How Much Protein Do We Actually Need?

If you’ve been watching your health and nutrition, you’ve no doubt wondered if you were getting enough protein.

Before answering that question, it’s important to understand what proteins are, and how they function in our bodies.

Proteins are Macronutrients, along with Carbs and Fats.

Proteins are made up of amino acids.

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Once consumed and digested, the body breaks apart the amino acids, and then they are reconnected to form structures such as: bone, skin, muscle, organs, hair, and nails.

They are also used in other areas and functions of the body that we are not as aware of, such as enzymes, hormones, hemoglobin, the immune system, repair, brain function, genes, and much more.

The amino acids from proteins also help vitamins and minerals to be utilized properly.

Complete Proteins/ Incomplete Proteins

There are Complete Proteins and Incomplete Proteins.

Complete means that we are getting the full profile of amino acids essential to us.

Any time we say essential in nutrition, it means that the body cannot synthesize it and we need to get it from our diet.

We get Complete Proteins from meat, fish, eggs, and dairy.

We get Incomplete Proteins from legumes, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables.

So, if you have decided to be vegan (which is a good way to save the planet), it is very important that you combine foods to get the full profile of essential amino acids.

A deficiency in any essential amino acid can lead to serious illnesses.

These are just a few of the combinations:

  • almonds / buckwheat
  • barley / kidney beans
  • corn tortillas / beans
  • lima beans / brown rice
  • cauliflower, spinach / cashews
  • hummus / Pita bread
  • mixed vegetables / pumpkin seeds

Do you notice some traditional combinations?

Generally, if you combine beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds you will get the compete profile of the essential amino acids.

A disruption in the synthesis of essential amino acids can also be caused from pollution, alcohol, processed food, smoking, drugs given to animals that provide us with meat sources, and pesticides

If you have been reading my blogs (are you?) you will recall that in my “Why Do We Need Carbs?” post, I mentioned that carbs were the primary source of energy, the secondary source being fat. If the diet is low in carbs and fats, the body will break down tissue. The body does not store amino acids in reserve the way it stores fats.

There are two other important functions of protein in the body. One is to maintain fluid/salt balance. This is how your heart, lungs and nervous system functions properly.

The second function is maintaining Alkaline/acid balance so that the blood is kept at a Ph of 7.5.

Deficiency

Protein deficiency can happen if we are not consuming enough protein or not digesting it properly.

A deficiency in proteins would most likely occur because of starvation. Causes include: unavailable proper nutrition, eating disorders, alcoholism, an undiagnosed digestive disorder, or general poor digestion.

Any of these causes could lead to weight loss (tissue loss), water retention (extremely bloated abdomen), general weakness, hair loss, and an inability to heal wounds.

Excess

If one is consuming too much protein, they run the risk of developing kidney stones: both uric and calcium stones.

Kidney stones occur when calcium is released from the bones. Now remember, we need to keep calcium in the bones in order not to develop osteoporosis, therefore Osteoporosis can also be a risk factor in a high protein diet.

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Protein Powders

There is an abundant selection of protein powders on the market.

It is important to choose the right one according to the results one needs or wants.

Is it a meal replacement?

Is it for bulking up? This one is for those building muscle (and hopefully accompanied by weight training) otherwise – guess what? – you’ll just get fat.

Read labels carefully when choosing a protein supplement to make sure you are getting one without additives, food colouring, or ingredients you may be allergic to.

Requirements

The average adult needs about 0.37 gr per lbs weight or 0.08 gr. per kgs weight. That’s about:

  • 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man.
  • 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.

Pregnant and lactating women need more

A 4-ounce serving of grilled chicken breast, that’s a little bigger than the palm of your hand, has 35 grams of protein.

So, those of you on a high protein diet – are you overdoing it?

Those that have hypoglycemia  (low blood sugar) have a higher requirement for protein.

During any kind of illness or injury, as the body is trying to repair itself, our need for protein increases.

If you need more information about your specific protein needs, consult with a nutritionist.

They will take your whole health and physical needs into consideration to make the proper recommendations.

