How much protein can your body actually use?

Healthy Chocolate Milkshakes -  No sugar

Protein shakes, protein bars, and protein powders. These seem to be the three major food groups for athletes and body builders determined to bulk up and build muscle. But is all this extra protein really necessary?

In a small 2009 study, researchers at the University of Texas (hook ‘em!) measured the muscle building rates of 34 adult volunteers (half average age 34, and half average age 68) after giving them different amounts of lean beef to eat. The scientists discovered that while a 4 oz portion of lean beef (about 30g protein) increased muscle synthesis by about 50%, additional protein intake beyond that initial 30g made no difference in muscle building in neither the young nor older adults. So if you have trouble stomaching a large chicken breast, half a dozen hard boiled eggs, and a protein shake at every meal, it looks like you’re off the hook!

Seasons 52

^^ A standard sized salmon fillet (this one is from Seasons 52) has more than enough protein for the average adult looking to build muscle

Not only is high protein consumption (beyond 30g per meal) expensive and unnecessary, but in today’s strained food landscape, it’s also a major drain on resources. The most popular protein sources in the US are animal based, and unfortunately, the livestock industry is one of the most wasteful and excess-driven industries in food. In fact, three-quarters of the world’s agricultural land is used for livestock, yet livestock provide only 16% of the world’s calories. Because of the popularity of meat-centered meals in the US and other developed nations, so much land is being used to feed so few people.

How much protein can your body actually use?

^^ No need to upgrade to the 16-oz steak!

Considering that an 8-oz portion of steak is often labeled a petite cut, most Americans can actually afford to eat less protein at dinner (by choosing smaller cuts of meat, or incorporating meatless proteins). However, this research does suggest that it’s healthy to aim for about 30g of protein at each meal throughout the day, a level that many haven’t quite reached. Currently, many breakfast options (and even some lunch options) fall short of this protein goal. (Admittedly, my daily oatmeal bowl clocks in at only 11g protein.) However, with a little nutrition know-how, it’s easy to balance your daily protein intake. See below for the amount of protein in commonly consumed foods:

Healthy Granola

^^ Greek yogurt is an easy way to add protein at breakfast

Carnivorous Protein Sources:

  • 2 oz sliced deli turkey: 13g
  • 3 oz light canned tuna: 16g
  • 4 oz grilled chicken breast: 24g
  • 6 oz grilled salmon fillet: 34g
  • 6 oz filet mignon: 40g

Vegetarian Protein Sources:

  • 1 whole large egg: 6g
  • 1 large egg white: 3.5g
  • 12 oz skim milk: 12g
  • 1 Greek yogurt cup: 14g
  • 1 string cheese (part skim mozzarella) 7g
  • 1 Luna Bar (chocolate peppermint stick) 8g

Vegan Protein Sources:

  • 12 oz plain soy milk 9g
  • 12 oz unsweetened almond milk 1.5g
  • ½ cup cooked black beans 7.5g
  • ½ cup cooked lentils 9g
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter: 8g
  • 2 tablespoons hummus: 3g

If you’re interested in learning more about sports nutrition, I highly recommend Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. My copy from college is well worn and highlighted, and I’m not even sporty! Upon moving to Boston, I was also excited to hear Nancy Clark speak at a conference up here, as she is local to Massachusetts and does a few speaking events and workshops from time to time. For a closer look at a similar topic, check out this blog post that explores the protein RDA and how much protein we really need.

– Kelly

P.S. While we’re talking about protein shakes, this 2-minute marketing video from Organic Valley (“Save the Bros”) on the dangers of additives in protein shakes is pretty hilarious! It’s pushing an organic protein drink (which we now know is kind of a waste), but I love that it pokes fun at body-building bro culture, and still highlights the unnecessary chemicals in most commercial protein shakes.

Lentil Love

DSC01592

This post has been a long time coming. I seem to find myself talking about lentils more and more these days. In fact, I even did an in-depth commodity report on lentils for one of my gastronomy courses. Lentils are my favorite plant based protein source, not just because they are cheap and shelf stable, but because they are so gosh darn versatile! What else makes lentils so special?

