We are constantly hearing how important protein is for the human body and sometimes, we tie this into the most common belief that protein is needed to build muscle. While this is true, it is not the only reason why we need protein.
One major reason we need protein is to produce important molecules such as hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters, and antibodies that assist with the overall function of the body. Protein is made up of amino acids and is import- ant for the development and maintenance of our muscles and tissues. It also provides us with energy and keeps us feeling satiated.
Many people are confused as to how much protein they actually need with- in their diets and which sources to include. For starters, the amount of protein each person needs may vary and relies on a few factors, activity level being one of them. The basic recommendation for daily protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram (0.36 per pound). For example, if someone weighs 140 lbs, they would need to consume 50.4 grams of protein per day for optimal health. Do keep in mind that this number would slightly increase for someone who is very active (around 1.4–2.0 per kilogram).
In a society where various diets exist, it can be incredibly confusing to know which protein sources to choose and the best sources. Right now, here are the top diets that people are eating: ketogenic, vegan, vegetarian, and paleo. Although many of these do share similar protein sources, you will find new and fresh ideas for protein sources that you can begin introducing into your diet, too.
A ketogenic diet is one that focusses on a higher fat intake and lower car- bohydrates. It is 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbohydrates. The idea of a ketogenic diet is to put your body in a state of ketosis—where your body is burning and using fat as its main source of fuel instead of carbohydrates. In theory, burning “ketones” instead of glucose promotes weight loss while reducing inflammation within the body, improving brain function and providing energy.
Following a ketogenic diet can be very difficult for people to stick to long term because it can be very restrictive. Although a ketogenic diet has many benefits, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this style of diet is right for everyone. For starters, many people do not choose the right types of fats to incorporate into this style of eating. Meaning, they end up choosing fats that are not beneficial for the body such as saturated animal fats that are not organic. Getting enough fibre on a ketogenic diet can also be a problem for many due to the reason that carbohydrates are limited which is where most of the plant-based fibre comes from.
If you are on a ketogenic diet, some excellent sources of protein to include are: avocados, eggs, cheese, seafood, meat/poultry, Greek yogurt, and nuts/ seeds.
Following a vegan diet has become the rage that isn’t just a “diet trend” but rather a way of life for ethical, environmental and health reasons. If you have recently decided to adopt this way of eating, it is important to understand that it must be done correctly, other-wise you may be at risk for nutrient deficiencies. Hopefully, this article will give you some guidance on proper protein choices that you can start incorporating into your day to meet daily nutritional needs.
Vegan diets exclude the consumption of any animal products and focusses on whole plant-based foods. Because so many rely on animal products as protein sources, starting a vegan diet can be a struggle for many in terms of what plant foods have the best sources of protein.
Some wonderful sources of plant-based proteins include: organic sprouted tofu or tempeh, avocados, and nuts/seeds. I personally like to recommend algae, like spirulina and chlorella which are loaded with protein and B vitamins—another nutrient that can become deficient in vegan diets. Spirulina is such a great choice as it has 9x more absorbable protein than beef!
Choosing sprouted or fermented le- gumes such as peas, beans, and len- tils help increase nutrient absorption and are excellent sources of protein. Quinoa and buckwheat are also some other great options. Hemp hearts and chia seeds are both perfect sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, the recipe options with these lovely seeds are unlimited.
Similar to a vegan diet in that vegetarians do not eat any meat, poultry, pork and in most cases seafood. The difference is that some vegetarians include eggs and dairy into their diets while others do not. This is termed as “lac-to-ovo vegetarian.”
If you are currently a vegetarian or thinking of becoming one, I recommend including all of the protein options listed in the vegan diet section as they are similar. If you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian, include eggs, cottage cheese and Greek yogurt in your diet as some great, rich protein sources.
A paleo diet is one that resembles a hunter-gatherer style of eating which includes foods that our ancestors would have eaten thousands of years ago. The focus of a paleo diet is avoiding all grains, in some cases legumes, any processed foods, dairy and trans fats. Paleo dieters include a higher consumption of meat and poultry, nuts/ seeds, and fruits and vegetables.
It is believed that following this style of diet may reduce inflammation, increase energy and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Some excellent sources of protein to include on a paleo diet are: grass-fed meats, nuts/seeds, avocados, sweet potatoes, eggs, fish, and seafood.
More Insight: You might also want to check out our guide to fats!
Author: Andrea Saliba is a certified holistic nutritionist, health coach and group fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. She offers nutrition plans to gain energy, strength and confidence. Her approach is to inspire people to make healthier food choices while educating her clients on the importance of the mind-body connection. You can find her online here.