Protein: Are You Getting Enough?

Although it seems like a simple concept, the role of protein in our bodies and as a nutrient is often misunderstood.  There is some debate today on whether North Americans consume too much or too little protein.  On one hand, we always hear that we should decrease the amount of meat we eat, and that maybe a vegetarian diet is the best solution for a lot of the common health concerns seen today.  On the other hand, there are certain weight loss diets that claim that high protein diets are the best way to lose weight.  So who do we believe?

Protein requirements for an individual are calculated to be about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.  That means that someone who is 140 lbs (approximately 63.5 kg) should eat about 51 grams of protein per day.  For athletes, growing kids, or others who expend more energy on a daily basis, the requirements can increase to 1-1.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Why We Need Protein:
  • Proteins are a part of many different parts of our body—skin, muscles, organs, blood, etc.  They are also found in enzymes, immune molecules, and hormones.
  • It is important in energy production, muscle contraction, and overall growth and development.
Based on the functions of protein in our body, it is pretty easy to see that protein can affect virtually every physiological system.  As a result, protein deficiency can manifest in many different ways.

Some symptoms of protein deficiency include:
  • Weight loss (and inability to lose weight)
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Headaches
  • Poor wound healing (bruises, cuts, etc)
  • Recurrent or nagging sports-related injuries
  • Thinning or brittle hair and nails
  • Protein deficiency has also been associated with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and mood changes.
Most animal products are good sources of protein.  The difference between the sources of animal protein is that some contain more fat and cholesterol than others (ie. beef, lamb, duck, dark chicken meat).  Those meats that are higher in saturated fat and cholesterol can have a negative impact on health.  Beef, lamb, and duck should therefore be consumed less frequently.   It is important to remember that one serving of meat (chicken, beef, pork, etc) is 4 ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards.  This is considerably smaller than what the average person may consume at say, a steak house or any other restaurant.  Here are some of the healthier animal protein sources:

  • Eggs:  1 whole egg contains 6 grams of protein; 1 egg white contains 4g of protein and is really one of the few pure protein sources available (1 egg white contains only 16 calories while a whole egg has about 90)
  • Chicken breast (skinless):  4 oz contains 35 grams of protein
  • Turkey breast (skinless):  4 oz contains 34 grams of protein
  • Salmon:  4 oz contains about 30 grams of protein 
  • Halibut:  4 oz contains about 30 grams of protein
While it is easier for those who eat animal products to meet protein requirements, it is not impossible for vegetarians to do the same—the key is to eat a combination of all of the protein sources listed below and to avoid becoming a “carbivore”.

Vegetarian Sources of Protein:
  • Quinoa: 1 cup of cooked quinoa contains 8 grams of protein
  • Almonds: 23 almonds contains 6 grams of protein
  • Tofu: ½ cup has 8 grams of protein
  • Tempeh:  ½ cup has 15 grams of protein
  • Beans such as chick peas, kidney beans, and lentils:  7-9 grams per ½ cup
  • Protein can also be found in smaller proportions in other foods that contain grains such as bread, pasta, and rice.
It is important to keep in mind that your body can digest only a limited amount of protein at a time.  The best approach to ensuring you are eating adequate protein is to include a source of protein at every meal, in moderate proportions.  

All the best,

Images from

Dr. Cho, ND is a naturopathic doctor based in Pickering, Ontario and Richmond Hill, Ontario.  She maintains a private practice focused in pain management and sports nutrition, in addition to a general family practice at Durham Natural Health Centre.  To learn more about Dr. Cho, book a complimentary 15 minute consult by clicking here.  Not in the Durham Region?  Contact her through to learn about more options.


Anonymous said...

other vegetarian sources include AFA blue-green algae, bee pollen, chlorella, hempseed, spirulina, incan berries & greens- kale/broccoli/etc

Post a Comment

Twitter Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Facebook Themes