  • Unlike other dried legumes, dried lentils DO NOT require an overnight soak. Simply bring lentils and water to a boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes.
  • Lentils have tons of protein! According to the USDA food and nutrient database, 1/2 cup of cooked lentils has 9g of protein and 115 calories. Compare that to 7.5g of protein and 114 calories for black beans, 7.5g of protein and 112 calories for red kidney beans, and 8.5g of protein and 95 calories for edamame (all for 1/2 cup cooked).

When I catch myself talking about lentils, I am often surprised at how few people I meet actually have experience cooking with them. People often ask me for lentil recipes, so below, I compiled of a list of my 3 favorites (all healthy, of course!). If you have visited me for an extended period of time, chances are, I have made at least one of these recipes for you. Note that I always buy green lentils, but I hope to experiment with red and black one day soon!

Simple Stuffed Sweet Potato with Lentils

1. Lentil Stuffed Sweet Potato: I created this recipe on a day that my cupboards were particularly bare, and it has since become one of my favorite meals. See here for the recipe.

photo-17

2. Lentil Chili: This recipe from Whole Foods Market is incredibly easy and versatile! I always add a can (or 2 ears) of corn for a little bit of sweetness. My finishing touch is a dollop of nonfat, plain Greek yogurt.

sloppy joe

3. Lentil Sloppy Joes: Image and Recipe from Edible Perspective. This vegan recipe from the Edible Perspective is so perfect, that I follow it exactly as it’s written every time. No additions or substitutions necessary. And did I mention that it’s made completely in the slow cooker? Too easy!

Have you caught lentil fever yet? What are some of your favorite lentil recipes?

– Kelly

P.S. I’m not the only one that’s gaga for lentils. Check out this NPR article to learn more about my favorite plant based protein.

Protein: How much do we really need?

Eating a vegetarian diet has had me thinking about protein lately. Am I really getting enough? It’s been said that most Americans eat more than enough protein, but is that really true of vegetarians? And how much do we actually need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8g protein/kg body weight. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for protein is 10-35% of calories. This means that for me personally, my protein RDA is about 40g/day, while my protein AMDR is anywhere from about 40-150g/day. That’s a huge range! Why are they so different? And which one of the recommendations should we go by?

The RDAs were developed in 1941 (during World War II) because food was scarce at the time, and the government wanted to know the minimum level of nutrients that Americans needed without experiencing negative health consequences. Therefore, it is important to remember that the RDAs were developed as the baseline amount to prevent deficiency, not as a goal number for optimal health. Years later, the AMDRs were developed as a range of intake for promoting optimal health. So while it’s definitely true that most Americans eat enough protein, the AMDR range is pretty large, and I would argue that few Americans actually eat too much.

As far as I’m concerned, RDAs are outdated and old news. The AMDR is a much more current number with an identifiable high end and low end. As with most nutrients, it is important to spread protein intake evenly throughout the day to receive maximum health benefits. So try to have at least 1 protein source at each meal, whether or not you are vegetarian. Looking for ideas? See the amount of protein in various foods below.

Carnivorous Protein Sources:

  • 2 oz sliced deli turkey: 13g
  • 3 oz light canned tuna: 16g
  • 4 oz grilled chicken breast: 24g
  • 6 oz grilled salmon fillet: 34g
  • 6 oz filet mignon: 40g

Vegetarian Protein Sources:

  • 1 whole large egg: 6g
  • 1 large egg white: 3.5g
  • 12 oz skim milk: 12g
  • 1 Greek yogurt cup: 14g
  • 1 string cheese (part skim mozzarella) 7g
  • 1 Luna Bar (chocolate peppermint stick) 8g

Vegan Protein Sources:

  • 12 oz plain soy milk 9g
  • 12 oz unsweetened almond milk 1.5g
  • ½ cup cooked black beans 7.5g
  • ½ cup cooked lentils 9g
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter: 8g
  • 2 tablespoons hummus: 3g

Note: Protein levels above were calculated using the USDA Food and Nutrient Database, as well as reading nutrition labels from foods at my house. Also remember that the RDAs and AMDRs are designed with the average healthy adult in mind. Everyone has a different body with unique needs, and your physician or dietitian may recommend otherwise based on your individual circumstances. For a personalized health plan, see your physician or dietitian.

– Kelly