February 7, 2012

Do I Eat Enough Protein?

I have had several concerned readers wonder if I am getting enough protein. I have never really questioned it, just assumed I was, but it sounds like the dangers of not consuming enough protein are pretty serious. The eating habits that I am trying to establish now are ones that I want to keep for the rest of my life. Once I get to goal I may be able to add 100-200 calories but that's about all that will change. It's very important that what I am doing currently be a good plan for my health in the long run. So I decided it would definitely be worth it to do some research to answer the question...

Do I eat enough protein?

The long answer:

This is a chart from http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ which is the USDA's nutrition website.

This chart aligns with the amount my FP4H Member's Guide suggests: 5 oz. equivalents of protein per day. As far as I can tell, 5oz. equivalents of protein per day is a pretty standard recommendation for most women. This has been my target for quite some time.

I could probably get away with 5.5 oz. if I really wanted to, and considering I'm not perfect with my measuring/weighing, I likely do. But I fall into the 31-50 range (see above chart) which recommends 5 oz. equivalents per day. I rarely exercise more than 30 minutes a day. Only on my long run days, which is about once a week.

I wasn't satisfied with just these findings, so I researched how many grams of protein that I should consume daily as I know that various food items, no matter what their weight, would contain varying amounts of protein. Sources I found (and I looked at a lot!) suggest anywhere from 45-75 grams per day for a female with all my stats. The results from one of many protein calculators I used:

If I want to consider myself an endurance/resistance athlete (which I don't really) I could increase that amount up to 85 grams per day. That sounds like a lot. But from what I can tell you can't really get too much protein. Anyway...

Let's say 50-80 grams of protein per day is a good amount.I took a few random trackers (since I have a tracker library now!) and tallied up the grams of protein I consumed in those days. I added up the protein from all of the food groups, not just the "protein" category foods. What I found really shocked me.

First of all,  I found that on average, I consume over 80 grams of protein per day! I had no idea.

Second, the whole grains that I eat contain lots of protein! Check out the protein content of these grain items I consume on a regular basis:
  • Whole grain English muffin--5 grams
  • Piece Whole grain bread--4 grams
  • 1 c. Quaker oat cereal--8 grams
  • 1/2 c. Old Fashioned oats--5grams
I was really excited about this as I am slightly self-conscious of my grain consumption. It seems outrageously high but I have been able to lose weight while eating them and I don't like the thought of life without cereal and bread. (5-6 oz. equivalents of grains per day is my goal) I do not eat whole grains exclusively, but on most days more than half of my grains are whole. The "white grains" that I eat contain little to no protein.

I wondered if the grain protein was "as good" as the meat protein since you don't really hear people encouraging the consumption of grains to up your protein. I decided to research the difference in the whole grain protein sources and the protein that comes from meat. My hunch was correct. Kind of.

I'm probably the last person on the planet to know this but in case someone else has been under the rock with me...Protein coming from animal sources (meat, fish, poultry, milk, cheese, and eggs) are considered "complete" which means they contain all of the essential amino acids. Plant sources of protein, like the whole grains I consume or nuts are incomplete proteins because they do not contain every single essential amino acid. The science involved with this is a little too much for me to go into here but basically, because I eat a combination of many different protein sources they combine or "complement" one another to make complete protein. Yay.

Finally,(feel like I'm beating a dead horse here) the amount of meat (usually chicken) that I normally eat in a day provides 40 grams of complete protein which, according to several sources, would be nearly enough for me on its own.

The short answer: Yes, I do eat enough protein. :)

I just wanted to share these findings because I felt like a scientist and/or an investigator today. Hopefully this information will be helpful! And if I missed something crucial in my research let me know;)


Kelliann said...

Something I discovered was that Quinoa is actually the only plant (though many people use it as a grain) that has all the essential amino acids - it's a complete protein! Plus it's YUM! :-)

Keelie said...

Great to know! thanks:)

Ty said...

Also I'm pretty sure when you eat beans and rice together that also creates a "complete protein". :)

I don't think lack of protein is something we have to worry about here. I've never heard of a single person getting sick from it. I don't even know the name for the not-enough-protein-sickness!

I think the only time to be concerned with it is if you are really trying to increase muscle mass.

Meghan said...

That's great! :)

Absolutely, Positively Josie said...

Very thorough, Keelie. I've heard that wheat pita and hummus forms a complete protein, also, I think? When I've watched sweets, I've always been able to lose weight while eating a good amount of grains, as well, even including those evil, adulterous enriched white breads.

Have a great week! Enjoy your protein. =)

Anonymous said...

Huh. Excellent work, Keelie. I was only looking at your "protein" category and thinking that 5 oz wa way too little. which at 40 grams it was. I had no idea that oatmeal and other whole grains had so much protein. :O And I didn't chick how much dairy you were consuming, either.

I have to consume most of my protein form meat since I have to watch the carbs because of the diabetes and the wheat since I'm gluten intolerant.

I may add some oatmeal, tho, and see what it does to my glucose. I love oatmeal! Your research may have earned me a treat. :D Thanks.