If you eat 2,400 calories
in a day and 15% of your calories are coming from protein, you’ll be eating 90
grams of protein.

In fact, as
surprising as it may sound, we’re beginning to understand that far more
people may be suffering from getting too much protein
, than suffering from
getting too little.

The Problem of Too Much Protein

When you consume
more protein than your body needs, it doesn’t store as protein. Instead, it’s
converted to fat or eliminated through your kidneys, which contributes to osteoporosis and kidney

And that’s not the
only problem too much protein can cause. When the International Scholarly
Research Network published a
meta-analysis of 31 studies on protein intake and disease, it concluded
that overconsumption of protein was associated with higher rates of
cancer, osteoporosis, renal disease, disorders of liver function, and coronary
artery disease

In some of the most
important nutritional research conducted in recent years, Valter Longo, PhD,
director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California,
and his team publisheda study in Cell Metabolism in
2014, that tracked 6,381 adults over the age of 50 for nearly 20 years.

The study found that
between the ages of 50 and 65, participants who ate a high-protein diet
(defined as 20% or more of calories coming from protein) were four
times more likely to die of cancer than those who consumed a low-protein
(with less than 10% of calories coming from protein).

The increase in
cancer risk associated with a high-protein diet during these years was on par
with smoking 20 cigarettes per day!

Once over the age of
65, however, cancer mortality data leveled off, indicating that for people over
age 65, there is no meaningful cancer-fighting benefit to a low-protein diet.
At each age, however, those participants who ate a high-protein diet had a five
times greater risk of mortality from diabetes.

Overall, the study
found that people with a high-protein diet were 74% more likely to die of
any cause within the 20-year study period than their low-protein counterparts.

What if we’ve had it
all backward? Is it really possible that most of us are actually
getting too much protein?

Dr. Longo thinks so.
Summarizing the findings, he concluded that the study provided “convincing
evidence that a high-protein diet — particularly if the proteins are
derived from animals — is nearly as bad as smoking for your health

However, according
to the study’s findings, the negative health associations of a
high-protein intake were reduced or eliminated if the proteins came from plants
which leads us to the next point: Not all protein is equal.

Why Where Your Protein Comes From Matters

Although the meat
and dairy industries like to make it sound like animal protein is the prize
protein for your body, science doesn’t back up this claim.
It turns
 that the source of your protein matters and that animal
protein may actually be significantly inferior

In a 2018
study published in the International Journal of
, researchers followed 81,337 participants for six to 12 years.
The researchers looked at the percentage of protein that came from animal and
plant sources for these participants. What they found was that the risk
of cardiovascular deaths steadily climbed with higher consumption of meat
protein — 
but fell steadily with increased consumption of protein
from nuts and

In addition, a 2003
research review published in The
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
confirmed that diets lower in
meat consumption lead to greater longevity

The researchers also
noted that the longer a person’s adherence to a plant-strong diet, the
lower their risk of mortality 
and the higher their life expectancy.

At least one of the
reasons may be the protein IGF-1. Research suggests that animal protein, in particular, causes
higher levels of IGF-1, which may increase your risk of cancer and many
age-related diseases.

Does Protein Make You Lean and Strong?

The right amount of
protein will help you be healthy, but what about the claims that extra protein
intake allows you to release extra weight and is needed to build muscle?

In fact, the
only way to build muscle is through exercise
. Your body needs enough
protein to function, and weightlifters and power athletes may need more than
everyone else. But consuming excess protein by itself won’t give you strength.

For weight loss,
it’s true that protein can help reduce hunger, boost metabolism, and reduce
cravings. But too much protein has too many health downsides to be a desirable
weight loss strategy.

14 Delicious, Plant-Based Protein Foods

There is a
widespread belief that only animal foods provide sufficient complete protein.
But the reality is, many plant-based protein food sources contain abundant and
complete protein. For example, the percentage of calories coming from
protein in tempeh, tofu, or green lentils is actually higher than in bacon or
in cow’s milk.

If you want to get
plenty of plant-based protein, here are some potent sources:

1) Organic Tempeh — (1/2 cup): 16 grams of plant-based

This fermented soy
food has loads of protein. Try it as a substitute for bacon on a BLT, chopped
up on a tasty salad, or in a stir-fry with some colorful veggies. Tempeh also
makes a great addition to chili.

2) Lentils — (1 cup, cooked): 18 grams of plant-based protein

Lentils are a
delicious addition to many meals, and at an average of $2.00 per pound, they’re
highly affordable,

Try red, green,
brown, yellow, or black lentils — and add them to a Buddha bowl, make lentil
, or incorporate them into burritos or tacos.

