What Protein Should I Eat?
So now that we talked about why protein can be a strong battle ax you can wheel to give you the health and energy you need, the next step is to figure out the right sources.
And what are those sources?
Well let’s not waste time….
The best sources are animal protein such as meat, fish, fowl, gas-producing eggs, and shellfish. No the shellfish doesn’t have to come from Red Lobster.
Yes, I know you are going to say there are other sources. This could be legumes which are beans like edamame, grains, whole grain rice, nuts like almonds, and seeds. The truth is that these are minor leaguers compared to those animal sources. They don’t do a great job of getting you a high level of necessary amino acids, nutrients or energy.
Why Animal Protein is Better
These minor leaguer incomplete proteins contain only a couple of the 11 essential amino acids.
They also pack a smaller punch by having a lower percentage of protein compared to what animal sources have. In animal sources of protein you can get a higher amount of protein with fewer calories, often 2-4 times the amount of protein.
Robb Wolf and Charles Poliquin mention you should be getting in roughly 1 gram of protein per every pound you weigh daily. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, then you should eat 200 grams of protein a day. This may be “hard to swallow”. The truth is, it is a lot easier to get in if you are eating animal protein sources. You can eat less, but get more protein. That also means more fat being burned to digest those meats along with replenishing muscle glycogen to give your muscles energy.
With animal protein you also get a great deal of nutrients. Lean meats are high in zinc, all B vitamins, phosphorus, riboflavin, thiamine, and iron. Seafood is an amazing source for all of these nutrients along with calcium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate. As Dr. Loren Cordain mentions in The Paleo Diet, collectively there is as much and even more nutrients you can get from lean meats and seafood compared to whole grains and dairy. This means better cell growth, fast cell repair, and yes more energy.
The biggest issue is that not only does animal protein provide all of this value, but these grains, dairy, and legumes cause a bunch of long term health issues that compound on each other. We will talk more specifically about the insulin sensitivity and gut inflammation issues that are caused by grains, dairy, and legumes as we move forward.
Another problem we deal with is the animal protein covered in refined carbs. This is not a good thing. There is always a meat source available at meal times, but rarely is it fresh and unprocessed. Most are covered in starchy-grained based carbs. Breaded chicken, eggs, and shrimp or burgers with bread are not equivalent to a flour-less pot roast or a roast chicken. If an animal is covered in grains or eating grains, as we will soon see, this is bad for our health.
Meat or Poultry
For meat find leaner cuts or fresh, unprocessed meats when possible. This means lean ground beef, turkey, chicken, steak, London broil, lamb, etc. Ideally find grass-fed meat when possible. If you can also find animals that were hugged and bathed, that would be good too. (Joke)
It might sound silly to think that it is important for an animal to eat grass over grains. We are killing and eating these animals and all of a sudden we are really concerned about what food is in their diet? Seems like we are splitting hairs huh? Or maybe it is splitting grains, I am not sure.
Don’t worry; the actual reasons are for self-centered health reasons. Typical American, huh?
The point is that animals get sick from grains getting digestive and inflammatory issues just like us. Grains have gut irritating properties as self-defense mechanisms. So basically when you eat animals that eat grains, you are eating animals with diseases or are physically unhealthy. You wouldn’t eat a cow with mad cow disease or E. coli bacteria would you? I wouldn’t. This isn’t that far off. In fact, the grains that Cows eat can lead to E. coli outbreaks.
Many of these mass butchering shops are just trying to get the cows big enough, fast enough before they get sick so they can kill them. The American government subsidizes our farmers with cheap grains, which makes it an easy economical decision to make.
So that seems fiscally responsible on the front end, until millions of us are pumping Uncle Sam’s piggy bank for more health care because we are obese and dying of related diseases. So it isn’t that hard to see that grass-fed is the way to go to help your health. It also tastes noticeably better. I believe the French call that a “win-win”.
Be careful when reading labels. Realize that “organic” for meats, doesn’t mean grass-fed. It probably means organic grains. Organic or not, there are still the same grain issues. So don’t get hoodwinked. Focus on grass-fed sources if possible. If you are really anal about this, later we will talk about some sources you can go to in order to make absolutely sure you have grass-fed animal products.
When you go looking for fish, get wild fish. This will often be expressed on the label at any store where you buy fish.
So again why should we care if the fish had larger stomping grounds? Do we think that all of sudden those fish will have a lot more positive energy? Will that karma then somehow spread toward us and will make us smile more?
But what I do know is that wild caught fish have higher sources of omega-3 fatty acids or specifically EPA and DHA. You may have heard this before or read it on a label. This means better 1:1 ratios of omega-3 and omega-6, which is a good thing.
So why does it matter that we have a balanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6? Well with a lot of the terrible oils and grains we eat today (including the grains that are fed to animals that we eat) it means that balance is out of whack by 20:1 in favor of omega-6. Excess omega-6 builds up in our tissues and becomes inflammatory to our body and can spike insulin levels as well. Short term this means less energy, poor workouts, and more stress. This means higher risk to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, an autoimmune disease, and even cancer.
But if we get a nice balance of omega-3 it can be a big boost toward post workout recovery and sexual reproduction. You will look better, perform better in bed, and just have stronger overall confidence. Yeah baby!
We recommend wild fish because farmed fish are fed a refined grain product, which means more omega-6. Ahhh…coming together now?
