In this post, we move onto the second of 5 mantras in the Eating component of the Karma Sense Eating Plan (KSEP). Over time, we’ll look at each of these 5 mantras but this post covers Eat Protein in Every Meal. We’ll talk about how much protein is right for you, various food options, some of the myths of protein consumption, and I’m sure some totally irrelevant stuff as well.
I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. In fact, I’ve been told I have a face for radio, the voice of an author, and the writing skills of those thousand monkeys they keep threatening to throw in a room full of typewriters. But the important thing here is to focus on the part that I am not a doctor.
Therefore, the information I pass to you throughout this series should not be considered a prescription for disease treatment or as medical advice. It is however information that is based on sound research and common sense. Despite my lack of traditional medical credentials, I study nutrition, fitness, and wellness more than your average bud. I constantly read the available literature and expose myself to as many points of view on the subject as possible. But it’s not just a hobby. I am a certified and practicing Exercise Nutritionist as well as a fully trained Integrative Health Coach from one of the most prestigious programs in the U.S. And with all those credentials, I highly recommend you consult your doctor before performing any radical changes to your diet. The good thing for most people is that the Karma Sense Eating Plan is far from (nutritionally) radical. But it might be considered radical in a Spicoli surfer-dude sort of way.
Now, because it actually does have some relevance to the topic of Eating Protein in Every Meal, let’s look at…
How I Became a Nutrition Wonk
When we left off discussing mantra #1, I flipped from scrappy rambunctious kid to chubby fella who shopped in the “husky” section. If you read that last post, you know that this transition was tied to a Batman caper. I don’t know which of Batman’s Supervillains to blame, but I went from being practically a male model
to someone who could have been The Penguin’s stunt double.
But seriously, the “band uniform” may mask it a little but I was definitely overweight. There were never any attempts by me or anyone else to change my corpulent trajectory. When I was 9, I started going to sleep away camp over the summer. I always returned home thinner than when I left. This was mostly due to a combination of portion control (no second helpings) and less access to food in general (no fridge or pantry to explore). Oh yeah, and the food was kind of gross.
This was mantra #1 in action; at least the Stop Eating Before Full part. Despite dropping those pounds, however, within a few months, a rebound would occur.
When I was thirteen, someone brought home a book on the Atkins Diet. I wasn’t the only one struggling with weight in my house but I’m pretty sure I was the target audience for this new addition to our library. No book was safe from my eyes when it entered our home and my parents knew it. This led to some awkward moments, but no need to go there. Anyway, I read the Atkins Diet book and it was an epiphany. A full description of the diet is beyond the scope of this post but it was perfect for my “on the spectrum” brain because it was science-y (ketosis!) and rule-based. For the purposes of this discussion all you need to know is that it was a high protein, no-to-low carb diet that created great controversy because it was so counter to current nutritional dogma. It also created results.
Within months, I went from fat awkward prepubescent nerd to skinny awkward pubescent nerd. The problem with the Atkins Diet is that its results are quick but it’s not sustainable. Your body needs carbohydrates (and excels at processing them if you follow mantra #4, Eat Whole Food Carbohydrates After Vigrorous Exercise). Fortunately for me, raging hormones took over and it fought back the tides of my return to hamburgers, french fries, ice cream and food I no longer wanted to play with. But two things were kicked off:
- My forever obsession with nutrition, physiology, and health.
- My recognition of protein as a major source of my personal good nutrition and health.
And as usual I’ll try to force fit this back story into the subject at hand…
Eat Protein at Every Meal
This mantra’s description has a fair amount of geekiness. If you’re not interested in how the sausage is made, here’s the bottom line.
