Being a Pescatarian and Soy free, Gluten free (other good topics for a post) I get asked this question all of the time: “How do you get enough protein?” Usually the people who ask me are those who eat protein all of the time. They are having it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and every snack in between. Well protein should only consist of about 15-25% of total calorie intake. If you are perhaps an Olympic athlete you would need to up your intake to 25%, however for the regular healthy moderately active adult, the need is less. We all know that having too little protein can be harmful but did you know that having too much also has its own health risks?
People who consume high protein diets can lack nutrition because they are taking calories away that should be used for carbohydrates and fats. Processing high levels of protein puts extra strain on your liver and kidneys and could cause problems there as well. Also in order to process protein your body actually requires calcium to do so, and if you are not consuming and absorbing enough extra calcium you could deplete it from your bones and risk osteoporosis. These are just summaries of some of the serious risks associated with high protein diets.
Now before I go into sources of protein, I first want to discuss a little bit about protein itself. Protein is made up of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids are present in the human body, and some can be made internally and others need to be obtained through diet. There are 9 amino acids considered to be essential for adults, 10 for children, 7 if your body is at a time of weakness/illness and needs the extra support and/or cannot produce the ones that it normally does. The others are considered non-essential. The essential amino acids are: Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine (plus Arginine for children).
All of these play vital roles in maintaining the body to various degrees. For this reason it is pertinent that you have these amino acids usually referred to collectively as a “complete protein” on a daily basis. Amino acids formed together create proteins, which in turn play many roles in the body and form many of our structures including hair, cell walls, tissue structures such as collagen and so forth. Amino acids also form enzymes, which are usually proteins that help to speed up biochemical reactions in our body. Many of these (digestive enzymes) involve breaking down to its basic building blocks the food that we eat. For instance, lipases break down fatty acids, proteases and peptidases break down proteins and carbohydrases break down carbs.
Not only is it vital to have the proper amount of protein and amino acids throughout the day, but consuming digestive enzymes along side of them will help to make digestion faster and more effective. So, how should you go about consuming these essentials? I love to start my mornings off with a smoothie. I always use a protein powder that will help jump start my nutrition for the day. One of my favorites can be found here: http://www.vitacost.com/mrm-veggie-protein. It is a plant based, soy free, low glycemic, dairy free, protein mix both delicious and inexpensive.
For lunch, I usually have a whole grain cereal, tuna salad, or tahini with lentil chips. Dinner usually consists of seafood and/or a legume. I always achieve my protein and amino acid goals this way. Foods that are very high in protein (excluding land animal meat but not sub-par) include seafood, legumes, nuts and seeds, buckwheat, whole oats, and so forth. A well thought out diet can be high enough in protein and still be vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian and not sacrificing any nutrition. If you prefer to consume animal meat as another source of protein try to stick to wild game which has the most nutrient value. I hope that this helped to explain the importance but not overindulgence of protein in your diets. Enjoy!