How much protein do we need? According to the World Health Organization, we need about 5% of our calories to come from protein. Your lean body mass and physical activity level are what determine your protein requirements (just like your calorie requirements). The average woman needs about 30 grams of protein per day and the average man needs about 40 grams per day.
Protein works just like calories – more is not better, less is better. Unlike what we’ve been led to believe by advertising and the media, you have to make sure you don’t exceed your daily limit otherwise you will be gaining weight and suffering health problems. The traditional diet of Okinawans, the people with the longest life expectancy on earth, is made up mostly of carbohydrates with around 9 percent protein.
The concern about “getting enough protein” is completely misdirected since Americans over consume protein to dangerous levels. You should instead be concerned about whether you are eating enough fiber-containing foods and nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. Fiber is what keeps us full and energized as well as keeping our colon clean.
Everything we eat – whether it comes from plants or animals – has protein. Meat contains fat + protein and Vegetables/Fruits contain carbohydrates + protein. The exceptions are processed foods such as refined sugars/syrups and butter/oils which are purely sugar or fat with no protein. It is important to avoid these empty calories because they are devoid of essential nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and minerals and therefore provide no health benefits, but cause you to gain weight. Just as refined sugar and refined fat (oil) are not good for, refined protein (protein powder) is also not good for you.
With the wild popularity of “high-protein” products, you might believe that you simply can’t overeat protein, but the truth is that consuming excess animal protein from meat, eggs, and dairy items is actually very detrimental to your health, causing stress on kidneys, dehydration, weight gain, and acidic leaching of important bone minerals including calcium.
Meat and dairy products provide way too much protein (23-93% depending on the product). High-protein diets consisting of meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products are also high in unhealthy cholesterol, hormones, fat, and saturated fat.
A 5 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast provides 180 calories with 32 grams of protein, 6 grams of fat, 90 mg of cholesterol, and 360 mg of sodium. It has 0 grams of carbohydrate, fiber, vitamins or minerals which are the actual nutrients the body needs for good health.
The only ideal sources of protein come from whole plant foods. Plant-based sources of protein are superior to meat-based sources because they are naturally packaged with beneficial fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, in addition to having little to no fat and no cholesterol.
On a plant-based diet, if you’re eating enough calories to maintain your ideal weight, then you are also consuming enough protein to keep you healthy.
Beans, legumes and whole grains contain the most protein. While all plant foods such as fruits and vegetables also contain protein, they are lower in calories. So, for example, one cup of raw spinach is 30% protein but contains only 7 calories, whereas one cup of black beans is 26% protein and 218 calories, so you would be getting more protein from eating the beans since they are more calorie-dense.
Active people and athletes require more calories since they are burning more calories and therefore they naturally get more protein by eating more food. The more sedentary you are the less protein and the fewer calories you need.
You’ll notice on nutrition labels that protein is listed, but the daily value percentage is almost never given because as you’ve already learned, each person has different protein needs based on their lean body mass and activity level.
Plant-based meat substitutes
There are plenty of meat substitutes on the market, from burger patties, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, fish fillets, sandwich meats, and more – pretty much anything you might miss when making the switch to a plant-based diet.
- Textured vegetable protein (TVP) is a dehydrated high-protein, high-fiber meat replacement made out of soy flour and is great to use as a substitute for ground meat. It readily absorbs the flavors of the spices and sauces it is cooked in and is good to use in pasta sauce, soup, chili, salads, burritos or sloppy Joes.
- Seitan, also sometimes known as ‘wheat gluten,’ or ‘wheat meat.’ Seitan can be used in many different ways and is similar in texture to real animal meat, and has a high amount of protein. It is commonly used to replace beef, pork, and chicken.
- Portobello mushrooms are great alternatives to burger patties and other grilled meats. Their texture is remarkably similar to some meat and, of course, they are much lower in fat and contain zero cholesterol.
- Tempeh is a product that is derived from soy, made by cooking and fermenting soybeans and then shaping them into patties. You can bake, steam, fry or sauté tempeh and it is a great alternative to meat or fish. Besides the great flavor, tempeh is also high in iron, calcium and protein.