If you’re a woman, aim for 1 serving of protein per meal. If you’re a man aim for 2 servings per meal. A serving is about the size of your palm. Alternatively, aim for 20-30 grams per meal for women and 40-60 grams for men. If your goal is to simultaneously achieve the best health and body composition, it’s very hard to do it without pumping up the protein. Furthermore, it’s hard to pump up the protein unless you spread it throughout the day. So, Eat Protein at Every Meal. It is perfectly safe for most people. You won’t overdose on protein as long as you follow the other mantras. The only exception is if you already have a kidney condition, in which case check with a doctor. Contrary to popular belief, no research has ever uncovered a connection to high protein intake causing problems for people whose kidneys are healthy.
There are many subtleties you can obsess over to meet the Eat Protein at Every Meal mantra and I’ll give you the opportunity to do so later in this post (e.g. what is a meal? does any protein count?). But if all you care about is the basics of mantra #2, you just read everything you need to know.
On To The Promised Geekfest
The Atkins Diet deserves criticism. In fact, even Dr. Atkins thought so and over the years, he changed the basic principles of the diet towards a more mainstream (and healthful) balance of macronutrients. In the meantime, many other versions of high protein-low carb diet plans followed. These plans tend to work for the following reasons:
- Initially, since you’re not taking in carbs, they deplete the carbohydrates stored in your body in the form of glycogen. A byproduct of the chemical reaction required to do this is water. This causes an initial rapid weight loss as your body gets rid of all that water. For people who carry their weight in the middle, they start to lose some bloat (inches around the waist) as well.
- The moment of truth begins. Once you’re out of glycogen, your body starts burning other sources of energy, usually fat. Many people start to feel sluggish as the body transitions to this new source of energy and they quit. Others are so inspired by initial weight loss that they stick it out.
- For those that stick it out, the craving for carbs dies down. The weight loss continues but at a slower rate. The simple common sense equation of weight loss kicks in; calories consumed are less than calories burned.
High protein-low carb diets are elimination diets. Focusing on protein is especially successful in elimination scenarios because protein is satiating and slow to digest. But overall, diet plans that remove entire food groups tend to bring on weight loss because limited variety usually means lower calorie consumption. This is not an absolute as certain lifestyles allow enough calorie-dense foods for calorie intake to be elevated. But this food-group-restriction characteristic is why there are so many specialty diets that support weight loss. Paleo diets. Gluten-free diets. Even the Cookie Diet. You can lose weight on all of them. But most of that weight is due to the simple equation.
In fact, as you may know, the concept of the Karma Sense Eating Plan jolted me awake in the middle of the night. Another brilliant idea that once came to me that same way was the “Mad Lib Diet” (What? Am I the only one who dreams about diet plans?).
The Mad Lib Diet worked like this. Each page would be linked to a week you’re on a diet. The page would prompt you for things like “name of vegetable” or “third favorite junk food” or even just “verb” for physical activity. When you filled in all the blanks, you could read it back and get your eating instructions for the week. Page 1 was associated with week 1. Page 2 was for week 2 and so on. There’s a good chance that some people would lose weight that way because of the food elimination theory. And, as any good diet guru would do, I’d be sure to exploit the people who were successful and ignore the people for whom it didn’t work all for the sake of selling more Mad Lib pads. Fortunately, this was not one of the ideas that stuck the next morning. (Note to Penguin Group USA, LLC: contact me at email@example.com if interested.) (Note to Reader: Penguin Group USA, LLC is the publisher of Mad Libs and is not affiliated with the Batman Supervillain or the dapper fellow depicted in the photo earlier in this post.)
Tell Me More About the Amount of Protein I Should Eat
Now I’m going to tell you exactly how much protein to eat…except for the “exactly” part. As part of the “Keep America’s Nutrition Experts Gainfully Employed Act” of 2012, there is no clear-cut answer. But I’ll drill down for you.
First you have the recommended daily amount from a variety of official channels such as the U.S government (e.g. Centers for Disease Control):
- Babies need about 10 grams a day.
- School-age kids need 19-34 grams a day.
- Teenage boys need up to 52 grams a day.
- Teenage girls need 46 grams a day.
