What is a Healthy Protein Diet?



This is one of the biggest questions I receive, "What is a healthy protein diet?"

There are many myths circulating about protein, carbohydrates and fats. Most Americans are confused and do not know what role protein should play in their diet and what a healthy protein diet should look like. High protein diets have been proven to be dangerous, but we need protein, so how much is adequate and how much is too much?

Where does the large powerful Horse get his protein from?

Plants.

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Examples of Healthy Protein Diet Sources

1 c. Buckwheat.....................22g
1 c. Garbanzo beans................14.5g
1 c. Quinoa........................8.1g
1.5 c. cooked spinach..............8g
1.25c. whole wheat spaghetti.......9g
1 russet potato....................7.5g
1 c. cracked wheat breakfast.......10.5g
1/2 c. Tempeh......................16g
1 c. lentils........................17.9g
Whole Grain English muffin..........6g

The Most common problem I see in individuals starting a plant based diet is LACK of CALORIES not protein!

The first key to understanding healthy protein diet content is to know what the RDA for protein is.

For the average woman who weighs 150 lbs................. RDA protein is 54g per day

For the average man who weighs 200 lbs....................... RDA for protein is 75g per day

What about essential amino acids and incomplete amino acid profiles

Unfortunately a book published back in the 1970's claimed that plants contained 'incomplete' protein and plant foods needed to be combined to obtain complete protein. This is completely false!

Plants contain all essential and non-essential amino acids.

Combining plant foods is unnecessary, this myth has continued to be taught, even in college nutrition courses despite the fact that it has been proven false. A healthy protein diet contains enough, but not too much protein. Too much protein can have significant health effects as outlined below.

Let's now evaluate common plant foods for protein content:

Fruit as part of a healthy protein diet....Fruit has Protein?

Yep, you read that right, fruit has protein.....gasp!

We will start with fruit because most people mistakenly believe fruit does not contain protein when in reality it does contain protein, in relatively small amounts at 1-2g. per serving, but when consumed as part of a healthy diet with sufficient calories the protein in fruit is packaged with antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamin C and a host of nutrients necessary in the diet.

Medium orange..............1g
Medium Banana..............1.3g
Medium Apple............ .5g
1 c. blueberries...........1.5g
Mango......................1.1g
Kiwi.......................1g
1 c. pineapple.............1g
1 c. diced watermelon......1g

I know many individuals who make their entire breakfast fruit and obtain a lot of nutrition and protein from this fruit meal. In order to do this you have to understand that fruit then becomes the center of the meal and not just a snack. In this case the serving sizes must be much bigger.

Here is an example of a fruit breakfast:

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1 banana
1- 5" round cantaloupe
1/2 c. blueberries
1/2 c. strawberries

You may be thinking that this can't possibly provide you with adequate nutrition, but here is the nutrition breakdown.

Can fruit be part of a healthy protein diet? Absolutely!

Calories................361
Protein..................7g [15% of daily value for average woman]
Fat......................1g
Omega 3's...............35%
Vit. A.................806%
Folate..................41%
B1......................28%
B2......................22%

B3......................39%
B5......................23%
B6......................70%
Vit. C.................358%
Vit. E...................7%
Vit. K..................34%

Calcium.................7%
Copper.................44%
Iron...................11%
Magnesium..............35%
Manganese..............62%
Phosphorus.............20%
Potassium..............44%
Selenium................7%
Zinc...................18%

As you can see, fruit is PACKED with nutrients! If you consume fruit as an actual meal and not just a small apple for a snack you can actually obtain all the nutrition you need. Fruit is an essential part of an real healthy protein diet.

I do not advocate only eating fruit but I do want to emphasize that fruit is an important part of a healthy diet and that fruit DOES contain a high amount of nutrients despite common beliefs.