- Legumes such as beans, lentils and peas are great protein-rich substitutes for meats, and can be used in anything from chili to soups.
- Tofu is a good substitute for most meats including chicken, pork and beef, tofu is derived from soybeans and is full of protein (3 ounces of extra-firm tofu has around 8 grams of protein). Tofu is extremely versatile and tasty. You must add seasoning to tofu to make it flavorful, of course, as you would with meat. Frying, grilling and baking are wonderful ways to prepare tofu, giving it a crispy chewy coating. Crumbling tofu with turmeric, garlic, and spices has an amazing similarity to scrambled eggs.
Wheat gluten is protein
Gluten is a protein found in certain grains: wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten is what gives bread its shape and pizza dough its elasticity. Vital wheat gluten, also called seitan, is a meat substitute made from gluten, the main protein of wheat. It is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch granules have been removed, leaving the sticky insoluble gluten as an elastic mass which is then cooked before being eaten. Because gluten is insoluble, it cannot be broken down by the body’s digestive enzymes and passes through the body undigested.
Seitan vs. Steak
Seitan (vital wheat gluten) 3.5 oz = 370 cals and 75g protein
Steak 3.5 oz = 268 cals and 25g protein
Vital wheat gluten has fiber and no cholesterol, whereas steak has cholesterol and no fiber, so seitan is the better choice. Even so-called “lean cuts” of beef or pork and skinless chicken or turkey are high in fat. Since seitan is a plant-based food, the fat in seitan is heart-healthy, monounsaturated fat and the fat in meat is mainly unhealthy saturated fat.
Protein, Muscle and Athletes
Contrary to popular belief, eating protein does not build muscle. The protein you eat is stored as fat unless you work your muscles. The only way to tone or build muscle is to work the muscles through weight resistance training. Strength training is important because it helps counteract muscle loss as you age. Since muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue, muscle mass is a key factor in weight and fat loss.
High-protein diets lack sufficient carbohydrates to replenish muscle glycogen, which results in dehydration. When people eat too much animal protein, excess nitrogen is digested and metabolized. This strains the kidneys, which expel the protein through urine. Over time, people who consume too much animal protein risk loss of kidney function. Research studies have also shown that nitrogen metabolism causes cancer and feeds cancerous tumors.
Men should be concerned that a high protein diet suppresses testosterone. Eating meat and dairy isn’t manly at all – it actually raises estrogen levels and makes you more womanly (even causing man boobs)!
Getting about 10% of calories from protein is enough to put athletes, such as endurance runners, into positive nitrogen balance. Nitrogen balance is one way to estimate how much protein we need. Nitrogen is lost through urine. Just like calories, the amount of nitrogen we need varies based on energy expenditure. So active people and athletes need more protein than the average person, but they get it naturally from eating more calories to sustain their active lifestyle.
At some point during the Malibu Diet if you get the feeling you’re not getting enough protein, this actually means that you’re not getting enough calories. Don’t switch back to foods with cholesterol, just start eating heartier meals with more starches, grains, beans and lentils. For example, just a half cup of cooked soybeans has a whopping 15.5 grams of protein which is 50% of what an average woman needs per day and more than a third of what an average man needs for protein in a day.
Animal Protein and Cancer
Research has shown that many vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices kill cancer cells. Research has also shown that animal protein causes cancer and cooking meat causes carcinogenic chemicals – heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Meat and dairy also contains added carcinogens such as antibiotics, steroids, pesticides, GMOs, chemicals, industrial pollutants, and other toxins. Phytochemicals and antioxidants in plant-based foods help to prevent and heal the body from disease.
Here is just a partial list of things that can go wrong from head to toe if you’re eating too much animal protein:
- You may feel lethargic after meals. Carbohydrates are what give you energy.
- You may have brain fog; the brain runs only on carbs.
- You may start losing hair (whether male or female)
- You may get migraines from inflammation.
- You may have depression and suicidal thoughts.
- You may have acid reflux.
- You may deal with high blood pressure.
- Your immune system weakens so you catch colds easier.
- You get muscle cramps and muscle weakness.
- Your nails may become brittle.
