How Much Protein Do YOU Need?

High protein diets are all the rage right now. Just as we made fat the enemy in the 80's (only to witness a significant increase in the weight of Americans), now we have made carbs the enemy. Many people ARE losing weight through high protein diets, but Ayurvedic wisdom teaches us that extremes are never the answer.

Ayurveda views the recent high protein/high fat diet as a therapeutic diet that can be used short term to reach a desired result...but then what? Numerous studies have shown that eating high amounts of protein long term, especially conventionally raised animal protein, negatively impacts our health, such as increased risk for cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis and a shorter life span. (1-3, 5, 6)

On the flip side, many people who are vegetarian are not getting enough protein. Some signs of protein deficiency are:
- Cravings, especially for sweets
- Difficulty sleeping through the night
- Muscle or joint pain
- Low energy, moodiness

How much protein do you need for long term health?
Protein needs vary from person to person because we are all unique. There is not a single number that works for everyone. According to the Mayo Clinic: "Adults generally need 10 to 35 percent of their total daily calories to come from protein. Based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, this amounts to about 50 to 175 grams a day." (2) But how do you know if you need 10% or 30% of your daily calories to come from protein? (And are you really going to do the math every time you sit down to eat a meal? Likely, you're not.)

3 Tips To Understanding Your Protein Needs

1. Consider your constitution type.
- Vata dominant types tend to need the most protein. It is difficult for most Vatas to be completely vegetarian. Animal protein offers a certain grounding quality that benefits the air and space elements that are high in Vatas, while beans and legumes (except for split mung beans) can be difficult for Vata-type digestion.

- Pittas need some protein, but usually not as much as Vatas. They do best with lean meat, such as freshwater fish and poultry. Many beans and legumes are great for Pitta types, such as garbanzo, fava, lentils and kidney beans. Pork has a cooling quality that calms the excess heat of Pitta. Red meat, eggs and very salty fish should be taken in moderation.

- Kapha dominant types need the least amount of protein, generally speaking. They benefit from plenty of beans and legumes of any type, but are better off choosing lean poultry or fish, and only in moderation.

To determine your constitution type, try this quiz.


2. The Breakfast Test
Try experimenting with your morning meal to see what types of foods you feel best with. Keep a journal to take note of how you feel after a breakfast of just fruit, a hot grain cereal, eggs or meat. Notice how your energy levels are. Are you hungry for lunch? Are you hungry one hour later? This can give some insight to not only how much protein is appropriate for you, but also how different levels of fiber and carbohydrates feel to you.

Not a breakfast person? Check in with your agni levels - if you don't get hungry at meal times and if you have any digestive issues, it is likely that your agni, or digestive fire, is low. (Read more here.) Also, make sure to eat dinner early and close the kitchen by 7pm. Eating late at night can inhibit proper digestion, which may be the cause for lack of hunger in the morning.

3. Test your blood sugar levels.
You can easily test your fasting glucose levels at home using a glucometer. (See this article for more info.) High blood sugar levels may indicate a need for more protein in the diet (4) because protein does not require additional insulin for digestion. Also, if you have difficulty eating just 3 meals per day with out grazing, cravings or crashing then you likely have unstable blood sugar levels and need more protein.

Whether you need more or less protein than your current intake, or if you are at just the right level, make sure you are thoughtful about the types of protein you are choosing. Most people don't eat enough beans and legumes for a portion of their protein intake and would benefit from honoring a "Meatless Monday" ritual. Beans and legumes offer far more fiber than meat, not to mention the benefits of plant-based diets. (1-3) When choosing meat, make sure to buy organic and grass-fed whenever possible. Grass-fed meat and poultry offers anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fats, rather than inflammation-producing Omega 6's like conventionally raised and grain-fed meat and is not necessarily associated with the same health risks. (3)



References:
1. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine - Meat Consumption and Cancer Risk
2. Mayo Clinic - Meatless Meals
3. Dr. Mark Hyman - Is Meat Good or Bad for You?
4. American Diabetes Association - Effect of a High-Protein, Low-Carbohydrate Diet on Blood Glucose Control in People With Type 2 Diabetes
5. The China Study, Campbell & Campbell, Ben Bella Books, 2006
6. The Abascal Way, Kathy Abascal, Tigana Press, 2011

Comments