Vegetables

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1 c. broccoli...........2.5g
1 c. cauliflower........2g
1 c. chopped kale.......2g
cucumber................2g
zucchini................2.4
carrot............... .5g

Grains:

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1/2 c. oatmeal.............5.5g
1 c. quinoa................8g
1 c. pearled barley........3.5g
1 c. millet................6.1g
1/2 c. ww flour............8g
1 c. soba noodles..........5.5g
1 c. cooked spaghetti......7.5g
1 c. buckwheat............22g

Beans:

1 c. garbanzo.............14.5g
1 c. lentils..............18g
1 c. black beans..........15.2g
1 c. white beans..........19g
2/3 c. tempeh.............18g
1 c. soymilk...............6g

Nuts:

2 Tb. almond butter.........4.8g
2Tb. peanut butter..........8g
1 oz. cashews...............6g
1 oz. almonds...............6g

Seeds:
2 Tb. sunflower seeds.........5.8
1 oz. pumpkin seeds...........7g
1 Tb. tahini..................5g

Popular plant-based diets and protein

There are several popular plant-based diets:

Raw foods Diet-

I give this menu as an example of how minimally we can eat and literally consume all the nutrients we need.

Healthy Plant-based diet-

This is the type of balanced diet I recommend because the foods are rich in macro and micro nutrients and provide the most protection against common diseases.

I want to give an example of each of these dietary styles in a healthy daily diet menu plan so you can see how easy it is to obtain enough protein.

Healthy Raw foods Diet Menu Plan:

This is based on a 2000 calorie diet for a person who weighs around 150 pounds. If you weigh less than this your requirements will be less, if you weigh more your requirements will be higher.

Breakfast:

Green Smoothie

2 c. spinach
1 c. mixed frozen or fresh fruit
1 tsp. flax meal
2 c. water
2 Tb. buckwheat
1 brazil nut

Snack:
1 medium apple
12 almonds

Lunch:
2 c. shredded romaine lettuce
1 c. broccoli
1 c. cauliflower
2 slices tomato
1 medium carrot
3 Tb. oil free homemade salad dressing with tahini
1/2 c. sprouted quinoa

Snack:
1 stalks celery
2 Tb. homemade sprouted hummus
1 c. papaya

Dinner:
1/2 c. sprouted quinoa
1/2 c. cucumber sliced
2 Tb. fresh mint
1/2 c. grated carrot
1 c. shredded romaine
1 c. spinach
1 orange sliced
1 Tb. sesame seeds
1 c. broccoli
With oil-free dressing of your choice

Soup:
1 c. carrot juice
1/2 c. sprouted lentils
1 c. kale
1 c. corn
2 Tb. cashews
1 fresh tomato
1/4 c. sundried tomato
chili powder and other spices that add minimal nutrition.

How does the raw food diet stack up against the RDA nutrition requirements?

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Calories:......................2057
Protein:.........................67g
Fats:............................50g 22% of calories

Vit. A..........................4519 %
Folate...........................274%
B1...............................221%
B2...............................203%
B3...............................148%
B5...............................158%
B6...............................267%
Vit. C..........................1087%
Vit. E...........................120%
Vit. K .........................1611%

Calcium..........................93%
Copper..........................457%
Iron............................126%
Magnesium.......................273%
Manganese.......................424%
Phosphorus......................259%
Potassium.......................155%
Selenium........................230%
Zinc............................161%
Omega 3's.......................127%

As you can see this simple, basic raw plant based diet FAR EXCEEDS the RDA for every single nutrient and there is plenty of healthy, easily digestible plant based protein.

Omega 3 facts:

Nearly ALL plant food contains small amounts of omega 3 fatty acids so by the time you have consumed your daily calorie needs you will inevitably consume enough omega 3's. If you are concerned 1 tsp. of ground flax per day will fill in any gaps.

