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The Meat of the Matter: How Much Protein?
Americans’ traditional dinner plate reflects our love for meat a big serving smack in the middle. Weight loss gurus to body builders tout meat as almost magical, sure to help us solve our weight problems and be strong and lean.
Yet, AICR and many health organizations promote a plant-based diet with small meat servings as a way to lower risk for cancer and other chronic diseases. There’s even a movement called "Meatless Mondays" to encourage people to eat less meat.
Who’s right? Can we get enough protein without beef, fish or chicken or would "Meatless Monday" lead to a protein poor start to the week?
Protein is important; it’s found in muscles and helps transport nutrients through the bloodstream. In the body, dietary proteins form hemoglobin, hormones, antibodies and enzymes and other substances our bodies need to function. We also need protein for building and repairing the body’s tissues. The richest sources include meat, poultry, fish, milk, yogurt, cheese, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds
How much do I need to eat to meet my protein requirements?
Here’s how an individual could meet protein requirements both with and without meat:
Meat & Egg Protein Grams
Meatless Protein Grams
|Breakfast||1 large egg||6||1/4 c walnuts &
6 oz yogurt
(nuts 4; yogurt - 9)
|Lunch||2.5 oz tuna||17||1 c bean chili||11|
|Snack||1 c milk||9||6 oz Greek yogurt||15|
|Dinner||3 oz chicken||26||1/2 c tofu &
3/4 c quinoa
(tofu- 20; quinoa 6)
Research doesn’t indicate there’s anything magical about extra protein or meat for weight loss. But protein is digested more slowly than carbohydrates, so a meal that includes a food with protein may help you stay full longer—and stop the urge to snack or overeat at the next meal. Timing may be the key. A few studies do show that people who include high protein foods at breakfast, as part of a healthy, balanced diet, eat less throughout the day. If your typical breakfast is toast, juice and coffee, try adding a handful of nuts or some yogurt to boost protein.
The example above shows that it is possible to meet protein needs with plant foods and low-fat dairy products, so a meatless day does not need to be protein deficient. Whether you are making a transistion to a diet with less meat or choosing a vegetarian diet, you can get enough protein in your diet with the right choices. According to the American Dietetic Association: "Appropriately planned vegetarian diets have been shown to be healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle."
Along with protein, you need to include foods high in carbohydrates and some fat to make sure you have calories for energy. AICR’s New American Plate provides a visual way to make sure you are getting the right balance of nutrients: 2/3 or more of your plate should contain vegetables, whole grains and fruit; 1/3 or less should contain meat or other high protein foods. If you’re aiming to lose weight, choose smaller portions of the highest calorie foods and try using a smaller plate to help you downsize your portions.