- Adult men need about 56 grams a day.
- Adult women need about 46 grams a day.
These amount to a target of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams per pound. Then there are the special cases such as:
- Pregnant or Breastfeeding- 71 grams a day.
- Athlete – add 50% a day.
- Dieting – varies but around 30-35% of calories from protein.
- Vegan/Vegetarian – no difference, but be mindful that you’re getting enough. Of particular concern is that many plant-based sources of protein are not as easily digestible as animal sources. Therefore some nutrition experts recommend an increase of anywhere from 20-35% over the above recommendations (e.g 54-62 grams for an adult woman).
No one as yet has offered protein recommendations for Infant Vegetarian Athletes. Oh, they exist. They exist!!!
On the Karma Sense Eating Plan, we’re aiming for anywhere from 0.75 grams to 1.25 grams per pound of body weight (1.7-3.3 grams per kilogram of body weight.) That target should also answer the question of what a meal is. If you’re target is 120 grams of protein a day and you get 30 grams in each of 3 meals, you’ll need a snack meal or two to get you to your goal. Yes, this is decidedly more than what government agencies recommend. The difference is due to two reasons; politics and ignorance. The politics of the situation adds too much bad Karma to this good Karma zone, so I’m choosing to ignore it for now. The ignorance, which exists on both sides of the argument is explored soon. First we’ll discuss…
Where Should I Get All This Protein Goodness?
As noted in the KSEP canon more times than you can shake a stick at (which isn’t really a very useful activity if you ask me), the Karma Sense Eating Plan is designed to be inclusive. The goal is not to eliminate the foods you enjoy most. That being said, if your goal in becoming Karma Sensible is to gain better health while creating a better world, here are some basic guidelines on optimal protein sources:
- The less processed the better. If your protein comes in a package that includes an ingredient list, it’s processed. The more ingredients on that list, the more processed it is. If you want to eat processed food, aim for ones with ingredients you can pronounce. Some manufacturers cheat by using acronyms to mask the fact that the ingredient name has 147 syllables. Processed proteins such as cold cuts, hot dogs, and Slim Jims are bad for the planet and bad for your health. I hate to generalize about something like this, but I do it in response to an equal gross generalization that because processed proteins are bad for you all proteins are bad.
- The more humane and sustainable, the better. For some people, the heartburn they avoid by eating protein from animals that are treated well is offset by the heartburn they get from the cost of labels that say things such as “organic” or “grass-fed”. It’s a valid point. For some thoughts on how to save money while being sustainable, read this post.
And here are some more specific suggestions with notes:
|Lean Meat||Beef, Chicken, Turkey, Pork, Bison, Venison.
Grass and pasture fed preferred (to be discussed
with mantra #5)
|Fish/Seafood||Wild caught from low in the food chain preferred
Cold water fish help with mantra #5
|Eggs||Laid from cage free chickens with natural diet preferred|
|Dairy||Greek yogurt, cheese. High fat content can be an issue
if weight loss is a goal
|Plant Sources||Beans, lentils, peas, nuts, seeds, quinoa, soy, buckwheat
and other Creepy
|Sustainable and nutrient dense, while being
inexpensive and low in calories.
Gross out your friends.
Note that if your goals are more specific than simply achieving better health (e.g. losing weight) you may need more guidance on optimal protein choices. I’ll cover many special need situations later in the series. But let’s move onto…
Addressing Ignorance on Protein Intake
And since the solution to ignorance is education, we’ll play along with a True-or-False test.
True or False…
…Too Much Protein is Bad For Your Kidneys
False. In 1983 scientists discovered that the more protein you consume, the higher your glomerular filtration rate (GFR) which is a key function of your kidneys. Based on this it was assumed that protein increases stress on the kidneys. However, hundreds of follow-up studies (including this one) show no link to increased GFR due to protein consumption and problems with healthy kidneys. These tests were with amounts higher than the maximum range of 1.25 grams per pound of body weight that I’m suggesting. I repeat, if you have kidney problems, consult your doctor before changing your protein intake. Healthy Kidneys? OK.
