Too much of a good thing: We are obsessed with protein

Eating Well: A column by Paul Webster
Posted 4/23/18

I am amazed at how prevalent the word “Protein” is in everyday food advertising. As an elite athlete in the 1980s, I was focused on getting my carbohydrates for energy before competition, not my …

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Too much of a good thing: We are obsessed with protein

Posted

I am amazed at how prevalent the word “Protein” is in everyday food advertising.

As an elite athlete in the 1980s, I was focused on getting my carbohydrates for energy before competition, not my protein.

On the flip side, while creating menus as a restaurant chef, I always focused on what protein I would present on a plate. The focus on protein seems to have taken a leading role in nutrition, but are we getting enough protein in our diets?

What is protein?

Our bodies use protein for growth and maintenance; about 20 percent of the human body is made up of protein. There are 20 amino acids that our body uses as the building blocks of protein and 11 of these amino acids can be made within our body. The nine amino acids that our body cannot make are considered essential, meaning we need to obtain them through diet.

Steak, chicken and fish are complete proteins, meaning they contain all of the amino acids already grouped together forming protein molecules. However, it is important to recognize that when you eat a steak, your body doesn’t take the steak and send it directly to your muscle.

The digestive process breaks down the steak into all of the components — including individual amino acids — and stores the amino acids until they are needed to build specific proteins.

All plants contain the essential amino acids in varying levels, which allows your body to build the protein it needs without eating a complete protein such as a steak.

When I tell people that I eat a plant-based diet, their first question is “Where do you get your protein?” My answer is “I let my body build it from the foods I eat.”

Then I ask them where they get their fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients.

How much protein do we need?

The recommended intake of protein for Americans is 0.8 grams per kilogram of lean body mass. The World Health Organization recommends slightly less protein at 0.66 grams per kilogram of lean body mass. Lean body mass is calculated by subtracting the weight of fat in your body from your total body weight. Because this calculation is not exact, most protein calculators you find on the Internet use actual weight and overestimate protein needs.

Based on these calculations, a 5-foot, 10-inch tall male weighing 170 pounds would need between 40 and 47 grams of protein daily. A 5-foot, 4-inch tall female weighing 130 pounds would need between 28 and 35 grams of protein.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Americans eat far too much protein. The average male in the United States consumes 102 grams of protein per day and the average female consumes 70 grams. Most Americans get their protein from animal products which contain a high amount of saturated fat and cholesterol.

The American Heart Association warns that intake of saturated fat and cholesterol increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer. Proteins from plant sources do not carry the same health risks. For most Americans, it is time to stop focusing on protein and start eating more vegetables with the confidence that they will get enough protein, plus all of the added benefits and reduced health risks of a plant-centered diet.

Paul Webster is certified in Holistic Nutrition, Weight Management, Personal Training, and is a professionally trained chef. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. Questions and Comments can be sent to Info@ServingHealthy.com

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