In your body, the role of protein spans well beyond building strong muscles. In Ayurveda, there’s not a great amount of literature about macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs). Yet, Ayurvedic food and cooking emphasizes having balanced meals including whole foods with macro and micronutrients. Protein, fats, and carbs together can keep you fueled for longer and can help you go into this world and fulfill your Dharma!
When we talk about protein intake, it often seems to be about building muscle or dieting. Protein has so many benefits for you beyond just how you look. You may be surprised to learn that protein is involved in almost every body function, including protecting the body from foreign particles (such as bacteria), orchestrating chemical reactions in cells, coordinating processes between cells, providing structure to cells, and transporting important molecules throughout the body. In short, protein is essential to your health, and it’s important to make sure you’re consuming the right amount.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
For individuals who are mostly sedentary, the recommended daily allowance for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The more active you are, the more your protein needs to increase. The recommended range of protein intake for adults is between 10 and 35 percent of total daily calories. You can calculate your individual protein (and other nutrient) needs through the National Agricultural Library’s Dietary Reference Intakes.
Whenever possible, it’s best to choose whole foods over supplements to meet your protein requirements.
Great protein sources (vegan and non- vegan): beans (black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, etc.), lentils (i.e. kitchari!), spirulina, cheese, quinoa, nutritional yeast, almonds, steel-cut oats, cottage cheese, pumpkin seeds, meat, chia seeds, and fish just to name a few!
What’s the Deal with Protein Supplements?
If you want to try a protein supplement, perhaps to support intense athletic training, take the following into consideration:
o Read the ingredients—a lot of supplements include additives, such as artificial sweeteners. Try to go for one without many of these.
o If it’s from an animal product such as cow or goat whey, make sure it is grass-fed and is given no hormones or antibiotics.
o Avoid substances like creatine or androstenedione, which can be found in some protein supplements to help increase muscle size, but can cause negative side effects. Unless you’ve done your research and want these supplements.
Are there Health Risks From Consuming Too Much or Too Little Protein?
Your health can be negatively impacted if protein intake is too low or too high. Protein deficiency can contribute to a variety of health concerns, including:
Consuming too much protein can cause the following:
o Increases calcium excretion from bones—which is more common with a high intake of animal protein versus plant protein.
o Reduced kidney function
o Dehydration (which may not be accompanied by a sense of thirst)
Protein is one macronutrient that your body needs to keep you going strong! If you want to be certain that you are consuming the right amount of protein for your body, you can work with your physician to determine your recommended dose! Your body is your lab, so play around if you think you’re eating too little protein with increasing your protein levels!