Despite our growing obsession with it, protein is no more important than the other two macronutrients we require: carbohydrates and fat. When we strictly minimize one of these or bombard our bodies with another, it throws everything out of balance and health problems ensue. As a nation, we are unthinkably sick, and that is largely a result of our eating habits and the confusion that surrounds nutrition.
So how much protein do we actually need?
DAILY PROTEIN REQUIREMENTS
Babies - 10 grams
Children - 19-34 grams
Teen Boys - 52 grams
Women and Teen Girls - 46 grams
Pregnant or Nursing Women - 71 grams
Men - 56 grams
These estimates include a margin of safety and are actually more than we need on a daily basis. Total grams may vary based on age, lifestyle and activity level, but most people thrive when 5-10% of total calories come from protein. Caloric intake is rarely an issue in this country, and with an emphasis on pounding the protein at every meal, most people are eating in excess of what they truly need.
Have you ever heard of someone being deficient in protein? Neither have I.
Here's the truth: if you are consuming the correct amount of calories for your lifestyle (hopefully from healthful foods!) it is virtually impossible to be protein deficient. The makeup of food is always a combination of protein, carbs and fat, so when we eat enough of it, we get what we need. It's as simple as that! Potatoes, rice, and bananas all have protein. They may not be significant sources of it, but the point is that you really don't have to look very hard to find the stuff!
Today, most Americans consume anywhere from two to five times the recommended amount of protein their bodies need to thrive. FIVE TIMES! That's just crazy. Believe it or not, even those following a whole foods plant-based diet tend to get more protein than they require.
How much is too much, and why?
Animal proteins are escorted into our bodies by saturated fat, cholesterol, hormones, and carcinogens, and they're severely lacking the stuff that we all need more of: fiber and nutrients. When we lean toward high-protein/low-carb diets, we tend not to fill our plates with whole plant foods (whole grains, vegetables, legumes, etc) which aid in cell regeneration and usher out toxins, thus helping us to fight disease.
Geting more "bang" for your protein "buck"
The lesson here is that protein is ridiculously easy to find, and that we really just need to calm down about it already. As you prepare your meals, pay attention to the protein sources you're choosing and consider what else comes along with them. Avoid the fatty stuff and gift yourself with a fiber-filled feast. Your body will thank you!
Take a look at the graphic below to see how easy (and delicious!) it is to reach your protein requirements from plants. I can assure you, I do it every day without even trying!
*this graphic was borrowed from here*