…Too Much Protein is Bad for Osteoporosis
False. Protein increases your body’s acidity and it was hypothesized that the increased acidity leached calcium from your bones. However, multiple studies show the opposite is true. Diets rich in protein actually improve calcium absorption and are a good way to prevent or delay the effects of osteoporosis. Furthermore, if you follow mantra #3, you’ll neutralize the effects of excess acidity in the body.
…High Protein Diets Have a Positive Effect in Managing Blood Glucose of Type 2 Diabetics
True. Numerous studies show high protein diets are effective in fighting obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. Here’s an example.
…High Protein Diets are Bad for the Heart. Low Fat Diets are Superior.
False. This Scientific American article does a better job of explaining why than I can. After I wrote this there was a rebuttal. And then a rerebuttal. The whole sad tale is all at the same link. But while the children argue over minor details, let’s focus on where they agree. High quality protein is good.
…You Definitely Lose Weight with a High Protein Diet
False. High protein diets tend to work because they assume a reduction in carbohydrate consumption. Protein is satiating and when carbs are managed, calorie intake tends to decrease. If you’re still including carbs as a major part of your diet, weight loss is less than assured. This is especially true if you opt for fattier sources of protein. So that thick crust meat-lovers pizza is not your best option. Mantra #4 of the Karma Sense Eating Plan includes a strategy on how to manage carb intake for people interested in losing and maintaining their weight.
…High Protein- Low Carb Improves Insulin Sensitivity (Which is a Good Thing)
False. In general, this is true. This occurs because there is less glucose for insulin to respond to and because of likely weight loss. But, if you go too extreme with your high protein/low carb implementation, the body actually switches into an insulin resistance mode. This is a protective mechanism that ensures that any available glucose that may find its way in your body is available to your brain.
…With Plant-Based Protein Sources You Must Consume Complimentary Proteins Together In Order To Get Full Benefit
False. It is correct that many plant sources do not have the full profile of amino acids that make up a complete protein. This is why vegans often consume thinks like beans-and-rice or peanut butter on toast. However, the American Dietetic Association and similar organizations internationally now take the position that you’re okay as long as you eat the complete profile some time throughout the day,
… Karma Sense Eating Plan is a High Protein Low Carbohydrate Diet
False. The Karma Sense Eating Plan can coexist with High Protein lifestyles. By now you should know that Karma Sense has an inclusive mindset and does not exclude specific foods. The Karma Sense Eating Plan encourages higher intake of protein than the minimum recommended by many government agencies but KSEP’s target is well within the range advocated by many nutrition experts. Furthermore, the Karma Sense Eating Plan suggest controls of carbohydrate intake for those who want to lose weight, but carbohydrates have an important role in the overall plan.
As with mantra # 1, Eat Slowly and Stop Before Full, this section explores how people with different goals should adjust the mantra of Eat Protein at Every Meal.
Implement this mantra as is.
Maintain Weight but Eat Healthier
Implement this mantra as is.
Gain Weight in the Form of Muscle
Implement this mantra as is. You may need to aim towards the higher target range.
- If you’re a woman, aim for 1 serving of protein per meal. If you’re a man aim for 2 servings per meal. A serving is about the size of your palm. Alternatively, aim for 20-30 grams per meal for women and 40-60 grams for men.
- Target daily consumption is 0.75 grams to 1.25 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
- If you have kidney issues, consult with your physician before changing your protein intake.
- Protein consumption at the level recommended by the Karma Sense Eating Plan is safe and supports optimal health for people with healthy kidneys.
How’d You Do on the True False Test?
If you scored 100, contact me and I will give you a complimentary 30 minute consultation to answer your questions about protein. You are on the honor system. Cheating creates bad karma.