Enough Protein to Keep From Losing Your Mind

Maintain vegetarian sanity.

By Kevin RR Williams

NUTRITION According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, an adult on a 2200-calorie per day diet may consume 6 ounces of daily protein. This may be a bit more realistic than the 2000-calorie, 5-ounce average typically used. Either way, nutritional labels are routinely expressed in grams, which leads to conversion confusion. Furthermore, the amount of actual protein within different cuts of meat of the same weight is not identical. The recommended daily grams of protein for individuals varies by gender, weight, age, and activity level. Loss of muscle mass is typical as we age. This can increase protein requirements by 50 percent when we get above 70 years old. Some contend that protein requirements decrease by age 90. Yet, there currently is no consensus on whether dietary protein needs change with advancing age.

The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. For "average" weight and age adults, this amounts to 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man and 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman. But few people are "average.” Athletes, pregnant and nursing women require more protein than normal. The goal is to consume enough protein for your individual needs, which is enough to make you feel good. A nutritionist can help develop a custom plan for you.

To avoid taking in too much protein, those who are “obese” (body fat over 20/30% or a BMI greater than 30 without significant levels of muscle mass) should base their protein requriements on the corresponding “overweight” BMI weight.

Sedentary Adult Protein Requirements
Gender/Age Weight Grams Per Pound Daily Req
Man (18<70 yrs) 155 lbs (70 kg) 0.36 g 56 g
Woman (13<70 yrs) 128 lbs (58 kg) 0.36 g 46 g
Man (18<70 yrs) 220 lbs (70 kg) 0.36 g 79 g
Man (>70 yrs) 180 lbs (82 kg) 0.50 g 90 g
Woman (>70 yrs) 150 lbs (68 kg) 0.50 g 75 g
Man (>70 yrs) 220 lbs (100 kg) 0.50 g 110 g
Those over 70 might simply calculate half their weight (pounds) as grams.

An omnivorous adult female aged over 70 might satisfy her protein requirement (80–90 g) by having two eggs, two pork sausage links and 8 ounces of 2% milk for breakfast (27 g), a sandwich with two slices of turkey and one of cheddar cheese for lunch (17 g), and an 8-ounce top sirloin steak for dinner (32 g).

Blog: Vegetarian “Meat” Alternatives

Health permitting, a vegetarian diet is currently my personal preference. In this case, consuming sufficient protein is a bit more challenging. Many restaurants do not offer suitable vegetarian protein options; omitting meat from an entree generally results in more carbohydrates and a higher protein requirement for the next meal.

Balancing Protein With Calories

As mentioned, the gross weight of a food item does not exactly correspond to its protein content. A 15.2-ounce (450 ml) Odwalla protein shake is labeled for 32 grams of protein. (This compares well to just 2 grams within 16 ounces of unsweetened vanilla flavored almond milk.) Drinking 3 bottles of Odwalla Vanilla Protein provides adequate daily protein. (Some varieties contain 25 grams of protein.) But at 370 calories each, you would reach about half your daily allotment at 1110 calories before having one bite of solid food.

At 5 grams each, an unrealistic 18 slices of Tillamook sharp cheddar cheese will get you enough protein—along with 1620 calories. There are 30 grams of protein and 680 calories in one cup (140 g) of whole raw almonds. It would take three cups to provide sufficient protein. But your waistline will be the collateral damage with 2040 calories if you try to live off nuts every day.

An average-size avocado contains 4 grams of protein. You would need to consume about 22 in order for your daily protein requirement. At 322 calories each, you’d be waddling away from the kitchen with 7084 calories. That’s before adding the onions, tomatoes, salt and chili powder for guacamole. Forget about the chips!

Comparison For ±90 Grams of Protein
Product Serving Size Calories Protein
Odwalla Vanilla Shake 45.6 oz (3 btls) 1110 96 g
Silk Almond Milk 720 oz (90 c.) 2700 90 g
Tillamook Cheddar 18 slices (1 lb) 1620 90 g
Raw Almonds 3 cups 2040 90 g
Avocados (whole) 22 (7 lbs) 7084 88 g
Skinless Chicken Breast 14 oz (3.5 4‑oz) 490 88 g
Sirloin Steak 18 oz (3 6‑oz) 600 96 g
It is recommended that 10–35 percent of our calories come from protein, making it more apparent how impractical it is to achieve all protein from a single (particularly non-meat) food source.

Protein Deficiency Symptoms

Omnivores and vegetarians alike should combine several sources of protein to reach daily requirements. Vegetarians and vegans may consider supplementing meals with shakes that contain measured protein powder. Falling short of protein targets for prolonged periods is hazardous to one’s health. What are some symptoms of severe protein deficiency?

  • Edema (swelling)
  • Thinning brittle hair and/or hair loss
  • Ridges in finger and toe nails
  • Dry skin, rashes, skin ulcers
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Muscle/joint aches and cramps
  • Slow healing (wounds)
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Fainting
  • Depression/anxiety

Some of these symptoms — particularly the fatigue, muscle and joint aches — are indicated in fibromyalgia and other ailments. A healthcare professional can evaluate your total serum protein if you are experiencing these problems. Fatigue, insomnia, faintness, anxiety? You could literally feel like you’re losing your mind with insufficient protein. So if you are not feeling yourself or others are complaining about your performance, they may not be Gaslighting you. It could be a specific form of malnutrition — protein deficiency.

Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD cautions, “Consuming excess protein in the diet (over 35% of total calories), especially with carbohydrate restriction, can lead to the buildup of toxic ketones, substances made when the body uses its own fat cells for fuel in the absence of sufficient carbohydrates. Ketones can harm the kidneys as they try to excrete these substances. This is accompanied by a corresponding loss of water through the kidneys, leading to dehydration. Symptoms of consuming a ketogenic diet can include fatigue, headache, dizziness, heart palpitations, and amonia-like bad breath. The American Heart Association does not recommend high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets because they often contain high-fat foods and can lead to deficiencies in some nutrients like fiber and certain vitamins.”

Benefits of Protein

According to Sue Roberts, MPH, RD, muscles, hormones, enzymes and antibodies are all made of proteins. Proteins aid blood clotting, fluid balance, buffering, vision and transportation of vital substances throughout your body. Furthermore, protein can be metabolized for energy when carbohydrates and fat are limited.

Blog: Is Your Body Craving B12?

Whether you choose to eat meat or are content with a plant-based diet, stay A Bit More Healthy by getting enough protein. And remember that this is just one essential nutrient. Iron, calcium, zinc, omega 3, and vitamin B12 are also very important.

Tags: charts, data, food, nutritionists, registered dietitians, statistics, tables

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