Protein is a macronutrient needed throughout the body. It is found in our hair, nails, muscles, skin, hormones, cell structure and more. Did you know the base structure of protein, amino acids, are just as bioavailable in plants as in animal products? A slight difference is seen in available leucine. Lecuine triggers new muscle synthesis. Does this mean vegans and vegetarians aren’t getting enough protein? No, this means more plant-based protein is needed to meet leucine needs.
There is not a set amount of protein needed by everyone. Your weight determines your body’s requirement for protein. For most of us 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day is adequate. This means about 25-30 grams of protein per meal or distributed over three times daily. Research has found not spreading protein intakes over the course of the day leads to frailty and fatigue. However, excessive amounts of protein are not beneficial; the body needs what it can use. Please note, if you are using collagen as your primary protein source it may negatively impact serotonin production as tryptophan intake will be inadequate. Low serotonin can lead to depression.
What about debunking protein myths? Is soy an unsafe protein? Is too much protein harmful to kidneys and bone health? Research has shown moderate consumption of soy foods are not only safe but lower risk of breast and prostate cancer, heart disease, type-2 diabetes and osteoporosis. Tofu, tempeh, miso and edamame are excellent choices providing vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that meat does not. On the subject of kidney health, for those with healthy kidneys protein is not hard on the organs. However, for those with stage 4 or 5 of chronic kidney disease, protein intakes are monitored. Likewise, adequate but not excessive protein consumption will not harm bone health. As a matter of fact, amino acids found in protein play a vital role in building bone and maintaining bone density as we age.
Finally, try not to fall into protein habits. Mix it up. It is alright to have that leftover chicken for breakfast. Or perhaps adding an alternative protein day weekly to get the best of both options. For vegetarians and vegans, don’t shy away from beans. They are a healthy source of protein. Research shows the carbohydrates found in beans do not show cause-and-effect for weight gain. It should also be noted vegetarians and vegans tend to have lower BMIs than their counterparts. Please take a moment to consider your protein habits. Are you eating enough? If not, your body is not getting basic building blocks for a solid foundation of health.
Dianna Richardson of the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center in Jefferson City has served communities as a wellness practitioner for more than 20 years. She has her doctorate degree in naturopathy, a master’s degree in health and wellness, a bachelor’s degree in public health education and is a certified wellness specialist. Core to her practice has been the use of nutrition to enhance health and improve vitality.