Where’s the Beef? All about Protein

Do you remember the hilarious Wendy’s commercial with the old woman who yelled “Where’s the beef?”, picking on the small size of McDonalds’ burgers?  I still remember running around as a kid yelling “where’s the beef!” and then collapsing in laughter.  It irritated my parents, but we, like millions of others, remembered it much to the chagrin of McDonalds executives.  Today neither McDonalds or Wendy’s are admired by people who value good nutrition.  But the major nutritional component of their burgers, the protein, is something we all should care about.

What is Protein?

Protein is one of the main three macronutrients that people eat.  The other two are fats and carbohydrates.  Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks for the cells in our body.  Amino acids are particularly needed for building strong bones, tendons, muscles, nails and hair. There are 26 different amino acids required by the body for its various processes. Eight of these are essential, meaning the body can’t make them so we have to eat them.   Many people have problems making the non-essential amino acids. So people need to eat a wide variety of proteins in order to make sure and get enough of them all.

How much do we need?

The minimum daily requirement for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.  This translates to about 10% of our daily calories.  Many people may need more than this minimum.  This article by Chris Kresser discusses  some of the reasons you might need to eat more than the minimum amount of protein.  If you are trying to lose weight, have blood sugar issues, are exercising a lot, are under stress, are small-boned or are losing muscle, you might want to consume at least 20% of your calories (about 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight) as protein.  Amounts up to 35% of calories appear to be safe for people, as long as they do not have kidney problems.

A female weighing 135 pounds should eat between 47 and 74 grams of protein daily for normal health.  If she is exercising a lot or wants to gain muscle and lose fat, then this amount could safely be increased to 100 grams.    I encourage you to experiment with the amount of protein in your diet.  It is much more satiating than carbohydrate, which means it keeps you feeling fuller longer.  If your nails are weak and your hair breaks off easily, you probably should up your protein intake.  If you have recently broken a bone or are having joint or muscle issues, you definitely should increase your protein intake.

How should we consume protein?

Each meal that you have should contain about one-third of the protein you plan to eat in the day.  Often this does not happen in the Standard American Diet (it’s SAD!) where breakfast is bowl of carb-heavy cereal, lunch is a carb-heavy sandwich and dinner is a large piece of meat and one or two small servings of vegetables.

For a more balanced distribution, increase your protein at breakfast and lunch and decrease at dinner.  If you can eat eggs, then have 2-3 of them for breakfast along with a small serving of fruit or vegetables (sauerkraut anyone?) and perhaps a piece of toast.  If you prefer oatmeal, add some nuts or seeds, or top it with some protein powder. For lunch have a large dinner plate-sized salad topped with 2-3 ounces of fish, chicken or other meat.  Add some nuts, seeds, or beans for additional protein.  For dinner have about 3 ounces of meat along with lots of vegetables.  If you do not like meat, then have a cup of beans plus rice or quinoa.

Where is protein found and what are the best types to eat?

Meats, fish, eggs and dairy are high protein foods.  There are 22 to 28 grams of protein in a 3 ounce serving of most meats and seafood.  Notice that a serving is not a 12-ounce steak.  There are 7-9 grams of protein in ½ cup of most beans.  An egg has 6 grams of protein and an ounce of nuts has 4-7 grams of protein.  This article on the site Health Ambition gives a lot of good information about protein and eggs.  A serving of milk, yoghurt of dairy has about 6-9 grams of protein.

This website gives a list of some of the most common foods and their protein content.  If you are curious about how much you are eating now, log your meals for an average day and calculate from this website or in an online app.

There is more protein per ounce in meats and fish than in other foods. I encourage you to eat a wide variety of different types of protein, including nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy and some grains as well as meats and fish. B12 is only found in meats and certain other nutrients including zinc are much more plentiful in animal foods. Vegan diets are not recommended unless carefully planned and supplemented.

I have a number of food sensitivities and cannot eat dairy, many grains or many beans.  I do eat some type of nuts or seeds on a daily basis as well as brown rice, oats or quinoa several times a week and at least one serving of beans a week.

Although the Wendy’s commercial was memorable, the small McDonalds burgers actually were the correct serving size.  Go ahead and get a chuckle by re-watching that commercial. Then consider “where’s the beef (protein)” at your next meal.

What are your favorite protein sources?  Comment below.

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