Optimal Plant based Diet Menu Plan

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Breakfast:

1 c. oats
1/2 c. soymilk or hemp, rice, oat or whatever your preference 1 tsp. flax meal
1/2 c. blueberries
1/2 banana sliced

Snack:

4 baby carrots
2 ribs celery
2 Tb. hummus
1 orange

Whole wheat pita
hummus, tomato, romaine, onion, cucumber

1 c. Sauteed spinach topped with 1 Tb. sesame seeds [sauteed in veg. broth and nutritional yeast]

garbanzo salad: 1/2 c. garbanzo beans, vegan mayo, paprika, celery wrapped in romaine lettuce leaf

Snack: 1 apple
12 almonds

Dinner:

1.5 c. black bean taco soup
1 baked potato
homemade sour cream
1 c. steamed broccoli

Dessert:

Baked cinnamon apples with oil-free oat crisp topping

Calories..................1899
Protein.....................72g
Fats:.......................43g
Vit A.....................1549%
Folate.....................292%
B1.........................149%
B2.........................170%
B3..........................89%
B5..........................95%
B6.........................205%
Vit. C.....................248%
Vit. E......................95%
Vit. K....................1393%

Calcium....................103%
Copper.....................403%
Iron.......................158%
Magnesium..................143%
Manganese..................558%
Phosphorus.................212%
Potassium..................111%
Selenium...................119%
Zinc.......................179%
Omega 3's..................186%

As you can see protein and all nutrients are easily obtainable on a plant based diet.

Let's compare this to a typical American Diet

Breakfast

1 c. oats
1/2 c. 1% milk

Snack

5 Ritz crackers
1 oz. cheddar cheese

Lunch

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Turkey Sandwich {whole wheat bread, turkey, tomato, lettuce, slice swiss cheese]

3 oz. corn tortilla chips

Snack

1 med. apple
1 oz. trail mix

Dinner

1 roasted chicken breast
1 c. rice pilaf

Nutrient Analysis

Calories.................1834
Protein..................82g
Fat......................60g
Fiber....................83% daily value, not enough

Vit A....................41%
Folate...................33%
B1.......................89%
B2.......................94%
B3......................151%
B5.......................99%
B6......................112%
Vit. C...................19%
Vit. E...................46%
Vit. K...................52%

Calcium..................92%
Copper...................172%
Iron.....................57%
Magnesium................164%
Manganese................277%
Phosphorus...............216%
Potassium................36%
Selenium.................163%
Zinc.....................144%
Omega 3's................84%

I took a very typical, so called Healthy standard American diet. I have reviewed hundreds of common weight loss programs and this is a VERY typical diet menu on these types of diets, however, they are usually around 1200 calories which further decreases the amount of nutrients.

This Diet is SEVERELY Deficient in key nutrients

Vitamin A an improtant antioxidant
Folate
Vitamin C
Vitamin E [prevents oxidation of fats]
Vitamin K
Iron
Potassium

This diet is low in several nutrients

Calcium
B1
B2
Omega 3 fatty acids

This diet contained the same calories as the plant based diet and still fell short in many nutrients! Chicken, turkey and dairy products are low nutrient foods that may contain protein but do not contain a significant amount of most other nutrients.

Whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables contain FAR superior nutrients and still provide adequate protein and calcium. A healthy protein diet is actually PLANT STRONG!!!

***One deceptive aspect of typical American diets is the fortification of processed foods

ALL cereals are fortified with 100 daily value of most nutrients.

ALL white rice is fortified

ALL breads are fortified

ALL processed snacks, crackers, fruit snacks etc.... are fortified

ALL flours are fortified

This doesn't make them healthy but it makes it look like you are getting the nutrition you need when in reality you are not.

Dangers of excessive protein consumption!

The most dangerous aspect of protein misinformation is that the over-consumption of protein is actually very damaging and contributes to many serious health problems from arthritis to osteoporosis and even cancer. I am not making wild claims, this is substantially supported by scientific research.

Protein strains liver and kidneys

Physiology Economy in Nutrition, Russell Henry Chittenden, former President of the American Physiological Society (APS) and Professor of Physiological Chemistry at Yale, wrote in 1905.