If you are an athlete, consult with a nutritionist that specializes in sports nutrition, for the same reason as above.

Now, please remember, this blog is NOT to promote a high protein diet.

As Michael Pollan says, “Eat food (not too much), mostly plants.”

The Year of the Pulse

This is the year of the pulse.

Not your heart beat, of course, but dried beans, peas and lentils.

Pulses

  • They are a great source of protein and fibre.
  • They help to reduce cholesterol and control blood sugar levels (that is good news for diabetics and those with hypoglycemia).
  • They are also rich in iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins including folate, thiamin and niacin.
  • They are a wonderful substitute for animal protein and very easy to grow.
    • They are more sustainable.
    • By using only half of the energy input of other crops, they reduce the environmental footprint.
    • It takes far less water to grow pulse than to raise cattle or pigs.

However, most people are shy about cooking pulses because, as we know, not everyone can digest them. Proper cooking is necessary.

“Beans, beans, good for your heart. The more you eat ’em, the more you fart!”

Lentils, split peas and mung beans are easy to cook and soaking is not necessary. However, beans and chick peas have to be soaked for at least 6 hours prior to cooking.

One method of reducing the starches that cause gas is to: bring the beans to boil, pour the water off, rinse and boil again. I won’t go into further detail, because I no longer bother to do this.

There is, instead, a much easier method: cooking with a seaweed (yes, you read right) called Kombu. The Kombu renders the beans very digestible (and no, you do not taste the seaweed).

Kombu

Since I am hopeless at recipes I asked my good friend, vegetarian chef and cookbook author, Nettie Cronish, to provide me with one. (Nettie has just recently co-authored a new book on beans, nuts and seeds called Nourish.) http://www.nettiecronish.com/


Pot-Luck Chili

Prep Time:  30 minutes

Cooking Time:  1 ½ hours

Yield:  10 servings

Ingredients:

1 ½ lbs dried pinto or kidney beans

4 tbsp  olive oil

2 onions, chopped

7 cloves garlic, minced

3 pieces, kombu

1 tbsp ground cumin

½ tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp paprika

2 tbsp chili powder

2 tsp dried basil or oregano

1 tsp salt

1 red pepper, seeded and diced

1 green pepper, seeded and diced

¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced

1 can (28oz/784g) diced tomatoes

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

½ cup chopped fresh basil

1 cup roasted cashews

Method:

  1. Soak the beans for 6 hours.  Drain and rinse carefully, checking for rocks or alien beans.
  2. Heat 2 tbsp of the oil over medium heat in large stockpot.  Sauté 1 onion with 4 cloves garlic for 5 minutes, or until soft.
  3. Add beans, 10 cups water and kombu.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer, skimming and stirring occasionally for 1 ¼ hours, until beans are tender.
  4. Mix  cumin, cayenne, paprika, chili powder, basil and salt together in a small bowl.
  5. In a second stockpot, heat remaining oil and cook remaining onion, 3 of the garlic cloves and peppers for 5 minutes.
  6. Add spices and sun-dried tomatoes.  Continue cooking for 5 minutes. Add water if necessary to prevent spices from sticking.
  7. Add canned tomatoes. Bring to a simmer; cover and simmer over low heat for 25 minutes, stirring often.
  8. Add tomato-peppers sauté to beans.  Continue simmering for 30 minutes or until beans are soft, stirring frequently.
  9. Add vinegar, basil and cashews just before serving.
  10. Serve with pita, cornbread, or bagels.

Note:  1 ½ lbs dried beans = 3 x 19 fl oz (540mL) cans beans

Nutritional Facts:

Calories:  316;   protein: 17g;   carbohydrates: 49g;   fat:  8g; calcium:  128mg;   iron:  7mg;  zinc:  3mg


If you still find the whole soaking thing daunting or, like me, due to time restraints you cook impulsively (no pun intended!), there is a brand of canned pulse that is prepared with seaweed.

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Oh!   you have heard that canned foods are bad for you – well this one is  BPA free.

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So, remember, if you want to keep your heart pulse healthy eat your dried pulse!