What's the Deal with Protein? How Much is Enough?

Today, we’ve going to talk about the controversy surrounding protein.

Diets like keto and carnivore often promote eating animal products in large quantities, presumably to reach better health goals.

And, everyone from your gym buddy to that influencer on social media has been telling you to eat more meat to get enough protein.

But, how much meat do we really need for optimal health? And, are meat and protein the same thing?

Let’s start at the beginning.

What is Protein:

Protein is one of 3 macronutrients: Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat. All of our food is made up of these 3 macronutrients in different ratios. (Micronutrients, on the other hands, are things like vitamins and minerals that we talked about in the last email.) 

Protein is essential to optimal health. You need protein to support your muscles and to make blood, connective tissue, antibodies, enzymes, and more.

(The other two macronutrients, fat and carbohydrates, are essential to your health as well. Each is required to maintain great health.)

How Much Protein Do You Need?

How much protein we need is a complicated question, but according to United States Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs), people need about 10% protein from calories at the minimum. The range goes up to 35%. 

Most people currently eat about 16% of their calories from protein. This would indicate that most of us are already getting more protein than we need. 


Does Protein = Meat?

Our culture often equates “protein” and “meat”. Now it’s important to note that the two are not the same thing! 
Though many of us equate the two, animal products are not the only way to get protein into our diets. 
And in fact, too much animal product can be bad for our health! Research has shown that regularly eating red meat and processed meat like sausage can raise your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. 
The American Heart Association published a statement in 2001 on dietary protein.
The statement suggested that individuals following a high-protein diet with lots of intake of meat may be at greater risk for several diseases, including metabolic, cardiac, bone, and liver diseases. Since that time, many other experts have weighed in on the harmful effects of a meat-heavy diet. 
Protein is important, but too much MEAT may have negative health consequences. 

So, protein is an important part of our diet, and many of us are likely getting enough of it.


How Should we Get Protein?

So, what are you to do if you want to get enough protein in your diet but also want to decrease your exposure to meat? Use non-animal protein sources, of course! 

Whole plant foods can be excellent sources of protein and other nutrients. 

Some plant products, such as soy beans and quinoa, are complete proteins. That means that they contain all nine essential amino acids that humans need. 

Some plant-based proteins that we recommend include: 

  • Quinoa 
  • Beans
  • Lentils 
  • Chickpeas
  • Chia seeds
  • Nuts
  • Protein-rich vegetables like broccoli and mushrooms

Healthy Tip: Focus on the right kind of protein

If you want to change your health, for the better, without going crazy, switch up your protein source. 

 Some Ideas to Try: 

  • Focus on beans, legumes, nuts, and protein-rich vegetables.
  • Go vegetarian a few times per week, building your meals around beans and legumes for protein.
  • Instead of a hamburger, make your own veggies burger.
  • Have mushrooms on your egg scramble instead of ham.
  • Make three bean chili instead of three meat chili.
  • Rather than snacking on beef jerky, try nut butter and apple slices. 

By focusing on swapping meat for plant-based protein several times per week, you will be decreasing your risk for many different kinds of diseases, including metabolic, cardiac, bone, and liver diseases. 

Swapping meat for vegetarian sources of protein is a relatively easy, painless way to boost your health! No calorie counting required.


Reduce or Eliminate? 

Keep in mind that we say REDUCE your meat consumption; for many of us, we do not need to ELIMINATE meat entirely. 

Many plant-based proteins are NOT complete proteins.  Meat, on the other hand, usually contain all the essential amino acids (making them complete proteins).

 A well-balanced plant-based diet can still provide all the essential amino acids over the course of the day, but incorporating some quantities of meat can be helpful for many people.

 What does the Mediterranean Diet say?

These recommendations are exactly in line with what the Mediterranean Diet recommends. As a reminder, this diet was named the “Best Overall Diet” by a panel of experts for FIVE years in a row! 

So, it’s a great blueprint to follow.

The Mediterranean Diet is primarily a plant-based diet, meaning that the base of the Mediterranean Diet food pyramid is composed of whole plant foods, like veggies, fruits, beans, nuts, and legumes.

Meat is eaten on this diet, but more sparingly than in the Standard American Diet. (Think, once per day or every other day, rather than at every or most meals.) Meat that is eaten is heavily weighted towards fish and seafood, with chicken and white meat eaten less, and red meat only on occasionally.

To recap, our healthy tip is to focus on the right types of protein—way more plant-based proteins and less animal meat!

Things really changed for me when I started seeing the vegetables on my plate as the main dish and meat as the side.

I started putting more effort into making the beans, legumes, and vegetables on my plate delicious, and—surprise!—I started to crave them.

No more microwaved broccoli. Now I was eating roasted broccoli with a balsamic reduction and a sprinkle of crushed walnuts. It was divine. 

Hungry for More? 

If you are interested in eating the right kinds of protein, check out our ‘Jumpstart to the Mediterranean Diet’ Program. This guided support program hand-holds you through the four key pillars of the Mediterranean Diet, including eating the right kind and amount of protein, so that you can get on the road to feeling great and protecting your long-term health today! 


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