If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ve likely heard about the importance of high-quality protein in your diet. Protein is crucial for a balanced diet because it’s truly a building block of life. Protein helps us build healthy muscles and tissue, and we use its amino acids to carry out nearly every bodily process imaginable. But, how much protein do you need? And how much protein is too much? Many different opinions exist concerning this matter. Let’s clarify your optimal protein needs and debunk some common protein myths.
How much protein is optimal?
The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for men is 56 grams of protein. For women, it’s 46. These numbers change slightly according to weight and age, and whether you’re pregnant, but generally speaking, these are optimal numbers to keep in mind. To get an idea just how easy it is to eat too much protein, here’s an example. Your average chicken breast contains a whopping 54 grams of protein. That about covers the RDA for men, and exceeds the RDA for women! You can see how eating eggs or a protein shake for breakfast, a piece of chicken at lunch, and a serving of turkey, steak, or fish at dinner can lead to an excess in protein.
How much protein is too much?
High-protein diets are often emphasized during weight loss regimens. But, there is such a thing as too much protein, and there’s a sweet spot for your body’s protein needs. So, how much protein is too much? A 2014 study suggests a high protein diet leads to cancer in middle-aged adults. But those who ate protein from animal sources were more likely to get cancer than those who got their protein from plant-based sources. Too much animal protein might trigger a hormone known as insulin growth factor-1, which is linked to tumor growth. Yet another study shows a diet high in animal protein causes insulin resistance in obese postmenopausal women trying to lose weight. As you probably know, insulin resistance is associated with diabetes.
To be on the safe side, make sure you don’t overdo it on animal protein, and get some of your protein from plant sources.
How much protein is too little?
Unless you’re eating primarily processed and packaged food — or you’re on a vegan diet — chances are, you’re getting enough protein. Protein deficiency is rampant in third-world countries, but if you live in the West, and you eat meat, you’re probably getting enough.
If you have the following symptoms, there’s a chance you have a protein deficiency:
- Your body has a hard time with wound healing
- You have a hard time putting on muscle mass even when you lift weights or do weight-bearing activities
- Your fatigue never seems to end
- You experience major mood swings
- Your immune response is low
- You have bone pain
- You have joint pain
Best protein sources from animals
Our bodies know how to easily digest protein sources that come from animals. If you enjoy eating eggs and meat, here are the best sources of animal protein to consume:
- Cage-free eggs
- Wild-caught fatty fish
- Grass-fed beef
- Free-range turkey
- Organic dairy products
- Free-range bison
Best protein sources from plants
The healthiest kinds of protein also contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients. If you focus on protein sources that feed your body with more than just protein, you’re well on your way to eating a more well-rounded diet. Plant-based proteins are essential for ensuring you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs. These foods are the top plant-based sources of protein:
- Beans, lentils, and any other legume
- Quinoa and amaranth
- Nuts like almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, walnuts, pistachios, and pecans
- Seeds like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds
- Kale and spinach
Too much animal protein limits fruit and vegetable intake
As you can see, if your diet consists largely of protein that comes from animals, there’s a good chance you’re eating fewer nutrient-dense foods, which come primarily from plant-based sources. How many of us eat a huge portion of meat for dinner with a small serving of vegetables?
It’s a universally known fact that the most nutrient-rich foods are the ones that prevent diseases and help promote weight loss and overall good health. These foods typically come from plants. A report from the National Cancer Institute explains just how important your fruits and veggies are for cancer prevention.
A big hunk of meat takes up a lot of space on your plate. If another part of it consists of rice or potatoes, there’s hardly enough room for your fruits and veggies! A good way to ensure you’re eating enough fruits and veggies in your diet is to fill half your plate with them. Consider switching your portion sizes: think of your veggies as your main dish, and your meat as a side. You’ll still get enough protein, and you’ll get lots more important nutrients in your diet.
A new dietary perspective
When making dietary changes, you’ll want to take on new perspectives. For instance, if you love eating meat, there’s no need to give it up entirely. Just need to think of it as a delicacy — not something that forms the foundation of your diet.
Focus on getting three things in every meal: protein, healthy fats, and phytonutrients, which are nutrients that come from plant foods. Let’s say you’re used to eating a large cut of meat with a side salad and potatoes for dinner. You can still eat all those foods, but change it up a bit. How about a large salad, topped with nuts, seeds, avocado, as well as grilled steak, salmon, or chicken. Then, you can have a small serving of roasted potatoes on the side. This meal contains, adequate amounts of protein, healthy fats, veggies, and carbohydrates. You’re getting everything you need, but in healthier proportions.
When you dine out, ordering this kind of meal is easy, too. Most restaurants these days are happy to make modifications for anyone with special dietary needs. When in doubt, ask questions. Ask for a vinaigrette, or just olive oil and vinegar, instead of salad dressings made with hydrogenated oils like canola oil.
At Elite Physique, we believe an equal balance of nutrition, activity, rest, and confidence is the foundation for achieving a healthier you. Our personalized weight-loss programs are custom-tailored to help you meet your goals and to address the underlying factors that can make weight-loss difficult. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation!