Don’t be too sure you know the answer, it may surprise you. Calorie for calorie, broccoli has more than double the protein than a sirloin steak, but the steak also has 55 mg cholesterol and 1.7 grams of saturated fat. The broccoli? 0 cholesterol and a teeny tiny amount of saturated fat. And in case you might be thinking that broccoli is a “magic” vegetable, and other vegetables don’t have the same sizzle, I can tell you that most vegetables are just as nutrient dense. This means that calorie for calorie, most vegetables (and other plant-based foods) have loads of nutrients, whereas most animal-based foods do not.
What does this mean to you? Well, let’s start with the protein. It seems to be a hot topic, and has been for decades. We started reading about protein when diet books started sweeping the bookstores. Protein has been either something to avoid or something to eat in huge amounts, depending on the diet being touted.
Well, it is neither. Protein is something you need, but too much is harmful. The problem seems to arise when we try to figure how much we each need. How many times have we read that if we are working out or exercising, we need more protein? What we need to understand is that if we are working out or exercising vigorously, we use more protein.
Most of us are already consuming more protein than we can ever possibly use. Getting enough protein is easy. The problem is that too many of us equate protein with meat or other animal products. All of which supply us with an unhealthy dose of cholesterol and fat.
Let’s start with how much protein we need as individuals. We’ll use a basic formula that many health experts have accepted, although they agree that it is the high end. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein for the average, sedentary adult is about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Why do we use a formula that uses kilogram instead of pounds? I have no idea. But we can convert this by taking our weight in pounds and multiplying it by .36, which tells us how many grams of protein we need, if we are sedentary. The more active we are, the more protein we need, but it does not rise exponentially. Our protein needs go up just a little bit as our activity levels increase.
Let’s take a hypothetical person. She is 5’3,” 125 pounds and has long red hair… OK, just the weight is important here. According to the above formula she needs approximately 45 grams of protein a day. As her activity level rises, her protein needs rise, but not by much. And as her weight goes down, her protein needs decrease because there is less body to rebuild.
Protein is required for the building, maintenance, and repair of tissues in the body. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are either made in the body or must be consumed. There are 20 different amino acids in the food we eat, and our body can only make 11 of them. We call the 9 that we cannot make “essential,” and they must be obtained from our diet. They are so easy to get, rest assured. There are amino acids (protein building blocks) in all foods, and in nutrient dense foods, they are in proportion with the other macro nutrients (fats and carbohydrates).
Simply eating a variety of grains, legumes, and vegetables easily provides all of the essential amino acids our bodies require. Don’t worry about putting x with y, just eat lots of different foods and let your body do its job.
Getting your protein needs met by nutrient-dense plant-based foods also helps you be sure you are not overloading on protein. The concern? Excess protein has been linked with osteoporosis, kidney disease, calcium stones in the urinary tract, and many cancers. We are going to discuss all of these topics in greater detail in future articles.
Summary: It is very easy for people to consume all the protein they need from a diet based on plant foods. When doing so, they avoid many of the pitfalls associated with animal-based foods, such as cholesterol, fat, and lack of nutrients.
I spent the earlier part of writing, speaking and coaching career in the health and wellness arena… let me know if you need some personal guidance or a workshop.