Why Is Protein Important?
Muscle, hair, skin, and connective tissue are mainly made up of protein. Protein is not only critical to every single cell in your body, but also to the hormones and enzymes your body produces. Protein allows the neurotransmitters on our cells to communicate with each other. Additionally, protein slows down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, lowering elevated blood sugar levels, lowering insulin, and helping the body burn fat.
Since adequate protein is so important to your health, I am combining and expanding information I have shared in the past, so you have a reference to help you choose the best protein for you.
I give the simple answer to the question, “Which protein is best?” in my blog, Animal or Vegetable Protein – Which is Better, by saying:
I try not to get too involved in the debate as to which source of protein is “the best” – animal or plant based – because I believe it’s an individual choice based on results. If the results of a vegetarian diet are that you feel great, then it’s a good choice for you. But if it makes you feel unhealthy, then add other foods.
I would add that your protein sources should be chosen from the highest quality food you can find – organic, natural, free range, grass fed, GMO and hormone free. The “cleaner” the food source, the more availability of valuable nutrients for your body.
This is a good place to start a Food Diary, where you note everything you eat, what time you eat it, and how it makes you feel. Then, you can build your menus from the foods that support your body feeling good. If you would like to find out more about protein and how to choose the best source for you, please read on.
How Do I Know If I’m Getting Enough Protein?
I write extensively about vitalizing foods in my Completement Now Health Program, including Module 5 on The Power of Protein. Here is a list of signs you are not getting enough protein:
- Apathy, irritability and a spaced-out feeling
- Lack of muscle mass and weakness
- Low blood sugar (or constant high and low blood sugar)
- Diarrhea and intolerance to dairy products
- Lack of stomach acids
- Low body temperature
- Cravings for meat, peanut butter, eggs, dairy, nuts or beans
- Poor condition of nails and/or hair
Conversely, here is a list of evidence that you are getting too much protein:
- Your meals consist almost exclusively of meat, eggs or dairy
- Kidney problems
- Kidney stones
- Dehydration – even when you are drinking lots of water
- Ketones in your urine
- Chronic bad breath
- Joint pain
Here’s how you can determine the number of grams of protein you need to eat each day to stay balanced:
• Metric Version: Multiply your ideal body weight in kilograms by 0.8. So, if a healthy
weight for you would be 70kg you need 70 x 0.8 = 56g of protein a day. Multiply by 2 forgrowing infants. Multiply by 1.2 for growing adolescents.
• Imperial Version: Multiply your ideal body weight in pounds by 0.35. So, if a healthy
weight for you would be 110 lbs. you need 110 x 0.35 = 39g of protein a day. Multiply by 0.9 for growing infants. Multiply by 0.54 for growing adolescents.
How to Distribute Protein
Let’s say you discovered you need to consume 60 grams of protein a day. You can simply divide it by three and have 20g at each meal. If you want, though, you can have two heavy protein meals of 30g each and skip having protein with the third meal. Maybe have a fruit smoothie with a scoop of protein powder for breakfast, meat and salad for lunch, then just cooked vegetables and rice for dinner.
Some people find they don’t digest protein well at breakfast or dinner. I’d recommend you eat your highest amount of protein at lunch because this is when your protein-digesting stomach acid is at its best.
What Proteins Do You Eat, Dr. Dean?
In my eBook, ReSet Your Ideal Weight, I list the proteins I enjoy eating. Since I am a Blood Type O, my body functions better with a mixture of plant and animal-based proteins. (For A and AB blood types, a predominately vegetarian diet works well. For B blood types, a mixture works well.) All my protein sources are organic, free range, grass fed, GMO and hormone free.
- Eggs (6g per serving)
- Bacon (3-6g per slice)
- Lamb (21g per serving)
- Chicken (6-35g per serving)
- Wild Caught Salmon and Shrimp (22g per serving)
- Canned Tongol Tuna (40g per serving)
- Nuts (2-8g per serving)
- Seeds (6-19g per serving)
- ReStructure Protein Powder (11 g per serving)
- Yogurt (8-12g per serving)
- Low Lactose Cheese (6-15g per serving)
When I combine one of these proteins with a good organic salad or cooked vegetables and my yogurt and berry dessert, I have a very balanced, nutritious meal plan.
My Sample Entrees
These are the entrees I eat most days, and I do share them in ReSet Your Ideal Weight, too.
- Scrambled eggs made with coconut milk and 2 strips of bacon.
- Lamb chops with steamed green or yellow beans and lots of butter.
- ReStructure smoothie with ¼ cup macadamia nuts, coconut milk, kefir, ¼ cup berries (raspberries, blueberries, strawberries). Add more fat with peanut butter or almond butter.
- Chicken (cut up), macadamia nut pâté, avocado, cut cherry tomatoes.
- Canned wild salmon or canned tongol tuna and macadamia nut pâté with
- Soup from chicken broth with lots of vegetables and coconut milk.
- Shrimp dishes with bacon or cream to increase the fat content.
Use Your Food Diary to Plan Your Proteins
- Get your food diary and a pen or pencil.
- Calculate your protein needs as described earlier and write the number down.
- Use the list of proteins I eat or some other chart for protein rich foods. You may want to print it out and tape it to the inside cover of your food diary.
- Circle the foods you usually eat.
- Now, take a typical day, and figure out how much of those protein foods you eat at each meal. For example, you may have 1 cup of milk with your cereal in the morning. Or you might have half a can of tuna at lunch. Write it down.
