Protein can be a confusing topic. Some people believe we’re not getting enough of it, while others think we put too much emphasis on it. But protein is a macronutrient that is used in almost every biological process in the body…so yes, it is important. That doesn’t mean that we should all be on a carnivore diet eating large amounts of meat at every meal. However, it does mean that we should be paying attention to the quantity and more importantly, quality of the protein in our diets. So what exactly is protein and how much do we really need?
Proteins are made up of molecules called amino acids, of which there are 20 in total. Out of those 20 amino acids, our bodies can only manufacture 11, which means the other 9 need to be obtained through our diet. Those 9 amino acids are called “essential amino acids” for this reason. While animal-based proteins like free-range eggs and grass-fed beef are complete proteins due to the fact they contain all 9 essential amino acids, plant-based proteins tend to lack 1 or more of the essential amino acids. This is why vegans need to be more aware of their protein intake and sources: they need to make sure they’re getting protein from diverse plant-based sources daily in order to ensure they’re getting all 9 essential amino acids. As previously mentioned, protein is used by our bodies for almost every biological process, and the different amino acids complete different functions within the body. So we definitely want to make sure we’re getting all 9 essential amino acids on a daily basis.
Knowing how much protein you need daily can be a little complicated. It depends on your age, sex, height, weight, and activity level. A basic way to calculate it that’s suggested by most experts would be 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. But again, it’s a little more complicated then that and the amount differs from person to person. When figuring out if you’re getting enough protein, it’s important to listen to the signs your body gives you, like hunger levels. If you build yourself a beautiful, nourishing balanced meal that includes what you perceive to be the right amount of macro and micro nutrients for you, but still feel hungry twenty minutes later, that’s a pretty good sign you might need to increase your protein amount. And on the other hand, if you’re eating too much protein, you might suffer with dehydration, constipation or even bad breath.
If you know you’re not getting enough protein in your diet, but struggle with finding ways to boost your levels, there are some super easy changes you can make. Start adding protein powders into your morning smoothies or oats to kickstart your day. Just be sure to read the ingredients to make sure it’s not full of sugars and additives. Make sure your 3pm snack includes a source of protein to fuel you long-term and avoid a sugar crash. Think homemade protein balls, an apple with almond butter or fresh veggies with hummus. One of the easiest ways to boost your protein intake is with hemp seeds. They’re super high in protein and can literally be sprinkled on top of everything, from salads, soups and pastas, to avocado toast, smoothie bowls and chia puddings. And when it comes to plant-based complete protein sources, our favourites are quinoa, buckwheat, hemp seeds, chia seeds and soy proteins like tempeh and organic sprouted tofu. Other wise, if you’re eating plant based, make sure you’re combining different legumes, grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables together to ensure you’re getting the essential amino acids your body needs. At the end of the day, protein is probably more complicated than you think. But with the right diversity of sources and working to become more in-tune with your body’s signals, you’ll be able to fill up your personal protein needs no problem.
Julia Gibson is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner, functional foods recipe developer, and write currently based in Toronto. She hopes to inspire and empower others by creating nourishing foods, living a sustainable life, promoting holistic healing and sharing thoughtful writing.
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