There are three main macronutrients that build up a healthy meal: proteins, carbohydrates and fats. All of them are equally important for the adequate function of human body, but without a doubt, most myths revolve around proteins. In the old perception, people paired a good looking body and muscles with high protein intake. As a result, many people have followed (and continue to follow) unbalanced diets, often leading to hormonal disorders, kidney problems, or other health issues.
Protein has multiple very important rules in the human body:
- Growth and maintenance of tissues.
- They provide enzymes for digestion, production of energy, blood clotting and muscle contraction.
- Communication between cells, tissues and organs.
- Structural proteins provide cells and tissues with stiffness and rigidity.
- They also transport nutrients in the bloodstream.
- And many more!
Therefore, an adequate amount of protein is crucial to good health. But how much is adequate? There are vastly different opinions on this point. The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) suggests 0.8g/kg of bodyweight (meaning, a 100kg person needs 80g protein a day), or say, 0.36g/lb. This amount is way lower than what an average person would consume, thinking that it will make muscle tissue growth faster. People who hit the gym often takes up to 4g/kg protein, which is absurdly high. And it’s not just so called bodybuilders. In our society, fad diet made us believe, that in order to loose weight, get toned, grow a booty, or whatever you want to achieve, you have to follow a diet high in proteins and low in carbohydrates and fats. This theory first gained popularity in the 90’s, and it haven’t changed ever since.
Consuming too much protein can have an impact on our daily lives. Short term symptoms include skin problems, digestive issues such as bloating, diarrhea or constipation. Long term though, we are talking about a lot more serious symtoms. While it is not fully relevant for otherwise healthy individuals, people with preexisting kidney disease can cause an even greater damage for themselves with high protein intake. Because of the excess nitrogen in the amino acids that make up proteins, damaged kidneys have to work a lot harder to get rid of the extra nitrogen and waste products of protein metabolism. Several studies have shown that extremely high-protein diets, that are particularly high in red meat-based protein are likely to increase the risk of various health issues, including cancer. Apart from that, high consumption of red meat and full-fat dairy foods may lead to heart disease, due to the higher intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.
Protein is not only about quantity but also quality. It is a other stereotype, that you can only eat enough protein by stuffing yourself with huge steaks and chicken breasts, but in reality, with a plant based diet, you can eat more than enough of all the macronutrients, including protein, and it is a way healthier way to fuel your body. You don’t necessary have to follow a full plant based, vegan diet, but just changing up a few things makes a huge difference for your health. These are the foods you should implement in your everyday diet, to increase protein intake, without having meat products only, and these indredients are not only high in protein, but also provide you with all the necessary micronutrients:
legumes such as edamame beans, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas | tofu, tempeh, seitan | nutritional yeast | spelt and teff | hempseed, chia seeds and nuts | amaranth and quinoa | soy milk and other soy products | oats, rice
The ideal amount of protein depends on a number of factors, including age, gender, activity, health and other variables. If you excercise daily, you will need more protein, than someone who doesn’t. If you have competitive goals, this amount can be even higher. But if you simply want to loose weight, or just maintain your health from the inside out, forget about high protein-low carb diets. What you need, is balance of all macronutrients. –Lita