- Now use the list or chart to figure out how much protein those servings are providing.
- You should now know whether you are getting too much or too little protein.
- Simply increase or decrease your serving sizes to bring you to the amount you should be eating.
- As you eat different types of protein, always keep note of how what you are eating makes you feel.
The important key factor is that you find proteins that your body likes and that you can combine so that you reach your calculated protein intake for a day.
Protein Rich Foods
Almost all foods have protein, but most vegetables and fruits have so little it’s not worth counting (avocados and olives are exceptions). Grains tend to have more protein (especially quinoa and millet), but they are not complete proteins containing all essential amino acids. So, I wouldn’t recommend you count them entirely for your protein needs.
But if you are relying on legumes for your protein, you should make sure you are eating at least one meal with an equal serving of grains (such as rice or bread). It doesn’t have to be the same meal. However, the legumes and the grains together will supply a complete protein.
For now, I just want to make sure you’re getting the right amount of protein. Even bad protein is better that not enough protein. And too much good protein may be worse than the right amount of not–so–good protein. So, this week let’s just adjust your quantities — don’t focus on what you are eating.
General Sample Menus
Let’s say you determined you need 60g of protein a day. You might divide protein up like this:
If you are a meat–eater:
Breakfast — 3 eggs (18g)
Lunch — 2.5 oz chicken breast (20g)
Dinner — 3.5 oz fish fillet (22g)
If you are a vegetarian:
Breakfast — Oatmeal cooked with 2 cups of milk (16g) and ¼ cup of soaked
almonds (8g) or 3 eggs (18 g)
Lunch — Whole grain or rye sandwich with 4 tablespoons of peanut butter (16g)
Dinner — 1 cup of cooked lentils (16g)
If you are a vegan:
Breakfast — 4 scoops of protein powder in a smoothie (30g)
Lunch — 1 cup of beans in a salad (16g)
Dinner — Nut pâté (14g)
Give Yourself a Few Options
If you are a strict vegan, you can still easily plan main protein dishes between nuts, seeds, legumes and protein powders.
If you eat meat, you have a greater range of variety. You can eat the meat, the dairy and the vegetarian sources of the protein foods listed. Have a routine. Maybe for lunch you rotate between tuna, salmon, cottage cheese or hard boiled eggs. For dinner you can rotate between chicken, beef, fish or dhal made from legumes.
Breakfast can be a protein shake or scrambled eggs or oatmeal with soaked nuts.
Start thinking about protein as being the center of each of your meals. It’s your basic structure after all. On the side include some vegetables. Have fruit for dessert. And if you eat starch, include a little. Ignore the government pyramid where breads and pasta comprise the bulk of each meal and create a flabby structural base.
Questions and Answers
I find protein rich foods hard to digest. What can I do?
Your stomach may not produce enough hydrochloric acid (which helps break down protein). Ironically, protein is necessary to produce hydrochloric acid. So, if you are already protein deficient you may not have enough protein to produce the acid to break down more protein.
Try taking one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in one or one-half cup of warm filtered water before you eat. You can sip it while preparing your meal. The acid in the vinegar will help break down the proteins and stimulate your stomach’s ability to produce its own acid.
You’ll be amazed at how inexpensive a cure this proves to be. You can vary the amount of water depending on how close to your meal you drink it and how much liquid is in your meal already. Digestion is usually better if you don’t water down your gastric juices.
Also, make sure to do the Stomach Vacuum before meals as this will help stimulate your stomach acid. The friendly bacteria in fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut may also help break down the protein. If all else fails, try taking digestive enzymes with HCL.
I have signs of low protein even though I’m eating more than enough. What’s up?
First, make sure you’re not eating too much protein — as you may be overloading your ability to digest all that protein and it’s just being eliminated.
Either way, you are probably not digesting your protein properly. Getting your protein from raw nuts and seeds may be difficult for you unless they are soaked first. Nonorganic or homogenized milk can be very hard to digest, as well. For example, hard cheeses can clog people up. Beans and legumes should be soaked and cooked until soft. Charbroiled meat or burnt meat can also digest poorly.
Some people don’t do well with certain proteins. For example, some people do fine on organic fermented dairy, while others do very poorly.
You also need to make sure you are putting your protein to work. Weight training or body weight exercises in our exercise blogs will help a lot with that. Otherwise, you may not be digesting protein well — in which case you should see my response to the previous question.
I find it hard to get enough protein as a vegetarian or a vegan. I don’t want to eat meat, what can I do?
Even on a strict vegan diet, it shouldn’t be hard to get concentrated sources of protein, after all people in various cultures have been doing it for centuries. But you must work at it. Also, you must be aware that not everyone can be a strict vegan. I have tried vegetarian diets over the years and find that I feel most healthy on an animal-based protein diet.
Soaking and pureeing nuts or seeds can easily provide 20 to 30 g of protein per meal. Organic peanut butter grown in a dry climate free of mold is a quick protein booster. You can also buy or make almond butter, hazelnut butter, pumpkin seed butter, or sunflower seed butter.
Plant- vs. Animal-Based Protein?
If you want to eavesdrop on a debate on this subject, see this article. Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, author of The China Study and a proponent of a vegetarian diet, and Dr. Loren Cordain, Professor in the Department of Health & Exercise Science at Colorado State University, author of The Paleo Diet (animal-based) are at opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s a lengthy transcript but you’ll not find a better overview of this diet controversy.
Dr. Carolyn Dean