- Your skin may become flaky, red, inflamed and itchy.
- If female, your periods may be painful and difficult.
- If male, too much protein can cause low testosterone, erectile dysfunction, man boobs, and body odor.
- Your legs, ankles, and feet may swell. According to Harvard Health, protein holds salt and water inside the blood vessels causing swelling and edema.
- You may have foot problems such as plantar fasciitis and other inflammatory problems.
Protein Content of Plant-Based Foods
In general, beans/lentils are highest in protein, followed by potatoes and rice, then green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, and fruits come in last for protein content.
Lentils, one cup cooked = 323 calories and 18g of protein
(One cup of lentils has as much protein as three eggs.)
Black beans, one cup = 220 calories and 14.5 grams of protein
Chickpeas, one cup = 210 calories and 11 grams of protein
Russet Potato (medium) = 168 calories and 4.5 grams protein
Sweet potato, one cup = 180 calories and 4 grams of protein
Brown rice, one cup = 215 calories and 5 grams of protein
Rice pasta, one cup = 200 calories and 4 grams of protein
Quinoa, one cup cooked = 230 calories and 8 grams of protein
Oatmeal, one cup cooked = 145 calories and 6g of protein
Soy milk, one cup = 100 calories and 9 grams of protein
Kale, one cup chopped = 34 calories and 2.2 grams of protein
Broccoli, one cup chopped = 31 calories and 2.5 grams protein
Romaine lettuce, one cup = 15 calories and 1 gram of protein
Mushrooms, one cup = 15 calories and 2.2g of protein
Avocado = 320 calories and 4 grams of protein
Walnuts, ¼ cup halves = 200 calories and 5 grams of protein
Peanut butter, 1 tbsp = 94 calories with 4 grams of protein
Banana, one medium = 105 calories and 1.3 grams of protein
Orange, one medium = 70 calories and 1.3 grams of protein
Apple, one medium = 72 calories and 0.36g of protein
Blueberries, one cup = 83 calories and 1g of protein
There are so many plant-based meat substitutes on the market now that cut out the cholesterol and add healthy fiber to your diet. The Gardein brand (Garden + Protein) currently offers the most choices, but other great brands also include Lightlife, Field Roast, Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and many more.
|Meat||Gardein Plant-based Meat Substitutes|
|Beef||Gardein beefless strips|
|Gardein beefless tips|
|Gardein orange beefless bowl|
|Ground beef||Gardein beefless ground|
|Meatballs||Gardein meatless meatballs|
|Meatloaf||Gardein meatless meatloaf|
|Hamburgers||Gardein ultimate beefless burger|
|Burgers||Gardein garden veggie burger|
|Gardein chipotle black bean burger|
|Sliders||Gardein beefless sliders|
|Gardein chick’n sliders|
|Gardein black bean sliders|
|Sausage||Gardein original breakfast saus’age patties|
|Gardein breakfast patties|
|Gardein Italian saus’age & pasta bowl|
|Gardein Italian style rigatoni n’ saus’age|
|Pepperoni Pizza||Gardein meatless pepperoni pizza pockets|
|Pork||Gardein sweet and sour porkless bites|
|Gardein bbq porkless pocket meal|
|Chicken||Gardein chick’n scallopini|
|Gardein chick’n strips|
|Gardein mandarin crispy chick’n|
|Gardein seven grain crispy tenders|
|Gardein teriyaki chick’n strips|
|Gardein crispy chick’n patty|
|Gardein chipotle lime fingers|
|Chicken (cont.)||Gardein chick’n sliders|
|Gardein barbecue chick’n wings|
|Gardein skillet meals|
|Gardein teriyaki chick’n bowl|
|Gardein chick’n fajita bowl|
|Gardein chick’n florentino|
|Gardein chick’n fiesta|
|Gardein asian style chick’n fried rice|
|Turkey||Gardein turk’y cutlets|
|Gardein savory stuffed turk’y|
|Fish/seafood||Gardein golden fishless filet|
|Gardein mini crabless cakes|
Photo credit: naturalproductsinsider.com
Article by Christine & Sonny Gray
Buy the book: Malibu Diet: Have a Summer Body All Year