Protein, The Truth About Animal and Plant Sources, And How Much You Really Need

Photo credit:  rawpixel

Photo credit: rawpixel

Let’s talk protein. When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into amino acids (this happens when your gut is working and you are able to digest and absorb nutrients from the food you eat).

Those amino acids build everything in your body. Cells, organs, tissues, hormones, neurotransmitters, bones, joints, hair, skin, RNA, DNA, your genes. Seriously everything.

There are 21 amino acids your body needs to function.

Nine of them are called essential which means you need to get them from foods you eat because your body can’t make them.

Non-essential amino acids, your body can make out of the essential ones. But in times of stress (physical, chemical, emotional, any form of stress), some of those nonessentials become conditionally essential, meaning you also need to get them from foods you eat because your body isn’t able to make them under those conditions.

When you are struggling with symptoms and health problems like digestive symptoms, skin rashes, chronic fatigue, autoimmune disease, and other health problems, this is a significant source of chronic stress, and under these conditions you need to get essential and conditionally essential amino acids from food to support your body so that it can repair, and continue to function.

Protein Sources

Animal foods like chicken, beef, fish, and eggs contain ALL essential and conditionally essential amino acids, and therefore are considered complete proteins. Plant foods do not, and are not complete proteins.

I was asked about broccoli, and am often asked about beans and legumes being good protein sources.

One serving of broccoli is 1/2 cup, and 1 cup of broccoli has 5.7g protein. For one serving of broccoli you’re getting less than 3g of protein.

A ½ cup of cooked beans is a serving size. This quantity of chickpeas contains 20g of protein, and of lentils, 9g.

Let’s compare, 3oz steak has 25g; a small chicken breast 50g; and fish, around 25g in 4oz. Eggs, around 6g per egg.

Plant foods like broccoli, beans and legumes are important because they contain a wide array of vitamins, minerals (as do animal foods), and phytonutrients, which are natural and healthy chemicals that are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory. And you can get some protein from them.

How Much Protein Do You Need

Adults need about .36g per pound of body weight each day. So a sedentary man needs about 56g per day and a woman about 46g per day. BUT these guidelines really are meager and may prevent deficiency, however they may not ensure optimal health and body composition. They do not account for any activity level, illness, injury, stress, or a healing journey.

To nourish your body with the protein it needs to grow, develop, repair, function and thrive, you need anywhere between 70-120g per day for adults so that’s about .53g per p0und of body weight for a 150 pound person to get in 80g (and certainly higher quantities if you’re on a healing journey). Standard recommendations are only .36g per pound of body weight for a 150 pound person and that’s to get in 54g protein per day.

For kids age 4-13 the standard recommendation is .5g per pound of body weight, so a 40 pound child would need 20g protein per day. Remember too that kids are growing and developing and this makes quality protein intake important for them, and even more so when they are on a healing journey (they may need even more).

As an adult, if you want to get all your protein from broccoli you’re going to need to eat at least 12 cups of it, based on a need for 70g per day.

To get the protein you need from beans and legumes based on a need for 70g per day, you’d need to eat almost 2 cups of chickpeas, or almost 4 cups of lentils.

Remember also that beans and legumes are not complete proteins.

It is true that conventional animal foods can be problematic, so we want to focus on quality sources, which are grass fed, free range, pastured, wild caught and organic.

Serving sizes

Kids age 1-3 (3 servings per day)

  • 1 ounce of meat, fish, or chicken

  • 1/4 cup cooked beans

  • 1/2 egg

Kids age 4-6 (3 servings per day)

  • 1 ounce meat, fish, or chicken

  • 1/3 cup cooked beans

  • 1 egg

  • 1 Tbsp nut butter

  • 1/2 ounce nuts or seeds

Kids age 7-10 (3 servings per day)

  • 2-3 ounces meat, fish or chicken

  • 1/2 cup cooked beans

  • 1 - 2 eggs

  • 1-2 Tbsp nut butter

  • 1 ounce nuts or seeds

For older kids and adults (3 servings per day)

  • The size of your palm for meat, fish, or chicken

  • The size of a clenched fist for beans and legumes

  • 2 Tbsp for nut butters

  • A small palm full of nuts

I’m not one for measuring and counting and really, there is so much variation, including quality protein with each meal is my rule of thumb. Not only does it support your body’s need to grow, develop, repair and function, it also balances blood sugar levels (prevents HANGRY), supports better mood, and body composition (more lean mass and less fat mass).

Know This

If you struggle with chronic and complex symptoms and health problems and exclude foods, food groups, and categories of foods from your diet, your ‘healthy’ diet may in fact be part of the problem.

Restrictive diets are a form of chronic stress on your body because your body isn’t getting the nourishment it needs to function.

When your body isn’t getting nourished, imbalances develop and symptoms and health problems follow.

Many of my clients are on restricted diets when they come to me. I commonly see they’ve removed complete proteins from their diet a handful or so years before they developed chronic symptoms and health problems. This is not a coincidence. As we start adding foods to their protein toolbox, symptoms and health problems begin to resolve.

This is the biochemistry of your human body.