3) Organic Edamame — (1 cup, cooked): 17 grams of
plant-based protein

This Asian staple is
soy in its most natural state. And it can be quite addictive (in a good way!).

Eat edamame out of
the shell, wrapped up in summer rolls, or as a regular in your salad rotation.

4) Chickpeas — (1 cup, cooked): 16 grams of plant-based

Also known as
garbanzo beans, chickpeas are highly satiating. They’re also the main
ingredient in one of my favorite spreads: hummus.

Try making your own
hummus. Or add chickpeas to salads, bowls, or roast them for a crispy,
on-the-go treat.

5) Black Beans — (1 cup, cooked): 12 grams of plant-based

Chow down on these
protein-rich beans any time of the day.

Combine them with
whole grains for a protein-packed combo, turn them into a spread, or whip them
up into a nourishing soup.

6) Hemp Seeds — (3 Tablespoons): 10 grams of plant-based

These tiny little
seeds pack a powerful dietary punch; they’re rich in protein as well as omega-3
fatty acids.

Small but mighty,
they make a great addition to smoothies, bowls, or sprinkled on salads. Instead
of adding protein powder to your smoothies, add a scoop of hemp seeds.

7) Quinoa — (1 cup, cooked): 9 grams of plant-based

This increasingly
popular seed is on menus everywhere these days. (Yes, it’s technically a
seed — not a grain, though it cooks and tastes like a grain.)

Try quinoa instead
of rice in plant-based sushi with this
 from Lazy Cat Kitchen, use it as a base for bowls, or even make
Quinoa Quiche

8) Organic Extra-Firm Tofu — (3 oz): 9 grams of
plant-based protein

If you’re not a fan
of tofu — you probably just haven’t found your favorite way to eat it. The
possibilities are almost endless with this ancient staple.

Try the extra-firm
variety in stir-fries, marinate it in your favorite sauce, bake it, or plop it
in a soup.

9) Almonds — raw (1/4 cup): 8 grams of plant-based

A perfect on-the-go
snack, almonds are high in healthy fats and other good-for-you ingredients,
including fiber, magnesium, and vitamin B2.

Eat almonds on their
own or smother almond butter on sandwiches or apples. You can also chop them up
and add them as a crunchy addition to your favorite dish.

10) Sunflower Seeds — (1/4 cup, raw): 7 grams of
plant-based protein

These little seeds
have superpowers!

Try them on their
own, sprinkled on salads or zoodle dishes, or even made into a Sunflower Seed
Butter via this
 from Minimalist Baker.

11) Oatmeal — (1 cup, cooked): 6 grams of plant-based

Not just for
breakfast anymore, oatmeal can be included in so many recipes (they even make milkwith it now!).

Make some overnight
oats with this recipe from Cookie and Kate, try this Savory Oatmeal from Forks Over Knives, throw some into
your smoothie, or make oat

12) Broccoli — (1 cup, cooked): 6 grams of plant-based

Broccoli is a
healthy cruciferous vegetable — and also a surprisingly good source of protein.

Add it to salads,
make it into soup, saute it, or add it to quinoa for a protein-packed

13) Chia Seeds — (2 Tablespoons): 6 grams of plant-based

Ch-ch-ch-chia! Sound
familiar? For many folks, their only experience with chia seeds growing up may
have been via the infamous Chia Pets. But these teeny little seeds are now
becoming an increasingly popular superfood because of their high protein,
fiber, and omega-3 fatty acid content.

Make a chia seed
pudding, use chia seeds in smoothies, or add them to salads and oatmeal. And
here’s an important tip
: Like flaxseed,
it’s best to grind your chia seeds to get the most nutrients possible.

14) Pumpkin Seeds — (1 oz, cooked): 4 grams of
plant-based protein

For many people,
roasting fresh pumpkin seeds from a jack-o’-lantern is a fun (and delicious)
fall activity. But even if it’s off-season, you can buy these hearty seeds
(also known as “pepitas”) almost anywhere.

Eat them as a snack
when you travel or throw them on top of salads and bowls. You can also whip
pumpkin seeds into hummus.

Empower Your Protein Intake!

Protein is essential
for your body. But if you want to stay well and avoid disease, it’s best to
source most of your protein from plants. Luckily, the plant kingdom doesn’t
make that hard to do. You can get the protein you need from a variety of
garden-grown goodness every day.

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