“Proteid (protein) decomposition products are a constant menace to the well-being of the body; any quantity of proteid or albuminous food beyond the real requirements of the body may prove distinctly injurious…Further, it requires no imagination to understand the constant strain upon the liver and kidneys, to say nothing of the possible influence upon the central and peripheral parts of the nervous system, by these nitrogenous waste products which the body ordinarily gets rid of as speedily as possible.”1

Chittenden, R. H. (1905). Physiological economy in nutrition, with special reference to the minimal protein requirement of the healthy man. An experimental study. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company.

Osteoporosis

"Osteoporosis is caused by several controllable factors; however, the most important one is the foods we choose –

Especially the amount of animal protein and the foods high in acid. The high acid foods are meat, poultry, fish, seafood, and hard cheeses – parmesan cheese is the most acidic of all foods commonly consumed.

This acid must be neutralized by the body.21 Carbonate, citrate and sodium are alkaline materials released from the bones to neutralize the acids. Fruits and vegetables are alkaline and as a result a diet high in these plant foods will neutralize acid and preserve bones. The acidic condition of the body caused by the Western diet also raises cortisol (steroid) levels. 22 Elevated cortisol causes severe chronic bone loss – just like giving steroid medication for arthritis causes severe osteoporosis."

http://www.nealhendrickson.com/mcdougall/040100puproteinoverload.htm

Research from the University of Chicago looked at the effects of the high protein Atkins diet on calcium balance.

During the study data was collected on the 2 week induction phase of the atkins diet and then 1 month on the maintenance atkins diet.

In the initial phase participants consumed 164g of protein per day, later in the maintenance phase consumption increased slightly to 170g.

During this study calcium balance decreased by 130mg/day and 92mg/day, the markers of bone re-absorption increased which suggested that bone loss did in fact occur during the six week study.

The concerning aspect of high protein consumption is that animal protein is high in sulfur containing amino acids, which breakdown into sulfuric acid in the body and the bones provide the alkaline minerals to buffer this acid, which over a long period of time will eventually lead to osteoporosis. Even the average consumption of protein in the U.S. is sufficient enough to cause calcium loss from the bones and lead to osteoporosis, whereas in other countries with lower protein consumption overall osteoporosis is rare.

http://www.nealhendrickson.com/mcdougall/030100putherightdiet.htm accessed 6/28/2010

Animal-based protein consumption and cancer development

"The effects of protein feeding on tumor development were nothing less than spectacular. Rats generally live for about two years, thus the study was 100 weeks in length. All animals that were administered aflatoxin and fed the regular 20% levels of casein either were dead or near death from liver tumors at 100 weeks. All animals administered the same level of aflatoxin but fed 5% protein diet were alive, active and thrifty with sleek hair coats at 100 weeks. This was a virtual 100 to 0 score, something almost never seen in research and almost identical to the original research in India."

Campbell, T. Colin, and Thomas M. Campbell Ii. The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health. Texas: Benbella Books, 2006. Print.

German study finds 40% lower cancer rate in those who consumed a vegetarian diet.

Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R, Eilber U. Mortality patterns of German vegetarians after 11 years of follow-up. Epidemiology 1992;3:395-401.

For more information on protein and cancer:

The China Study by T. Colin Campbell
www.cancerproject.org
www.savedbynutrition.net

American Heart Association on High Protein Consumption

"But these diets have other effects besides inducing quick weight loss. Most Americans already eat more protein than their bodies need. And eating too much protein can increase health risks. High-protein animal foods are usually also high in saturated fat. Eating large amounts of high-fat foods for a sustained period raises the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and several types of cancer. People who can't use excess protein effectively may be at higher risk of kidney and liver disorders, and osteoporosis."

http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=11234 accessed: 6/28/2010

Protein is a necessary component of a healthy diet, however, that does not mean that more is better. In fact, excess protein can be harmful to the body so it is important to consume a healthy plant based diet and obtain the necessary amount of protein without over consuming it and overburdening the body with nitrogenous and metabolic wastes from protein metabolism.