The Protein Deal: A Nurse Gives the Lowdown

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Posted February 17, 2009 by Marta Holmberg

We know you’ve got questions about your nutrition. As peta2 employees, we can tell you what has worked for us, but we’re definitely not nutritionists, so we wanted to let a nurse answer the ole protein Q for you (though, of course, we’re just giving you this info cuz we’re nice—we don’t want to replace your doctor! If you need medical or other professional advice, of course go see a qualified specialist who can advise on your individual needs). Check out what former-peta2-employee-turned-nurse Kelli (that’s her to the right!) has to say, then be sure to comment with your favorite way to get your protein. Hummus is practically my BFF; I’m just sayin’.

“If I go vegan, will I get enough protein?”

Is it probable that little Suri Cruise will grow up with a complex? Yes. Is it probable that a vegan will get enough protein? YES! Let’s start at the very beginning with a quick and painless chemistry lesson. Proteins are called amino acids for their chemical nature because “amino” refers to the fact that they contain nitrogen—unlike carbs and fats. Of the 20 amino acids, 9 are considered “indispensable,” meaning that your body can’t make them itself in sufficient quantity. And for that reason … we dine!

Proteins build tissues and aid the body with water balance, metabolism, its defense system, and breakdown for energy in times of starvation. So, they are important … but contrary to popular belief, and some dimwit named Dr. Atkins, there IS such a thing as too much protein. The body has a specific need for protein and once that need is met, additional protein is deaminated (normal people language: nitrogen is removed) and stored as fat. Excess nitrogen in your system makes your kidneys work overtime and increases calcium losses in the bone. In other words, your waistline grows, your bones shrink, and your kidneys hate you. Basically, it’s bad.

Dear Protein,
That is not cool at all!

Therefore, eating excess protein will not give you the body you want! Only exercising with enough protein to support growth can do that. But how much is enough to support growth? The general recommendation for daily protein intake is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. In other words, you only need 40 – 55 grams of protein daily if you weigh 110 – 150 pounds. This value is so easy to reach, that as long as you’re eating the recommended daily calorie intake and not only getting all those calories from unhealthy foods like chips and soda, you’ll have no problem.

Here’s a little protein lowdown for ya:

2 slices of whole wheat bread = 5 grams
1 cup of soymilk = 7 grams
2 tablespoons of peanut butter = 8 grams
1 cup of pasta = 8 grams
1 veggie burger = 8-16 grams depending of the brand
1 cup of almost any type of bean = 12-18 grams
1 cup of soybeans = 30 grams!

Generally, Americans eat way more protein than necessary. When it’s in the form of flesh, which carries animal fat, you’re flirting with obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer. I’m sure it didn’t help that the American Dietetic Association (ADA) used to say that meticulously combining certain vegetarian foods was the only way to get all of your nutrients … but not anymore. The ADA has jumped on the veggie wagon, saying that a balanced veg diet can do you wonders. They also have a nerdy value called a chemical score, derived from the amino acid pattern in food, to identify the best proteins. Surprise, surprise: The high ranking list includes rice, peanuts, oats, whole wheat, corn, soybeans, sesame seeds, and peas!

– Kelli

Kelli Ellis is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing who is currently working on her Masters at Penn State University while working at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.



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