By Kenny Robinson
One of the most misunderstood views about protein is that you need lots of it to be strong and that animal protein is the best source for good quality protein.
When we look at the strongest animals in nature, they get their protein from plant sources. They are the horse, the ox, the cow, the elephant, the gorilla, the rhinoceros and the hippopotamus. I am sure you have heard the saying, “He is as strong as an ox.” The animals with the shortest relative life span are the carnivores: the lion, the tiger and the wolf.
Are you ready for this? According to an article by Andrew Curry published in the November/December 2009 issue of Archaeology Magazine, a research team led by Karl Grossschmidt, a paleo-pathologist from the Medical University of Vienna, determined that gladiators of the early roman era ate a plant-based diet in the form of barley, vegetables and a brew of charred ash.
Protein is not one super nutrient, but a group of nutrients that are called amino acids. Current research has determined that there are 20 amino acids, and 9 of them are considered essential. They are called essential amino acids because the body cannot produce these nutrients. Estimates are that we need 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. For a woman who weighs 140 pounds her protein intake requirement is about 48 grams.
The type of protein eaten and the amount of protein can make a difference in your health.
“A steak dinner can take you two, maybe three days to get out of your intestine. What that means is the way you digest it is basically to rot it in your intestines. On the other hand, if you eat vegetables and fruits, they’re out of your system in less than 12 hours.” Dr. Mehmet Oz,
Sources of plant protein:
– Believe it or not, 16 ounces of raw kale has 5.8 grams of protein.
– One-half cup of beans contains as much protein as an ounce of broiled steak, which is about 18 grams of protein.
– A cup of iron rich lentils has 18 grams of protein.
– Tofu has 10 grams of protein per cup.
– A cup of cooked spinach has 5 grams of protein.
– Almonds, walnuts, pecans, and pistachios have roughly 7 grams of protein per ounce.
– French beans have 13 grams of protein.
– Boiled peas have 9 grams of protein.
– Hemp seeds (not the kind that come in a bag of weed) have about 11 grams of protein per 30 grams of powder.
– Sprouted grain bread has roughly 10 grams of protein.
– Broccoli is 9 percent protein.
– Sprouts are 35 percent protein.
– Pumpkin seeds and other seeds contain 9 grams of protein per ounce.
– Rolled Organic oats have 5 grams of protein per half cup.
– Quinoa has 8 grams of protein per cooked cup.
A sample menu using a plant-based diet for the day
Morning – A cup of oatmeal with an ounce of nuts and almond milk (5 grams per cup and using a half cup) will yield roughly 22 grams of protein.
Lunch – A cup of lentil soup for lunch with a spinach salad will yield about 23 grams of protein.
Dinner – Red beans and rice with a side of guacamole will yield about 25 grams of protein.
This menu will provide you with 70 grams of protein per day with minimal calories.
There are advantages from eating animal proteins. It is a complete protein, meaning it has all the essential amino acids. According to one study, it makes us feel stronger, more alert and more aggressive (Rosenthal, 2008). Animal protein may offer more nitrogen retaining, anti-catabolic, and muscle-building results than plant protein.
The disadvantages are that digesting protein releases acids that the body usually neutralizes with calcium and other buffering agents in the blood. Eating lots of protein, such as the amounts recommended in the so-called low-carb or no-carb diets, takes lots of calcium, which is pulled out of the body. Some of this may be pulled from bone. (Harvard, 2011). For every ten grams of excess protein consumed, you lose 16 mg of calcium. Doubling protein intake may increase calcium losses by as much as fifty percent.
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) notes that a plant-based diet that includes a variety of healthy plant-based food provides all the protein the body needs. We should also note that protein requirements might be higher for those who consume protein from sources that are less well digested such as cereals and legumes. Proteins do not need to be combined at one meal to ensure we are getting a complete protein. Soy is a complete protein. However, it is a processed food and should be used judiciously.
What if I am an athlete?
The primary fuel for endurance and resistance training is glucose and fatty acids. Glucose is the dominant fuel source. Excess protein comes in the form of excess calories and is stored as fat and too much protein will put additional stress on the kidneys. An individual may need some additional protein because of the continuous breakdown and repair of muscles caused by training. However, the additional calories needed to sustain an endurance athlete will more than provide the necessary additional protein requirement if the athlete is following a balanced plant-based diet.
Meat protein is a controversial subject to many people. Your attachment to it or any food should not be based on emotional response. It should be based on what works for your long-term health. Some people may find it necessary to eat meat on occasion and that is their choice, but it is clear based on current research that it should not be the focal point of your diet. In short, plant-based meals will supply more than enough protein to keep you healthy and strong.
“The author makes no claims or guarantees concerning proper diet or exercise regimen for any individual. All information in this document is for informational purposes only. Please check with your health care practitioner before starting an exercise program or making dietary changes that may adversely impact your health.”