Our culture seems to be obsessed about protein, thanks to various ad campaigns and our obsession with looking buff and losing weight. Just ask any weight lifter what the most important nutrient is for putting on muscle, and they will tell you it’s protein. Take a look at the most popular fad diets on the market, and you’ll notice that they’re just a recycled version of the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that was first popularised by Dr Robert Atkins back in the 1970s. So what’s the truth about protein?
© Joanne Zh | Dreamstime.comYou don’t need as much protein as you think
Have you ever come across a protein-deficient person in your life? It’s highly unlikely. You would first have to be calorie-deficient to be protein-deficient, and most of us consume far too many calories and more protein than our body actually needs.
How much protein do you actually need?
Well, human breast milk contains around 6% protein, and it supports our health and development during the fastest period of growth in our lives. So do you need to consume more protein, then, as you get older? Unless you’re an athlete, you probably don’t. When your cells break down proteins, the proteins’ amino acids return to circulation, where they can be recycled by your body—and it’s this amazing recycling capacity that’s the reason you need so little protein in your diet.
What do the experts say?
The World Health Organization (WHO) state that 0.83 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight would be expected to meet the requirements of most of the healthy adult population, which is approximately 10%–15% of your dietary intake.
However, results from The China Study, the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted, showed that protein consumption that was greater than 10%, in particular animal protein consumption, was directly correlated to an increase in chronic diseases and cancer.
Plant protein is not inferior
Is plant protein inferior to animal protein? No, it’s most certainly not! This is an outdated belief that was based on poorly designed scientific research on rats. As a result, we’ve all been led to believe that we should get our protein from meat and dairy.
The fact is that whole plant foods contain enzymes and every single essential amino acid required for human health and growth. Yes, that means that all raw fruits and vegetables contain protein. So do grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, sprouts, and sea vegetables. This means that diets based solely on plant foods can easily supply the body with adequate amounts of protein.
High-quality plant protein sources
These plant foods contain high-quality proteins, which means they contain all of the essential amino acids in the correct proportion, and they are also jam-packed full of other nutrients too.
- Chlorella and spirulina (about 70% highly digestible protein!)
- Raw hemp seeds
- Raw chia seeds
- Goji berries
- Sunflower greens or sprouts
- Sprouted quinoa
- Sprouted lentils
- Organic tempeh
Fiona Halar is a wholefood nutritionist and long-term vegan whose aim is to inspire people with engaging ideas, perceptive insights, and passionate action, to create vibrant health.
Published: 24 June 2013