Now that the temperatures are finally matching the season that we’re in, now that the summer vacation is finally booked and now that the birds are happily singing, it really feels like spring. You can also tell that it’s spring, because of the increasing amount of people running. Working out in the park. Power walking or biking to work. Spring is the month, where working out feels more fun than during any other season. Don’t you agree?
Everyone who knows me knows that daily exercise is key for me. I often share my running journey on Instagram, and many of you have been asking what my take on protein is. Where I get my plant-based protein from, how much protein I think we need, and what that means in terms of food. I believe that people who exercise daily or at least a couple of times a week, have a slightly higher protein requirement than others. At least I can definitely feel that I run better, if I regularly check that I eat enough protein. Not crazy amounts, absolutely not. This is not your typical high-protein, low-carb article. It’s my opinion on protein.
Before I continue, I just want to clarify that that I do not believe that one macro nutrient is more important than the other. I believe in a wholesome, balanced diet, which includes complex carbs, fats and proteins alike. Not in the same amount or quantity, but we definitely need all of the above to have a healthy diet. At least that is my personal food philosophy.
A few thoughts on diets
Just like many other people, I was completely fooled by the food industry and magazines’ diet trends. Low-fat, low-carb, you name it. Low-fat was probably my worst years ever. I could literally see my hair thinning and my nails weaken. But I also tried the low-carb thing for – well, not long – but definitely every time I flew across the ocean to visit my boyfriend. Silly, in hindsight, but that’s what the magazines said.
Diets will always be part of our lives as long as we continue to lead this extremely unhealthy daily lifestyle. Miracle 4-week cleanses will always have an audience who is willing to sacrifice quality of life for a short period of time, in order to lose a few pounds of weight. Only to gain it back a few weeks later. This is very sad, because it has been scientifically proven that diets do not work. No diet does. In my opinion, the only thing that really works is a change in lifestyle choices and dietary choices for good. Not just for a period of time. Another reason why diets cannot work is that every body is different. We all have different lives, different habits, autoimmune diseases, allergies, intolerances, and unusually high amounts of stress. Therefore, there is no perfect way of eating that works for everyone. In my opinion, it’s all about loading up on those veggies, eating enough fats and enough protein and complex carbs. But that’s just what works for me.
What are proteins?
First of all, proteins is not the word we should actually be talking about. Amino acids is the correct term when we talk about proteins. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. We can roughly differentiate between two kinds of amino acids: essential and non-essential. The non-essential amino acids can be produced by our body (hello, how cool!). The essential amino acids, however, have to be taken in through our diet.
What do proteins do?
Everything! No, not everything, but since proteins make up 15 % of our body (60 % is water, 17 – 30 % fat and 5 % minerals), you can say that proteins are pretty important. They are the building block of literally every cell in our body. That fact alone is super cool. But proteins also have a variety of other complex tasks. For example, hormones and enzymes are proteins. Transport proteins in the blood plasma that carry vitamins, minerals or oxygen (!) are made from amino acids, too. Also, something that is often times overlooked: antigens are made from amino acids, hence, proteins are important for our immune system. In short: no protein, no life.
How much protein do we really need?
The answer to this question can be answered in the business term: it depends. According to the DGE (German association for nutrition), we need between 0,8 and 1 g of protein per kilogram body weight. For a healthy woman of 70 kilos that would roughly make 70 g of protein per day.
Athletes, who do a lot of weight lifting, for example, have a higher protein requirement of 2 g of protein per kilogram body weight a day, endurance athletes are advised to eat 1.5 g of protein p. kg per day. However, these guidelines change almost every year, new studies are released all the time, and nobody really knows what’s right and what’s wrong. This is not surprising in my opinion, as we are all different, and therefore, a generalization on the “right” amount of protein is hardly possible. The DGE for example does not believe that hobby athletes like me have a higher protein requirement than a normal person. I disagree with that statement based on personal experience and common sense. The optimal protein requirements really depend on lots of demographics such as age, weight, height, level of physical activity, illnesses, stress or pregnancy. So I guess it’s safe to say that you can only make educated guesses on how much protein we need a day.
