Denver-PROTEINOne of the most common dietary errors I see in patients is inadequate protein consumption.  Protein is necessary for repairing tissues, building muscle and bone, and manufacturing peptide hormones.  The amount of protein you require each day depends upon both your muscle mass and your exercise routine.  A good rule of thumb is to eat a gram of protein for every pound of muscle per day for an average exerciser.  Of course, you would have to know how many pounds of muscle you have in order to make this calculation precisely.  Getting your body scanned with a DXA machine (dual X-ray absorptiometry) is the best way to learn exactly how many pounds of muscle you have, as well as how many pounds of fat you have (and where you carry them).

Here is an example:  I weigh 138 pounds and carry 110 pounds of muscle.  That means that I need to consume 110 grams of protein each day to maintain this amount of muscle.  If I wish to increase my muscle mass, I would have to also increase my protein consumption in order to facilitate the manufacture of more muscle.

Meat (animal flesh, including chicken, fish, beef, wild meat, shellfish) is the most complete and healthy protein you can consume, given that the meat you eat ate healthfully in its lifetime.  That means your beef should be strictly grass-fed and never grain-finished; and your chicken should be pastured, with non-GMO feed supplementation, like flax seed.  It is not healthy to eat beef that has been fed grain, since that changes the entire nutrient profile of the meat in an unhealthy way.  Ah, but that is not the point of this particular article, and has been covered in other writings.

A 5-ounce piece of chicken contains 42 grams of protein.  That is a serving about the size of the palm of your hand.  That is actually a bit of an excess for the amount of protein you should eat at one sitting – above a serving size of 30-35 grams of protein, your body can’t absorb it well and the excess protein intake causes stimulation of insulin secretion which increases fat storage.  4 ounces of chicken, on the other hand, gives you 34 grams of protein, which is an appropriate serving size per meal.  5 ounces of grass-fed beef contains 33 grams of protein, so a 5-ounce serving of beef is an appropriate serving size.  5 ounces of cod contains 32 grams of protein.  So, you get the picture.  When you eat meat, eat between 4 and 5 ounces of meat per serving.  Since it is not healthy to eat more than about 30-35 grams of protein per meal, in order to get enough protein, you must have several servings of protein throughout the day.

Many people choose not to eat that much meat.  Sometimes it feels too heavy, or too expensive, or too inconvenient to prepare.  Some people have religious reasons for avoiding meat.  So how can you get adequate protein in order to maintain a healthy body every day without eating pounds of meat?  Here are several options to consider:

Non-fat Dairy
For people who are not opposed to consuming animal sources of protein and who are not allergic to dairy, Greek yogurt (unflavored), cottage cheese, and ricotta cheese are great choices.  1 cup of plain, non-fat Greek yogurt contains 23 grams of protein (as opposed to 1 cup of regular yogurt, which only contains 11-13 grams).  1 cup of non-fat cottage cheese contains 23 grams of protein.  The pre-digestion process involved in making yogurt, cottage cheese, and ricotta cheese partly denatures the milk proteins, making them less allergenic than other dairy products.  Cheeses can help to supplement your protein intake – for instance 2 ounces of brie contains 12 grams of protein – however, there is enough fat in cheese that the regular consumption may cause you to take in too many calories per day, making it difficult to stay at a healthy lean weight. 

As with dairy, eggs are good choices for protein for people who aren’t allergic or who are not opposed to taking in animal sources of protein.  1 egg contains 6 grams of protein.  If you are depending upon eggs for a meal, you would actually need 5 eggs to get the protein required.  If you are trying to restrict your calories in order to carve off some extra weight, you can use a couple of whole eggs, then 3 additional egg whites to minimize the extra calories from the fat in the egg yolks, yet still get enough protein. 

Pea and Rice protein powder supplements
There are several vegan protein powders on the market.  Hemp, soy, rice, and pea are the major types.  Please always avoid soy.  Most commercial soy in this country has been genetically modified and sprayed with glyphosate, but even if it is organic soy, by nature it disrupts your endocrine system.  Hemp is available, but doesn’t taste very good, and it doesn’t build muscle as well as whey.  Whey protein (isolate or concentrate) is a great muscle builder, but not appropriate for those allergic to dairy or opposed to animal based proteins.  Pea and Rice protein, however, has been shown to build muscle every bit as well as whey protein.

This seed has recently become a popular high-protein meatless alternative in the U.S. diet, but it has been eaten by people in the Andean region of South America for thousands of years. It is a lower carbohydrate alternative to rice, but that doesn’t mean it is as healthy as meat. Although it is a seed, it has the nutritional profile of a grain, which makes it officially a pseudo grain.  Be careful, because it is high glycemic, so pair it with some healthy fat and limit your portion size in order to keep from spiking your blood sugar too high, causing excess fat storage.  Let’s compare 1/3 cup uncooked quinoa with the same amount of uncooked rice.  Quinoa: protein 8g, carbohydrates 37g.  Rice: protein 4g, carbohydrates 51g.  Still high glycemic, and quite low-protein when compared to animal sources, but it is a bit better than rice.  Limit your use and balance it out with healthy fats to minimized its effect on your blood sugar.

Like quinoa, people have eaten lentils as a high-protein food source for thousands of years. Lentils have much more protein than quinoa – 1 cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein and 40 grams of carbohydrates, so be careful with your serving size – that is still quite a bit of carbohydrates unless you have just had a heavy workout. Lentils are versatile in that they can be used in soups, stews, salads, and veggie burgers. They can also be used in different cuisines from Indian to French.

Black Beans
Black beans are similar to lentils in nutritional value – 1 cup of cooked black beans contains 15 grams of protein and 41 grams of carbohydrates.  Just be careful of your serving size!

Almonds are great for snacking, and they are high in protein and fiber. They have a high healthy fat content, so it is important not to eat too much if someone is looking to lose weight. Almonds have iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium, and almond flour can be used in baked goods as a gluten-free alternative to wheat flour.  Just remember how calorically dense they are – ¼ cup of almonds has 8 grams of protein, 8 grams of carbs, but 18 grams of healthy fat – so a whopping 208 calories in just ¼ cup.  When you snack on nuts, always be sure to measure them first and put them in a separate bowl – if you simply snack out of the bag, you are likely to overeat them.

Ezekiel BreadBread is usually not associated with being high protein, but Ezekiel bread is made from higher protein ingredients like beans, lentils, spelt, and barley. The ingredients are sprouted, which increases the amount of fiber and vitamins in this bread, and decreases the inflammatory impact that is usually associated with grains.

Peanut Butter Add some peanut butter to a slice of Ezekiel bread to get an additional protein punch, but don’t put too much on because peanut butter is high in fat and will sabotage any effort to lose weight. Peanut butter is high in fiber, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin B-6. ¼ cup of peanut butter has 15 grams of protein, 14 grams of carbs, and 32 grams of healthy fat – resulting in a whopping 377 calories!  Be careful with the serving size!

I hope these suggestions are helpful.  In order to get the 100-200 grams of protein per day that your body needs, it takes a lot more creativity if you are not eating animal protein.  With the development of some great pea and rice protein supplement powders, you can actually accomplish your lean mass goals!