Here’s what happens when you get too little (or too much) protein.
Sure, vegans get asked all the time, but omnivores might take this question for granted. Here’s why it’s an important one to ask.
The Importance of Protein In Our Diet
“A lot of things in our body are made of protein and if you don’t get enough of it in your diet, your body will break down muscles to get it,” says registered dietitian Sarah Greenfield.
A consistent lack of protein in your diet can lead to brittle hair, dull and dry skin, fatigue, feelings of anxiety or depression and even a low sex drive. You’re also prone to unhealthy cravings. Protein, along with fiber and fat, is crucial for keeping blood sugar stable.
On the flip side, too much protein can become acidic in your body and put additional strain on your kidneys. This essentially inhibits your detox pathways. No good, either!
So how much protein is just right?
How Much Protein To Eat Each Day
The exact formula for how much protein you need in a day is 0.8-1 gram of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. The simplified version is this: half of your body weight in pounds is equal to the number of grams of protein you need each day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds you need 75 grams of protein per day.
To continue our example further, here’s what that 75 grams of protein might look like in a day:
2 Eggs – 12 grams
1 Cup Cooked Lentils – 18 grams
1 Chicken Breast – 27 grams
1 Oz Almonds – 6 grams
1/2 Cup Cooked Quinoa – 4 grams
1 Cup Kale – 3 grams
1/2 Cup Cooked Spinach – 3 grams
1/4 Avocado – 1 gram
1/2 Cup Broccoli – 1 gram
What Is A “Complete” Protein?
“Protein is made of strings of amino acid,” Sarah explains. “There are two kinds: essential and non-essential. Non-essential amino acids are the ones your body makes. Essential amino acids are the ones we need to get from our diet. A complete protein contains all the essential amino acids.”
Animal based proteins are convenient for this reason. They naturally contain all the essential amino acids we need.
“For omnivores, I recommend lean proteins like chicken, turkey, fish and eggs,” Sarah tells us. She recommends avoiding low-quality protein that’s inexpensive. The meat in fast food, for example, is going to have a different fat ratio which can be more pro-inflammatory.
What About Vegetarians And Vegans?
Sarah assures us that vegans and vegetarians can get adequate sources of complete protein in their diets, as well. Quinoa and goji berries each have all the essential acids on their own. There are also specific plant-based food combinations that together include a complete protein such as peanut butter and wholegrain bread or black beans and brown rice.