Protein and How Much We Need to be Healthy

I hope you have all had a wonderful week. Mine has been jam-packed with my “real job,” finishing a new book called Main Street Vegan, by Victoria Moran, and working on learning my lines for our next production at Cottage Theatre: Almost, Maine

 

(see all about us at: http://www.cottagetheatre.org/almost-maine.html). We open January 31. The set is absolutely magical and it’s going to be a beautiful show — perfect for the month of February! when we are a bit weary about the rain and the cold and our spirits need a bit of a hug. I hope, if you are close by, you will order tickets now. You don’t want to miss this show!

So, I hope your adventure into the new year of improving your health and well-being has kicked off to a phenomenal start; remember that working toward a healthier lifestyle is all about doing what feels right for you and making small sensible changes that don’t overwhelm you.

Fruits & Vegetables

If you’re someone who’s ready to add more vegetables and fruits to your diet go for it. But, do so one day at a time. It will be different for your body. You will notice it reacting differently. Eating raw veggies are great, but eating too many at first might make your system a bit queasy or uneasy, so mix it up and bit and try some steamed or stir-fried or cooked into a soup or stew; or a baked apple or some fruit compote on your toast or added to your oatmeal. Overall, your body will benefit, your energy will pick up, your weight will melt away. The more you make whole-foods the staple of your diet, the “naughty” foods (ones with more fats, sugars and salt) you used to crave won’t even seem like foods anymore. And your skin will be come more clear and radiant.

Many people who want to go more toward a plant-based diet worry that they will become deficient in essential vitamins and minerals (I will address this in another post) and mostly deficient in protein. It seems that as a culture in general we tend to over fixate on protein. And when I have visited with acquaintances, family, friends and colleagues at gatherings, veg workshops and conferences, it’s apparent that many of us don’t really know what it is, what it does or how much of it we really need.

We have some general, abstract ideas from the USDA nutrition guide; My Plate

states we should consume 20 percent protein (it actually divides our plates into 4 sections of approximately 30 percent grains,  30 percent vegetables, 20 percent fruits, and 20 percent protein, 20 percent and a smaller circle that represents dairy (such as a low-fat/nonfat) milk or yogurt cup dairy item such as milk or yogurt). But that’s pretty abstract.

Many of us feel that protein is good for us, that it keeps us trim, makes us strong, that it comes from meat and that if we don’t get enough of it — or enough meat — it makes us feel weak, peaked and tired and we should have some with every meal.

Well, it’s true, we do need protein, but not nearly as much as we have been led to believe. Yes, there are ways not to get enough protein: you have an eating disorder like anorexia, drink way too much alcohol (become an alcoholic which tends to throw off everything in your life), are a junk-food junkie (I think we all know these kinds of foods don’t provide any nutritious nutrients … of any kind) or only eat fruits (yes, they do have some protein, but their proteins are a very low percentage of the calories).

So how much protein should we eat?  “In North America, about 70 percent of dietary protein comes from animal foods. Worldwide, plant foods provide 84 percent of calories. The first scientific studies to determine human protein requirements were conducted in the 1950s. These studies demonstrated that adults require 20-35 grams of protein per day.*  Today, the average American consumes 100-120 grams of protein per day, mostly in the form of animal products. People who eat a vegetable-based diet (vegan) have been found to consume 60-80 grams of protein per day,well above the minimum requirement.** More importantly, eating more plant protein is the key to increasing our micronutrient intake.* Joel Fuhrman, “Magical, Mythical Protein.”

  • *Rose W. The amino acid requirements of adult man. Nutritional Abstracts and Reviews 1957;27:631.
  • **Hardage M. Nutritional studies of vegetarians. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 1966;48:25.

So, don’t over worry the protein or worry about if you add more vegetables and fruits to your diet this year, that you will not get enough protein. Be reassured you will get enough.

I want you to also know that since I have moved into a plant-based eating I do like to reassure myself and feel better when I see and read things that indicate that I am eating healthy and on the right track for a lifelong, lifestyle change. This is not a “diet” for me or a “fad.”

One such reassurance came from something I finished reading on Saturday when I was getting my oil changed, from the book by Victoria Moran, Main Street Vegan. She had asked Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, (which I have read) a 17-year study comparing the diets of 6,500 people, and who is considered a foremost living authority on nutrition, whether a plant-based diet can provide enough or too much protein intake. He stated: “A diet of whole plant-based foods, on average, has the optimum amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, along with a rich supply of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) based on the long-established recommended daily allowances for individual nutrients.”

For me, that’s like getting a standing ovation at one of my theater performances!

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So, in a nutshell, here my next 5 tips for adding more whole-foods; more vegetables and fruits to your diet during 2014:

  1. Make small, sensible changes that don’t overwhelm you.
  2. Add new items to your diet one day at a time.
  3. Don’t worry that you won’t get enough protein and will be weak. Based on a 2,000 calorie intake: Average American Consumes: 100 – 120 grams per day. Standard Protein Recommendations:  Men: 56 grams a day; Women: 46 grams a day. Studies have shown that 20 – 35 grams are sufficient. People who eat vegetable based diets (vegan) tend to eat 60 – 80 grams.
  4. Explore plant-based forms of protein which includes: broccoli rabe, spinach, asparagus, Bok choy, Swiss chard, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, tofu, tempeh, lentils, edamame, oats, beans, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, almonds, wild rice, sunflower seeds, sprouted grain breads.  (if you need more ideas let me know!)
  5. Combine the items listed in #4 into wonderful – simple salads, smoothies, soups, and stews … (remember #1) more bang for your buck all the way around. Lots of snap, crunch and oh so yummy flavors sure to please your palette in every way.

Cheers, Karen

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About karenlynnesnyder

I support others to better health through plant-strong eating and healthy lifestyle choices. I hope my information here helps you with your journey.
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