I’ve never been much of a blogger type before, and I’m not quite sure why because I have a lot I’ve been wanting to share with you all for a while! I think sometimes I get overwhelmed with how much there is to say about all that I’ve learned through school, research and my practice. But really you just have to dive in, so I’m excited to kick off some interesting discussions here. As you’ll gather from my site, I am passionate about helping others rethink old patterns of thought, ingrained ideas, and beliefs about ourselves. I provide that help in the form of support and education, for when we learn we become inspired to evolve. So in this series of posts, I will try to provide a diet or lifestyle related suggestion that may feel healthy in your body, with information around why I think it’s important to share, and some tangible methods to incorporate the change easily into your life.
I thought we’d start off with a seemingly small but important topic, which is how much protein we should all be eating. Its an interesting one because a large portion of the country eats too much protein, and yet in my own communities I often come across people who eat far too little of it.
Protein is an extremely important component of our diets. Protein is comprised of amino acids that build and maintain our bodies. Some of our body structure built by amino acids include our hair, muscles, nails, ligaments, tendons, enzymes, blood, hormones and immune cells. It comprises most aspects of our being, and every single cell in the human body requires protein to exist and function! There is controversy around protein intake, and many have heard that a high protein diet can harm the kidneys. While a low protein diet can be therapeutic for those with kidney disease, that does not mean that a high protein diet causes kidney disease. In fact, there is no research to support increased protein intake has a negative effect on kidney health at all. However, for those eating too little protein, the body will break down muscle and tissue to get what it needs. This leads to muscle deterioration, poor bone health, and decreased immune function. It can cause fatigue, and is associated with hair loss, brittle nails, cold hands and feet, and deficiency of the b-vitamin family, particularly b-12 which is only available in animal protein, and is itself a risk factor for a variety of disease.
There are nine amino acids our body cannot make, so it is essential we get them through dietary means. Complete protein refers to a food that contains all essential amino acids. All animal protein is complete. Plant foods are commonly deficient in at least one amino acid, but can be complete when eaten in combination and in adequate quantities. Proper combinations include grains + legumes, grain + milk products, legumes + nuts/seeds.
While plant foods are integral to a healthy diet, there are many benefits to eating animal meat as your main source of protein. First of all, it is the most bioavailable form of protein, meaning that is the most easily digested and assimilated form of protein for the body. Vegetable protein digestion is dependent on age and the state of the gut. Animal protein is also rich in b-vitamins, zinc, and iron. Organ meat, which I will talk about in a separate post but is THE most nutritious food group – boasting a higher mineral and vitamin content than fruits and vegetables! Many vegetables proteins can also be inflammatory, particularly when eaten in large quantities, such as legumes, grains and nuts. Plant foods are vital for their micro + phyto nutrient content (and their deliciousness!), and are especially important to eat in balance with animal protein because these nutrients are the necessary cofactors that facilitate protein digestion and utilization. However, since animal meat is the most efficient and available form of protein, it is really important to have a balance. But like all foods, the nutrient profile of animal meat is dependent on the quality.
When it comes to animal protein, it’s extremely important to consume high quality sources, which means: grass-fed meat and dairy, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, and wild-caught fish. This ensures that the animals have been raised humanely, given space to roam free on pasture outdoors, consuming food they are meant to eat (grass, worms, dirt, etc.) instead of grain feed. This type of small scale, pasture-raised farming is also beneficial for the environment, which is discussed in greater lengths in the sustainable dish article on my resources page. This meat has the correct omega 6 to omega 3 ratio, contains plentiful vitamins and minerals, and is free of harmful hormones, antibiotics and pesticides!
As with all things, the quantity of protein to eat is specific to the individual. And to figure this out, we will use an equation that takes into consideration a person’s body weight and physical output.
The calculation is in kg so first we need to convert to pounds, which means you need to first divide your body weight in pounds by 2.2. Then, you multiply that number by a number between .8 and 1.7, according to your activity level: .8 for those who are rarely active, and up to 1.7 for athletes, or persons recovering from surgery or trauma. As someone who works out on average 4-5 days a week, I would multiply my body weight by 1.2. I will use my equation as an example below:
133 (my body weight) ÷ 2.2 = 60
60 x 1.2 (my personal activity level) = 72
This means I should be eating a minimum of 72g of protein a day. Next step is to determine how much you should be eating per meal, so if you’re eating three meals a day, you divide your total amount of protein intake by 3. For me, this means I should be eating at least 24g of protein per meal. I also eat two snacks a day, so I will either eat more protein per day, or I will shave off some protein from my meals and divide it between my snacks, so three meals of 20g of protein and two snacks with 4g of protein.
So to give you an idea of what this looks like, 20g of protein is approximately 3-4oz of animal protein, and 4-6oz of vegetable protein. For animal proteins, a 20g serving size would be about the palm of your hand and the thickness of a deck of cards. If your protein calculation indicated you should be eating closer to 30 or 40g of protein per meal, you would want to eat around 6oz of animal protein and 10oz of vegetable protein.
If you do experiment with any recommendations I provide, I would ask you to do a few things. One is monitor for any changes you feel. And keep in mind, you want to monitor all aspects of your being – your mind, soul and body. Meaning, you could experience a shift in your mental state (clarity, focus), your emotional wellbeing (anxiety, depression, irritability) , or any part of your physical body. If the suggestion seems like it would have to do with your stomach, know that you may feel a difference in your joint + back pain. All systems of our body are related, which we will talk about more later on! But start tuning into your whole being and what it is telling you. It is always speaking to you, we just need to learn how to listen. And if you’re having a negative effect from one of the suggestions I offer, I would beg we ask the question – why? We don’t want to ever accept dysfunction, pain, side effects, symptoms – we want to ask why might we be experiencing those sensations.
In this case, if protein isn’t digesting well for you, the solution would not be to avoid protein. We want to look into fixing the broken mechanism that’s making protein digestion difficult. Maybe its low HCL issue (the stomach acid that breaks protein down into amino acids so they can be absorbed). In which case, we may want to supplement that production, but again, we will want to ask – why is it low? Is it due to an autoimmune condition? Is it something in your diet and/or lifestyle that’s inhibiting the production of your digestive juices?
That’s what I love about my client work, and the world of functional medicine + nutrition, we don’t accept the problem – we strive to find the solution through some good old fashioned detective work to address the root cause.
Are you eating enough protein according to the calculation? If you experiment with adjusting your protein intake, I would love to hear any positive or negative changes you experience!