Researching Nutrition: Protein

I started researching nutrition today. What exactly does the body need to be healthy?

I really don’t know!

I figured protein was a big deal once we cut out meat, then iron, fiber and other vitamins and minerals. Definitely calcium. Beyond that I was a little bit clueless.

The first big question I had was about protein. The obvious source of protein in our diets was meat and milk for a long time, so I really want to be sure that we are getting enough when we cut those things out. I didn’t realize all the other nutrients we get from good quality meat, too, but that’s another post.

Today I just wanted to learn a little bit about protein.

What is protein?

It’s 1 of 3 macronutrients the body uses, along with carbohydrates and fats. It’s the most abundant of the three. It’s essentially what everything we’re made of is built from… hair, muscles, nails, tissues.

Proteins are made up of amino acids. There are 9 amino acids that we have to take in from our diets, and 3 of those are difficult to find, so we have to worry about them more than the others. They are lysine, tryptophan and cystine.

A “complete protein” contains all 9 amino acids, including the sneaky 3. Meat, Eggs and Dairy are the major complete proteins. Quinoa and Soy are plant-based alternatives. Most foods have some of the 9, but we need all of them.

The good news is the body stores amino acids, so in a week if you eat a bunch of foods that have some amino acids but not all of them, there’s a good chance they’ll balance each other out. There’s a whole school of thought devoted to these “complementary proteins.”

So how much protein do we need?

Based on what I’ve seen, women need about 45 grams of protein a day and men need 55 grams. PREGNANT + NURSING WOMEN (i.e., ME) need about 70 grams a day!

I thought that was a lot, but also discovered that the average American gets far more protein than he/she needs. Only about 7% of women are deficient in it, and the study didn’t say anything about deficiencies among men. (Most of these people are eating meat, though. I didn’t find a study for how frequently vegan/vegetarian surpass their protein goals.)

Kids need protein based on their weight and age, each year is different. You can check the chart here.

How much protein is in different foods?

Cup of milk: 8 grams

3 oz. of meat: 21 grams

1 egg: 6 grams

1/2 c. lentils: 9 grams

1/2 c. soybeans: 11 grams

1 c. oatmeal: 6 grams

1/2 c. brown rice: 2.5 grams

2 T. peanut butter: 8 grams

8 oz. almond milk: 1 gram

Are we getting enough?

I decided to use Saturday’s food journal to measure my protein intake and see how much I got without any extra effort or education. I realized after reading back that I didn’t have lunch, so that would make a difference in the future.

My protein intake for the day was 40 grams. That is about half as much as it should be as a pregnant woman but not too far from what a woman who normally weighs about 130 lbs. should be getting.

Gerry has a coworker who owns chickens and sells eggs for $3 a dozen. I think until I figure out how to get over my distaste for soy and beans and tofu, I will request that Gerry buy a dozen or 2 dozen each week. At 6 grams of protein per egg, that would help me reach my recommended daily intake.

Other than that, I just need to eat more food overall!

**Today I also read the following from my Google searches (I wanted to keep the research easy and general for now):

Daily Protein Requirements: Are You Getting Enough? (WebMD)

Vegetarian Protein: Myths and Facts (Savvy Vegetarian)

Protein (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Tips for Vegetarians (Choose My Plate)

What is Protein? (Savvy Vegetarian)

High Protein Foods List (Common Sense Healthy)

High Protein Foods (About.com)

Complementary Protein Myth Won’t Go Away! (Disease Proof)

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2 responses to “Researching Nutrition: Protein

    • That is true – but it’s important to note that you have to eat 4 cups of broccoli to get 100 calories.

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