Found In Food: Of Primary Importance (?)

The way we talk about food you would think there is some type of crisis here in 'Murrica: somehow, strangely, we think we just can't get enough protein in our diets. I hear this over and over again from participants who I provide wellness coaching to, although in a 'shadow' format, the classic example being "I need to limit/I have a problem with carbs". Since we need a certain number of calories for health, a certain percentage of those calories must come from the big three macronutrients of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. (If you are lost already, don't panic. "Macronutrient" is just fancy talk for "food building block"; think of them as different primary colored Legos, if that helps, which go into the structure of all food.) If you reduce the percentage of calories you take in from carbohydrates, the percentage of calories from fat and protein will increase. And the word protein comes from the Greek root for primary or first, with good reason: without it, Very Bad Things can happen to the body starting with tissue wasting (your body breaks down your internal organs to get those red protein Legos) and leading to gastrointestinal disorders, increased susceptibility to infection, decreased wound healing and more.

So perhaps our concern is warranted and we should shovel as much of that good stuff into our maws as possible; bring on the burgers, steaks, bacon, jerky hot dogs, and sliced deli meat! Or pile on the eggs, cheese, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, and processed vegetarian 'meat' substitutes!

Hold on, dear ones.

Just how much protein are you eating, anyway?

Go ahead, take your time, I know you need to check your food tracking app. What, your app doesn't break it down into grams of protein or percentage of calories from macronutrients? Oh, you don't track? Well I guess that since you don't assess your current eating patterns things must be working out perfectly for you in terms of your diet. Gosh, they aren't? Yes, I'm judging you, but I'm feeling guilty about it, so let's agree to move forward in some type of constructive way.

The best of scientific evidence indicates that ideally most adults should aim to eat enough food to get between 46 and 56 grams of protein per day. To give you an idea of where you might stand, let's say you stumbled out of bed and made it to the kitchen where you pour yourself a bowl of typical toasted oat cereal, splash a cup of milk over it and begin spooning it into your mouth while listening to your favorite podcast. Congratulations, you've landed 20 grams right there, almost half of what you need in any given day. Later a friend drags you to a chain fast food place where you shell out more cash than you want to for a vegetarian burrito bowl (but since you want to increase the odds of knocking boots with them so you don't mind all that much). This gives you 28 more grams of protein, and you've only eaten twice. Notice there was also no meat (in your food, in your FOOD, not your bed, c'mon now) in those meals, so you can quickly dismiss the idea that one must eat flesh to get enough of the good stuff.

A little bit of planning goes a long way. Yes, eating enough protein is important, especially if you are vegan, a body worker (by which I mean your paychecks require total body physical labor of some description be you athlete or fruit picker), have an active disease state (chronic or otherwise), very young or very old but really it is quite easy to reach your needs even under those circumstances.

I would like to make one caveat to that, though; protein is typically the most expensive component of your food budget, especially if you consume flesh foods. Finding meat that is not heavily processed for less than one dollar per pound is increasingly challenging, although it can be done. If money is an issue, look carefully at your food habits and make the best decisions that you can with your funds available. For example you can make your own dang burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, jarred salsa, shreds off a block of pepper jack cheese and still have a bit left over to splurge on an avocado for under a dollar PER SERVING (start with 30 cents per serving for the beans and ditto for the cheese, 20 cents for a serving of rice and less than that for a serving of salsa…you get the picture).


So look more carefully at your plate and remember to keep it simple, sweetheart. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants and your protein needs will STILL be met. Stay tuned for the last article in this series on one of the tastiest macronutrients ever designed: delicious, slippery, delightful fat. Until then, dear readers, I'll see you at the co-op or the gym, but not at that chain restaurant unless you are buying.

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