Which foods are rich in protein?
High protein foods are legumes such as lentils, beans or chickpeas, vegetables such as broccoli or spinach, pseudo-grains such as quinoa or buckwheat, grains such as millet, oats or whole-grain rice, nuts and seeds and soy products such as tofu or tempeh. Animal sources of protein are eggs, dairy, fish or meat.
A short list of some of the most often used protein-rich foods in my kitchen (values as per 100 g)
Plant-based sources of protein:
- red lentils: 25 g of protein
- kidney-beans: 24 g of protein
- sunflower seeds: 21 g of protein
- almonds: 19 g of protein
- chickpeas: 19 g of protein
- oats: 15 g of protein
- buckwheat: 13 g of protein
- quinoa: 12 g of protein
- millet: 11 g of protein
- spinach: 3 g of protein
- broccoli: 3 g protein
- whole-grain rice: 3 g of protein
- tofu: 8 g of protein
Animal sources of protein:
- curd: 34 g of protein
- fish ca. 22 g of protein
- meat: ca. 26 g of protein
- eggs: 13 g of protein
Do I need to eat low-carb in order to get enough protein?
The food industry is excellent at shaming certain food groups. In the 2000s, it was fat, now it’s still carbohydrates. I wonder, when proteins will be the new acclaimed devil of nutrition. If we learned one thing in the magazines in the past, it is that carbohydrates are “bad”. This is completely nonsense. Just about every food on earth is made from carbohydrates, even vegetables and legumes! Therefore, we cannot per se say that carbs are evil. This word should be banned from our nutrition related conversation. If we can call anything evil, it is industrially processed sweets with loads of E-numbers that you cannot pronounce.
Just about every food on earth is made from a combination of carbs, protein and fats. Quinoa for example is an excellent plant-based source of protein, but it also contains complex carbohydrates, called fiber, which are amazing for a healthy gut as the good gut bacteria feed on fiber. Lentils are also amazing when it comes to their amount of protein, but they also contain a good amount of fiber, which also keep us satisfied longer and prevent our blood sugar level from spiking. Eating enough protein does not mean that you have to give up carbs. Low-carb diets are designed for those who want to lose weight over a certain period of time. This is not for me, however, I believe that low-carb does work for some people. Just not for hangry Lynn ;-).
In order to show you that it is actually not that hard to eat enough protein during the day, I have written a small exemplary meal plan. Disclaimer: this plan is not a meal plan designed by medicinal standards. It is just an example to make my point).
Exemplary meal plan with about 70 g of protein:
50 g of oats with 180 ml of almond milk: 13 g of protein
+ 10 g of Bio Protein Powder Walnut & Lupine: 6 g of protein
Mixed salad with:
150 g of vegetables (such as carrots, broccoli, bell peppers): ca. 3 g o protein
150 g of cooked quinoa: 6 g of protein
70 g of hummus: 5 g of protein
70 g of kidney-beans: 6 g of protein
1 Alnavit Bio Protein balls: 6 g of protein
160 g of broccoli: 4,5g of protein
100 g of GrandeMio Bio Spirelli Chickpea Pasta: 14 g of protein
60 g of tomato sauce with sunflower seed butter: 4 g of protein
25 g of almonds: 5 g of protein
Total: 72,5 g of protein
I hope this little example showed you, how easy it is to add some protein to your diet. If you’re from Germany, then Alnavit has an amazing giveaway on my German page, with lots of plant-based protein snacks and pasta. Unfortunately, the giveaway is only open for German-speaking countries.
Have a wonderful day!
*This post is sponsored by Alnavit. All opinions are my own. Always. Thank you for supporting the brands that keep me dancing through my kitchen.