The truth about protein
[ As with all posts the below is for informational purposes only. It is not to be considered as medical advice. Before making any changes in diet or health please check with your Pediatrician or Physician first]
This is one of the most perplexing issues confronting those of us who counsel patients to eat healthier. In our culture we have been programmed to believe the word “protein” is synonymous with animal protein. If we are weak, need to build muscle, lose weight, gain weight, have a celebration “ Beef. It”s what’s for dinner”. It’s the food source most people associate with vigorous health. You must need protein ( meat, chicken, turkey) if you are sick or weak. “Make sure to get your protein”is the first remark regarding nutrition when growing up and old. Even for most people who understand there are other sources of protein from plants still believe that meat protein is a better more substantial form of protein . It’s as though everyone pictures a muscle man eating a steak and sickly little guy eating beans and kale. Real men eat meat. Popular concept, but not based on any facts or science. Plant protein calorie per calorie is a healthier form to receive your protein. It does not come with the baggage of meat protein as recent studies linking meat sources of protein with cancer and heart disease have demonstrated .
The most common question I get when anyone hears I am Vegan is where do you get your protein?
My goal in this post is not to advocate for vegan eating or against eating animal sources of protein but to get the facts regarding food sources of protein and their relationship to good health. Many people want to know what are the portions of meat that are necessary to get your needed quantity of protein and how to replace the amount of animal protein in order to eat healthier especially if they want their child to attain a healthier weight . The overall amount of meat we eat in order to get protein in in the US is well over the maximum protein amount we need for good health. In fact, many sources believe the excess protein we ingest from animal protein is part of the problem regarding our poor health as a nation.
- Can you get enough protein from plant based foods? Yes
- Plant based foods source of protein is healthier than animal protein. Plants have no fat, no cholesterol, have phenols, anti-inflammatory, and high fiber.
- Nuts , seeds, beans, all have plenty of protein. nuts 18 gm , seeds 30 gm, beans 15 gm-
Compared to a hamburger 16 gm, 3 oz steak 25 gm, 3 oz chicken 15.8 gm.
- Nut butters, hummus, tofu and tempeh are all high protein high nutrient easy to eat foods that are vegan and add to your health.
- Bean dishes of all sorts have high protein, high fiber and add to your health. Improving colon health, heart health, lowering cholesterol and maintaining a healthy weight.
- Grains also have good protein. Even brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa all are healthy source of protein.
- Do greens have protein? Yes. Broccoli for instance has 16.7 gm per bunch
- Even some berries have protein . Goji berries have 4.7 gm of protein
In the US the recommended amount of daily protein is 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women.
At one year of age approximately 12 grams of protein a day is what is recommended- (see chart below for more details on protein amount and requirements).
Your source of protein is the key to good health – whatever the number or percentage of calories you follow , the majority of the calories from protein should not be animal protein because of the dangerous fat and harmful elements for health. Animal protein should be at most a supplementary source of calories to maximize health. Too much protein is harmful to your liver and kidney and over indulging in animal protein causes damage in all organs.
What is your main source of protein? Is it a healthy source?
You will find that there are more sources of protein than you knew. A good varied diet with an abundance of plant protein sources is easy and healthful.
Scroll down for the answer and to try to match vegetable protein to the below examples of meat protein.
Red meat- hamburger single patty 15.7 gram protein ; 25 % of calories from protein.
-3 oz steak 25 gram of protein; 36% of calories from protein
Chicken breast tenders 3 oz 15.8 grams protein ; 22% of calories from protein
Turkey breast 22.2 gram of protein; 74 % of calories from protein
Below is a table comparing average protein content of food groups.
Protein avg cup % Adult American RDA
|Beef||80 grams / 3oz=31 gm||120%/ 60%|
|Chicken||55 grams / 3 oz = 22 gms||100%/ 45%|
|Fish||62 grams /. 3oz= 22 gms||100%/ 45%|
|Dairy/ cheese/milk||9 grams slice/ 8gms cup||16%|
|vegetables/greens||4- 5 gram||10%|
|Grains||6 – 8 grams||15%|
These percentages are based on the American version of the daily protein requirements. But the WHO organization and most healthful guidelines prefer a much lower number of required protein for maximum health especially for kidney and other organ maximum function.
