With all the diet trends out there it’s hard to know what’s good for you. Protein is especially tricky. We know that we need it. But how much? And from what source?
It’s particularly hard when you talk about animal protein. The enormous Paleo tribe will tell you we thrive off meat. Whereas the passionate vegan community disagree. To say the least.
As an Australian, I grew up eating meat every single day. For lunch and dinner. Breakfast and dessert were the only meals that escaped it. Thankfully I’m a little more open minded with my grub these days. But I’m still unsure how to attack protein. So I wanted to investigate.
How Much Protein Should I Have Per Day?
Adults only need 0.8 or 0.9 grams of protein per kilogram. So as an 82kg boy (legally, I’m apparently a man), I need about 70 grams per day. I can get that done without trying. Scrambled eggs and a Mexican quinoa bowl would tip me over.
Gym Junkie Jason would take issue with 0.8 to 0.9 though. The body building school of thought is that you need a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. So more than 2.2 grams per kilo. But studies show that is incorrect. Once you hit a particular quota of protein, say 20 grams in a serving, the rest isn't absorbed. You only need 0.8 to 0.9 per kilo to feed those guns Jason.
Let’s Look At Animal Protein
Firstly, let's address processed meats. The Harvard School of Public Health and the World Cancer Research Fund recommend avoiding processed meat altogether. So no more salami from that Italian butcher. No more old school, handmade sausage rolls. Even bacon is a no go. I don’t think I’ll ever completely give up these naughties but if less processed meats equals more days on earth, I’ll be skipping the Bunnings hot dogs.
Red meat isn't off the hook either. It’s been shown to put you at a risk of mortality, cardiovascular disease, certain forms of cancer such as colon cancer and type 2 diabetes. Plus loss of liver function and renal function disorders. Ouch.
Not to say their aren’t nutritional benefits to eating red meat. My pregnant fiance’s iron count is dire. She needs a significant improvement at the moment to avoid iron infusions. As much as a plant-based solution sounds beautiful and free loving, she’d have to eat nine cups of raw spinach to match the iron content of one steak.
But What About Plant-Based Amino Acids?
There’s only two plants that can be considered alongside animal protein as complete sources of amino acids. Hemp and chia seeds. Putting a teaspoon of either in your smoothie doesn’t quite compare to a piece of grilled salmon. But vegetarians also argue that essential amino acids can also be obtained by eating certain combinations of plant-based foods. Mix brown rice with beans or hummus with whole wheat pita bread.
A potentially stronger argument is that vegetarians live longer than the rest of us. So maybe it’s not so essential that your essential amino acids come from one item.
And The Environment
Animal proteins are inefficient. There’s no way to hide behind it. Here’s some absolute shockers from Cowspiracy:
- 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef.
- Livestock covers 45% of the earth’s total land.
- Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction.
- We could see fishless oceans by 2048.
- 82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries.
- We can get 15 x more protein on any given area of land with plants, rather than animals.
But I Like Steak
After going through 25+ studies, my stance on protein hasn't really changed. I don't need meat. You don't need meat. I'll live longer without it. I'll do less damage to the Earth if I commit to plants... But. I like steak. Reminding me of Jim Jeffries' most famous clip.
The only argument for guns is ‘f–k off, I like guns!’
And that's the only argument for animal protein. ‘F–k off, I like steak!’
And fair enough. That's my argument too.
But I'm under no false allusions as to why I eat it. I eat steak because it tastes good. It reminds me of my Grandfather. The smell, the sea salt, the satisfaction. I eat steak (and salmon and chicken), knowing that an animal died for me.
I don't eat it for the iron or the amino acids. It's not for protein or toning. I can tick off all those properties by lunch. With a smoothie and a salad.
But I like steak.
To be clear, I eat non vegetarian meals about five times per week. That's a vast improvement from the 20+ I consumed as a teenager. Still too many for a vegan and not enough for Paleo Pete. But I feel good and my diet continues to evolve.