Proteins (comprised of a variety of twenty amino acids) provide cell structure and serve as neurotransmitters between cells. There’s protein in every cell of your body; it’s necessary for building and maintaining muscle. It’s also important for cell metabolism to keep all your body’s systems working as they should.
Additionally, recent research has uncovered protein’s role in calcium retention, suggesting that protein improves bone health and maintains bone density as we age. (1,2) In the last couple of decades, diet regimes that focus on proteins have become popular in the mainstream (e.g., Paleo, Atkins, ketogenic). Eating more protein in your regular diet isn’t a fad, it may be the best thing you can do for your health. And a good way to add more of this nutrient into your diet is by eating plant-based protein foods.
Protein and Carbohydrates
It’s true that a diet rich in protein supports weight loss through heightened metabolism and other mechanisms (3):
- Increases satiety (feeling full longer)(4)
- Lower calorie intake due to appetite reduction (5)
- Regulating blood sugar and increasing insulin sensitivity (proteins replace carbohydrates as part of daily food intake)
- Increasing muscle mass (muscle burns more energy than fat).
The North American diet is heavy on carbohydrates and refined sugars and that’s become a terrible problem, leading to obesity, diabetes, cancer, and other life-threatening illness. Your stomach can only hold so much at any given time and if it’s filled with other types of food, there just isn’t enough room for protein.
Our needs for protein change as we go through life but are just as important for the elderly as it is for developing children and athletes. Without adequate protein intake, especially essential amino acids that we can get only from food, the body will break down protein fibers (such as muscles) in order to maintain cell integrity. This breakdown will generally have a negative impact on your immune system, muscle mass, and overall health.
How Much Protein should You Eat?
Proteins are complex molecules built from chains of amino acids. Eleven non-essential amino acids are produced by the body and nine essential amino acids are obtained through the foods we eat. (6) Each amino acid behaves differently and is engaged in different metabolic processes, including the production of hormones and enzymes.
Generally speaking, healthy adults should consume all nine essential amino acids every day in order to stimulate muscle and other cell metabolism. (7) This can be accomplished by eating a variety of plant-based sources of protein.
Your protein requirement is based on your weight, age, activity level, muscle mass, body structure, and overall health. The absolute minimum daily requirement of protein recommended by the World Health Organization is .36 grams per pound or .83 grams of protein per kilogram for basic maintenance in healthy adults. (8)
To determine your minimum, multiply your weight in pounds by .36 or in kilograms by .83. That’s a very small amount of protein. (You can find an easy nutrient requirement calculator here.)