Below is a table of age and protein requirements
Age Female protein req per day Male Protein req per day
|Newborn||10 – 12 grams||same|
|1 -3 yo||13-20 grams||same|
|4-8 yo||19- 25 grams||same|
|9-13 yo||34 gams||same|
|14-18 yo||46 grams||56 grams|
|Adult||46 grams||56 grams|
Protein minimum requirements per age. Generally based on weight and US standards
Sample of “ Healthful foods” and their protein content.
Broccoli – 1 bunch cooked 16.7 gram 47% calories from protein/ 100gm 3.8 gram protein
Spinach cooked 5.3 grams of protein cup cooked , 41% of calories from protein
Kale 100 gram 1.9 gram protein / cup chopped 2.5 gram of protein 23% of calories from protein
Sweet potato 1 medium 2.3 gram of protein 9 % of calories from protein
White potato baked 4.3 gram for medium potato, 10 % of calories from protein
Peas- 5.4 grams of protein /100 gm 7.9 gm cup
Mushrooms 5.6 grams per cup,
Corn 4.7 grams per cup
Brussel sprouts 2 grams per 1/2 cup of protein
Squash 5.1 grams per cup of protein
Cauliflower 2.1 grams per cup of protein
Rye 17.5 grams cup uncooked
Brown rice 5 grams protein cooked per cup
Wild rice 6.5 grams protein cooked per cup
Barley 3.5 grams protein per cooked cup
Couscous 6 of grams of protein per cooked cup
Quinoa 8.1 grams of protein cooked per cup
Oatmeal 5.9 grams of protein cooked per cup
Amaranth 9.3 grams of cooked protein per cup
Whole wheat pasta 7.5 grams of protein cooked per cup
Soybeans roasted 36.8 grams protein per cup
Lentils cooked 18 grams protein per cup
Kidney beans cooked 15.5 grams protein per cup
Baked beans 14 grams protein per cup
Black beans cooked 15.5 grams protein per cup
Split peas cooked 16.3 grams of protein per cup
Pinto beans cooked 15.4 grams of protein per cup
Chickpeas cooked 14.5 grams of protein per cup
Nuts and Seeds
Almonds 6 grams per ounce 20 grams per cup
Cashews 5 grams per oz 21 grams per cup
Walnuts 4.3 grams per oz 18 grams per cup
Macadamia 2.2 grams per oz 11 grams per cup
Pistachio 6 grams per oz 25 grams per cup
Pecans 2.6 grams per oz 13 grams per cup
Chia seeds 4.7 grams per oz 33 grams per cup
Flax seeds 1 tablespoon 1.3 gm 31 grams per cup
Sunflower seeds 29 grams per cup
Pumpkin seeds 12 grams per cup
Sesame seeds 26 grams per cup
By looking at the above list you get the idea that if you eat a bountiful meal of grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds you get more than enough protein. This should be motivation along with being healthful to lower the quantity of meat sources of protein without fear of wasting away from protein malnutrition. Look at the amount of food you could eat to be completely full for about the same calories and same protein. You would get away with less harmful fat by varying your protein sources. In addition, vegetable protein comes with heart protecting anti inflammatory properties.
Which do you think is a more healthful way to get the same protein? One burger or a cup of good grains with vegetables, beans and seeds? Which has more fiber? Is filled with more good vitamins? Has a more anti inflammatory effect? Which plate of food will harm your heart and blood vessels less? Help your digestive system more and help prevent colon cancer ? All this and still get enough muscle building protein?
If you know the answer to all these questions you are a step closer to being Healthful
“Vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds is what’s for dinner!”
Warren Krantz MD, FAAP
Future blogs will detail healthy protein rich meals and servings of healthy protein filled foods.