Protein intake is important for athletes and non-athletes alike and is often the topic of hot debate. The average person needs about 0.6-0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, depending on activity level, to build muscle and thrive.i That means that the average 150-pound person needs between 90 and 135 grams of protein per day. Lower estimates of protein requirements tend to focus on a minimum to prevent deficiency, rather than seeing weight loss or muscle gain results.
The timing of our protein may not be as important as simply getting enough throughout the day.ii That being said, we do still want to spread out servings of protein to ensure we are putting the nutrients to work. Studies have shown that a person who eats 90 grams of protein in one serving receives about as much of the muscle-building benefits as someone who eats 30 grams of protein, at a higher caloric intakeiii. One way or another, we all need to get a good amount of protein every day to feel great, keep our blood sugar stable, and feel full.
Generally speaking, protein conversations fall into two camps: animal-based protein, and plant-based protein. Proponents of each insist their favorite is the only option, so let’s take a look at some pros and cons of the most popular types of protein you will see at your local grocery store.
Animal protein refers simply to any type of protein derived from an animal. This includes meat, fish, eggs, dairy, etc.
Animal protein is the most widely available type of protein in the developing world. If you go to any restaurant, you are pretty much guaranteed to be able to get a serving of meat. Most cultures have dishes designed around chicken at the very least, so it is something most of us will grow up with.
Animal protein offers all nine essential amino acids that our bodies require, making it a complete protein. In addition, vitamins A, D, and the B series are most bioavailable in meat sources, and we can stock up on minerals like zinc and ironiv. Foods like fish and eggs also offer a high dose of healthy fats which contribute positively to our overall health.
It is much easier to reach our daily protein intake goals when we are eating animal protein because a 3 ounce serving of meat (about the size of a deck of cards) offers between 20 and 30 grams of protein. The possibilities with animal protein are seemingly endless as there are many different cuts of each animal, several by-products like eggs and dairy, and myriad ways to prepare dishes.
While animal protein is our standard, meat and animal by-products can be expensive. Many cultures have go-to vegetarian dishes because meat simply isn’t reliably available. These days, most of the meat on shelves in North America is highly genetically modified and laden with hormones and antibiotics to keep up with demand. Finding grass-fed, organic meat is imperative for sustaining good health.
Not all meats are created equally. Lean cuts of meat like chicken and turkey, and high healthy fat options like fish and eggs are generally fairly risk-free, but dairy and red meats like beef and pork have more saturated fats, sodium, and cholesterol. Red meats and dairy are hard to digest for some and are considered to be inflammatory, making conditions like arthritis worsev.
Cooking meat can be time consuming, so many folks opt for processed meats which do not do us any favors. Making the time to cook two to three times per day can be taxing for busy people, and there is always a risk of food not being cooked well enough, leading to illness. Investing in a digital meat thermometer is highly recommended.
Plant-based diets are full of vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, seeds and legumes. Vegetarian diets include dairy and eggs, while strict vegan diets avoid anything that comes from an animal.
Plant-based diets are considered to be among the healthiest in the world. The low saturated fat content of plant-based foods is considered to be heart-healthy and the ideal way to maintain a healthy body weight.
While plant-based proteins are not all in themselves complete, eating plant-based proteins in good combination can provide all the essential amino acids that meat offers. Complete, vegetarian, high-protein options have become more widely available over the last few years. Look for hemp hearts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, spirulina, and soy in your grocery store.
Preparing vegetarian protein is generally quite simple. A handful of nuts as a snack, a half cup of chickpeas tossed onto a salad, or hemp hearts added to just about anything will amp up protein content. We are not as at risk of foodborne illness with vegetarian protein, so it is handy for new cooks.
While vegetarians are generally considered to be healthy and fit, many vegetarians fall prey to weight gain because of the high carbohydrate, low protein trap of their diet choices. While options like beans and legumes are high protein, they are also higher in carbohydrates than animal-based protein, which can lead to weight gain. Many vegetarians do not get adequate protein throughout the day because the amount of protein per calorie is lower than with animal protein options.
Vegetarians are often nutrient deficient because of a lack of variety in their diets. When we eat the same foods all the time, no matter how healthy, we are obtaining the same nutrients over and over. This means we are consistently missing the same nutrients as well. Vegetarian diets are often low in iron, zinc and B vitamins, so supplementation may be necessary.
Soy is a staple of vegetarian diets, with foods like tofu, tempeh and protein powders widely available. Soy is a highly debated topic because of possible estrogenic effects. The jury is still out on whether or not soy can increase estrogen, but most recent research suggests that organic soy is of no dangervi.
The highly genetically modified quality of soy is something to consider in the context of choosing all organic produce wherever possible.
In conclusion, there are benefits and drawbacks to both animal and plant-based proteins. Be sure to pay attention to your overall diet, ensuring varied protein sources and significant fiber throughout the day. Everyone has different needs, be it allergy, performance, weight-loss or gain, preparation time, or simply flavor, so I will leave it to you to decide which is your ideal choice.
Sign up to get the latest on sales, new releases and more …