I’m not giving up meat! I need protein.
We hear this all the time. In fact, before this months challenge, yours truly used to say the same thing. When my brother became a vegetarian over a year ago, we all gave him a hard time. My brother is a skinny guy. So, I thought that going meatless was a terrible idea. How the hell are you going to get your protein? And what about all of the nutrients that meat provides? Not healthy. Nope. Never gonna happen. WRONG.
A few weeks ago I apologized to my brother for judging his decision so quickly. The more that I learned about meat and its impact on the land, the animals, and our health, the more I came to realize that his meat-free diet may actually make him healthier. He may be on to something!
How much protein do I really need anyway?
Protein. Is. Necessary. It helps to balance your metabolism and is rich in important nutrients.
Our friend Dr. Oz (just kidding, he’s not our friend — in my dreams) recommends that the average, active person consumes 75 grams of protein a day, 25 grams at each meal. According to The Institute of Medicine, adults should eat 8 grams of protein per every 20 lbs of body weight. In the United States, women over 19 years of age are encouraged to eat 46 grams per day as compared to 56 grams per day for men of the same age.
However, that does NOT equal eggs for breakfast, chicken for lunch and steak for dinner. Too much protein has an adverse effect on the body. Those who pride themselves on being “big meat eaters” or “carnivores” may be eating too much. In fact, the U.S population consumes more meat per person, per year than any other country. Here, each person eats approximately 270.7 lbs of meat every year as compared to India where the number is significantly lower at 7.1 lbs per person, every year.
The point here is this: we need protein. It is good for our bones and contains healthy, essential amino acids that are necessary for our bodily functions. However, is meat the best way to get this necessary protein? Keep reading.
Are there added benefits to going meatless?
Hot dogs. Cheeseburgers. Crispy bacon. A sub from your favorite deli. These foods may sound delicious on paper (and yeah – they taste good), but is the reward worth the risk here? Red meat and processed meats in particular are linked to heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases. Eating these animal proteins can even increase your risk of getting certain types of cancer. According to a study from the Journal of American Medical Association, those who reduced their daily calories from animal protein to plant protein by just 3% were at a lower risk for mortality (34% lower to be exact)!
Perhaps even more interesting is how reducing your consumption of animal proteins can have a positive impact on your overall lifestyle. In the same study, subjects who ate more plant proteins weighed less, exercised more frequently, and used less tobacco and alcohol. The groups who ate more animal proteins were significantly less healthy both physically and emotionally as it related to their daily habits.
If reducing the amount of animal protein that I eat can help me to live a longer, healthier life AND I can protect the environment in the process…SIGN ME UP!
Are all proteins the same?
Okay, so what you need to know is that there are two types or sources of protein: animal and plant/vegetable. As we discussed above, the body needs protein for the amino acids that they offer which help our bodies to function and be awesome every day. Our bodies are pretty cool – and they can produce many of their own amino acids without the help of food. However, there are 9 essential amino acids that we can only get from food (yesssss….another way that I can justify my love for eating).
- Animal Protein: here we have our eggs, meat, poultry, fish, and dairy. Certain foods in this category such as eggs (with the yolk) are eggcellent (hah) sources of iron and zinc. Sweet right? Though animal proteins are good for us, often we end up eating the wrong kind. Many fatty meats and processed animal proteins are very high in cholesterol and are packed with sodium and yucky hormones. If you are desperate for a hamburger, go for the lean meat options. Those saturated fats will sneak up on you.
- Plant Protein: quinoa, legumes, nuts, whole grains, soy — low in cholesterol and saturated fats, and oh-so delicious when you know how to prepare them. Soy and quinoa are most closely related to animal protein in regards to their levels of essential amino acids. Plan proteins are just as effective as animal proteins when you eat the right combination and proper portions. And, BONUS, vegetarians are at a lower risk for cardiovascular diseases. *Note: pregnant women should eat soy in moderation as it contains isoflavones which resemble estrogen.
So you’ve decided to give up meat…now how do I get protein?
Do you ever get bored of eating the same old meals every week? If so, plant proteins are the way to go. The golden rule is variety if you want to eat less meat (or no meat at all) and eat more vegetables, fruits, legumes etc. Mr. GGC and I are excited to try out new recipes and to get creative with our meal plans. Here is some useful information to get you started:
Black Beans: 1 cup = 14 grams of protein; great in soups, salads, rice bowls and Mexican dishes
Chickpeas: 1 cup = a whopping 36 grams of protein; roast them with spices for a quick snack, make some hummus or enjoy in a salad
Sweet Potato: 1 medium = 2.3 grams of protein; roast or bake in the oven, or warm-up in the microwave (whole)
Brown Rice: 1 cup = 5 grams of protein; so versatile! make a rice bowl with veggies and/or potatoes and/or beans for the ultimate protein-rich meal
White Corn: 1 cup = 16 grams of protein; roast in the oven or on the grill, or sauté with some black beans, cilantro, lime juice and avocado for an easy burrito
Avocado: 1 cup, sliced = 2.9 grams of protein; I can eat these lovelies whole with some salt, pepper and EVOO.
Lentils: 1 cup = 18 grams of protein; great in soups and vegetarian chili – they will soak up any flavor that you add to them
Tofu: .5 cup = 10 grams; do not fear the tofu — keep an eye out for a future post on how to tackle this ingredient
Well folks – the hubby and I hope that this information inspires you to make some small changes to your diet. And remember: You only get one body — treat it well. We only get one planet — treat it well. We’re worth it.
xoxo Mrs. GGC