Protein: Choose Quality Over Quantity
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Gigi about all things health, the Standard American Diet, and protein for a podcast. There were a few key takeaways I thought we should put down on paper for those who missed it or simply don’t have the time to listen!
First, let’s talk about protein. It’s essentially the building blocks of our body, the stuff that forms the structure of our cells, organs, tissues and enzymes. We couldn’t live without protein. It’s in everything—even bananas have protein.
The most important piece of information to take away from our podcast is this: Most of our ancestors ate meat, but it was in very small amounts. It was eaten once a week as a treat or it was served in small portions alongside grains and vegetables, but it was never the centerpiece and never a daily event. Today, we've turned that around. Many Americans now eat animal protein three times a day, seven days a week, and many of us are afraid to follow pure vegetarian diets because we worry about not getting enough protein or eating “incomplete proteins" from plant sources.
You do not have to be a registered dietitian, nutritionist or a doctor to have a finger on the pulse of what's going on. The fact is, we truly don't need to eat a complete protein in every bite of food or in every meal. Most Americans consume almost twice as much protein in their diet as people in any other country in the world. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is .8 gram per kilogram of body weight or .36 gram per pound of body weight. This equals roughly 50 grams of protein for a 150-pound person or about 10% of your calories, not more than 35%. The WHO recommends even less, landing at .66 gram per kilogram of body weight. In America we are getting 70 to 100 grams without even trying, daily. The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics produced a study that found that, on average, even vegetarians and vegans get 70% more protein than they need every day (70+ grams).
As a culture, protein deficiency in the U.S. is extremely rare. Yes, I know some experts recommend even more than the above statistics, but why? The population with perhaps the highest life expectancy in the world—the Adventist vegetarians in California—doesn’t eat any meat at all. They are one of the five Blue Zones, which are hotspots across the globe with the highest percentage of centenarians. And guess what? The number-one thing Blue Zone populations are found to share after in-depth clinical trials is that they all eat 95% plants, very little animal proteins, and they never count or weigh anything. They are the longest-lived populations to date.
Why are we so hyper-focused on protein in the U.S.? We have women spiraling into disordered eating because a specialist told them they aren’t getting enough protein and they should start tracking and weighing if they want to remain healthy and live long.
Which brings me to my next point, the idea that complete proteins are necessary to sustain health and musculature and that they can come only from animal sources is a completely outdated myth that drives me crazy! As stated above, nearly all foods contain small amounts of protein, and it's very easy to obtain your daily protein requirements from beans, grains, nuts, and green vegetables. The Myth of Complementary Protein is outdated. You will find that any single whole natural plant food, or any combination of them, if eaten as one’s sole source of calories for a day, would provide all of the essential amino acids and not just the minimum requirements but far more than the recommended requirements!
Do you know anyone in your life who is protein deficient? Doubtful. On the flip side, it is likely that someone you love suffers from diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or stroke. I think we need to worry more about eating enough vegetables than we do about whether we get enough protein. The data shows we are getting plenty.
Reminder: Healthy protein sources can come from all foods, but it is the quality you need to focus on not the quantity!
High-Quality Protein Sources include Buckwheat, Quinoa, Nuts, Seeds, Legumes such as Chickpeas, Beans, Green Peas, Lentils (presoaked and well cooked), Non-GMO Organic Tofu and Tempeh, Nori Wraps, Raw Spinach, Spirulina, Fish and Seafood (preferably wild-caught or sustainably caught), Free-range Organic Chicken, Organic Pasture-Raised (local, if possible) Red Meat Products.
- You are getting enough protein.
- Focus on the source and quality over the quantity. Ask yourself these questions: What is your protein “pre-packaged” with? Is it fat, cholesterol and hormones—or is it phytonutrients, antioxidants and minerals?
- Consume animal proteins once a day if desired, 2-3 times a week even better (tap into true ancestral living here).
- Don’t count or weigh grams. Use intuition and mindfulness—look at your food as nourishment, not numbers!
I realize this sets me apart from your conventional nutritionist, but my entire philosophy is lowering the fear around nutritional science. Especially when it comes to protein, stay away from looking at foods as “numbers” rather than nourishment and restore confidence in the individual. Your body will naturally send the signal to eat for whatever your lifestyle is, whether you’re a cross-fitter or someone who practices yoga for 30 minutes a day. Trust your body and our ancestral history.
In good health,Alessandra Taylor
Functional Nutritionist & Founder @aTayloredHealth
Healthy protein can come from a variety of foods, including both plant and animal sources, such as:
- Legumes (presoaked)
- Nuts and Seeds
- Spirulina algae
- Non-GMO, organic tofu and tempeh
- Organic, cultured dairy products, such as kefir and yogurt
- Free-range, organic eggs
- Free-range, organic chicken
- Fish and seafood (preferably wild-caught, or sustainably-caught)
- Organic, pasture-raised (local, if possible) red meat products
- High-quality vegan protein powders, such as hemp protein and peas.