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Q:As a vegetarian (or vegan) how much protein do I need to eat per day or per meal?

A: It depends. As a nutritionist I am asked this question many times a day. And while you may think I am being flippant with the answer, the amount of protein needed really does depend on the individual situation and circumstance of the particular person. Let’s have a closer look at protein and you’ll see what I mean. Protein is one of the basic building blocks of the human body, making up about 16 percent of our total body weight. Hair, skin, muscle and connective tissue are mostly made of protein but it also plays a crucial role in all of our cells and most of the fluids in our bodies. Additionally, our bodies’ important chemicals – hormones, neurotransmitters, enzymes, and even our DNA – are partially made of protein. Through the body’s daily tasks of growing, rebuilding and repairing, it uses up protein constantly so it is imperative that there is a continual supply. Proteins in turn are made up of smaller units called amino acids. There are 20 known amino acids, 11 of which the body can manufacture on its own given it has enough in-coming protein. The remaining 9, called essential amino acids, must be sourced from our food. Animal protein sources (meat, fish, poultry, eggs) contain all of the essential amino acids as do some plants (soy, quinoa) making them a “complete” protein. It was once thought that we needed the right combination of foods to make a complete protein at each meal but it is now apparent that a wide variety of foods over the day should provide all of the essential amino acids. Our protein needs depend on a number of well known things including age, size, activity level and whether or not you are pregnant or nursing. What is often forgotten is that an injured body (tears, burns, breaks, surgery, blood loss) needs more protein and importantly, our bones need adequate protein for proper formation not just during our youth but also in our senior years to help prevent and slow osteoporosis. Increasingly we are also finding that stress levels and the speed of a person’s metabolism have profound effects on protein requirements. Okay, so let’s get to the answer. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for the “average” person is 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram (2.2 lbs) of body weight. Many nutrition experts, including me, feel this is much too low. While I really try to avoid one-size-fits-all recommendations (because they don’t work), I am more comfortable with 1.2-1.8 grams of protein per day per kilogram of body weight. But that’s not all. It is also important to look at the amount and type of carbohydrate and fat being eaten in relation to the protein. I often find that many people are over-consuming carbohydrates, especially in the form of grains. Protein requirements are not an exact science so check how you are doing using the charts on the right. What is missing in the chart is something I often recommend as an additional source of protein for vegetarians and vegans: a good quality whey isolate or vegetable based protein powder with a low carbohydrate level. {B}

10 - Jun/Jul | 2013 |

with Jill Hillhouse BPHE, CNP


Qty Protein

Beans Tofu ½ cup Tempeh ½ cup Soy beans ½ cup Most beans ½ cup grams (black, pinto, lentils, etc.) Nuts and Seeds Hemp seeds ¼ cup Almonds ¼ cup Pumpkin seeds ¼ cup Flax seeds ¼ cup Sunflower seeds ¼ cup Cashews ¼ cup Dairy and Eggs Cottage Cheese ½ cup Greek yogurt (plain) ½ cup grams Hard cheese 1 oz (parmesan) Medium cheese 1 oz (cheddar, swiss) Egg (large) one

20 grams 18 grams 12 grams 7-10

13 grams 8 grams 8 grams 8 grams 6 grams 5 grams 15 grams 10-14 10 grams 7-8 grams 6 grams

Grains Oats (cooked) ½ cup 5 grams Quinoa (cooked) ½ cup 4 grams Brown rice (cooked) ½ cup 2 grams Vegetables Spinach (cooked) ½ cup Mushrooms (cooked) ½ cup Broccoli (cooked) ½ cup Kale (cooked) ½ cup Carrots (cooked) ½ cup

2.5 grams 2.0 grams 1.8 grams 1.3 grams 0.6 grams

Blikki Magazine ~ June / July 2013 No. 4  

The Magazine for Compassionate Living

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