Also with fish being confined in these “net pens” there is a greater potential for disease. So now the fish farmer needs to dump antibiotics and anitparasitic pesticides in their pens to prevent a constant concern about disease. So just like the cow, we are basically eating grains laced with chemicals when we eat these meats along with the health damage that goes with it. This is the terrible part of the circle of life.
The other rough part about these farmed fish is that they are often contaminated with heavy metals, particularly mercury. It can lead to mercury poisoning if you have too much. You have to eat a ton of fish for this to happen, but to help avoid any worries, stay away from freshwater fish taken from lakes and rivers, and choose fish that come from cleaner waters such as the ocean or freshwater rivers and lakes that are away from contamination.
Again labels will tell you because since 2005 labels with fish have been required to say whether the fish is wild or farmed. For best results I recommend eating mainly small species such as flounder, herring, sardines, sole, catfish, etc. Go ahead and try big fish like swordfish, shark, and tuna, but do so more sparingly.
Now don’t go crazy or feel overwhelmed. You don’t have to be perfect with this. If you can only eat that random fast food piece of fish and that is your only option, then take it. Most meat is a lot better than say donuts or beer. So don’t get caught up in it having to be wild game or nothing else. But if you can get it, go for it.
There tends to be a lot of controversy over eggs because they apparently cause cholesterol problems along with red meat. As we talk about often in these posts, that just isn’t the case.
Eggs do produce some LDL cholesterol, but it is the large, buoyant kind that doesn’t form into the plaque that gets stuck in your arteries. The actual bad LDL cholesterol is the small, dense kind created by carbohydrates. So throw that issue out the window please.
What matters more is the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 levels in our body. As we mentioned, since the agricultural revolution those levels have been out of whack going as high as 20:1 in favor of omega-6. They should be 1:1.
Make sure the eggs you buy are high in omega 3’s, often titled as “omega-3-enriched”. This will help with the anti-inflammatory fight to prevent cancer, diabetes, autoimmunity, neurodegeneration diseases and a bunch of other painful things I am sure you don’t want to deal with.
Make sure that when you are reading the label it is more important to find out that the eggs are “grass-fed” instead of organic. Organic can still mean grain fed, which sends us back into that terrible high omega-6 dilemma.
There may be one situation where you want to avoid eggs. Eggs can be a sensitive food after a person has already suffered gut irritation, leaky gut or strong autoimmune issues. That is not to say that it leads to that condition, but depending on the person it can be dicey. So if you do suffer from an autoimmune disease, I would test out life without eggs and see how you do. In the meantime, you still need protein from animal sources, so stick to animal protein like chicken, turkey, and steak.
How Can I Get Grass-Fed and Organic?
So I get if this seems daunting. You are probably saying, “Hey jerk-face I am already dropping sugar and grains that fill most of my calories. Now you are getting on me about the quality of food you are forcing me to eat!?!?”
I understand that, because I said those exact words as I understood further how this worked.
So those thoughts are warranted. What helped me was when I asked myself, “If I can get to my health goals a week or a few weeks earlier, would I do it?” If you want to pace yourself with baby steps and gradually get into that, then awesome. But if you want to get there faster and move on to other things in your life, then this is what you do.
Some people like buzz words like “fast”, “quick”, or “rapid” when it comes to weight loss. Then when they hear what you actually have to do…well it becomes unattractive. Again, go at your own pace. I don’t know about you, but I would like to look hot in those pants in a month and not three months. Make sense?
So when you have gotten past the whole “omega-3 enriched, wild, and grass-fed” thing, then here is what you do.
A great place to find locations near you to eat healthy is Eat Well Guide. You can do a search to find individual farmers, farmer’s markets, stores, restaurants, online options, educational centers and more to get your organic and grass-fed needs.
If this is your bag, it is actually freaking sweet. I have found several locations very close to me that I would have never have known about. That might not be the case with you, but even if it is 20-30 minutes or more away from your house it might be worth it. Without sounding like that grumpy grandfather, our ancestors had to do a lot more to get food, like killing animals and such. Considering the value to your health I think it might be worth it.
If you are looking for individual farmers, then I would recommend looking into a Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). CSAs are local, small businesses where you can buy into them with “shares” at the start of the year. These shares are simply a variety of fresh foods sent from the farmer (or picked up by you) directly. The quantity and type of foods can vary based on how their harvest has gone. It is a great way to support small business owners, so they can get back to doing what they do best: farming. A little tip: I would contact the individual farmer directly to find out how they deliver and what they have to offer.
The Proper Protein Intake
So now that we have seen the value of eating animal protein and what we should eat, then the next proper question is how much? The protein intake on a standard American diet is recommended to be 62 grams daily, which 57 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). That is very low unless you are maybe an 8 year old.
So what is the right amount we should be eating? As we mentioned earlier, ideally you should be wolfing down 1 g of protein per pound of body weight daily.
Protein makes up 15 percent of the calories the most Americans eat each day. Dr. Loren Cordain feels it should be closer to 25 percent of your daily calories to give you energy and to help burn off extra calories. Robb Wolf feels it could even be closer to 30-35% of your calories, especially if you are healthy. Again Robb also mentions the simple way to do this is 1g of protein per pound of weight you have daily. Yes animal protein should be eaten at every meal whether you are doing 3 or 6.
Eating only protein and high amounts of lean protein can make a person nauseated, cause diarrhea, and eventually get a toxic illness called “rabbit starvation”. This name came from our pioneers that lived off of mostly rabbits. Rabbit starvation can get so bad that it could eventually kill a person. Whoa!
So remember it has to be balanced with fats. We must eat fats like coconut oil, coconut milk, olive oil, avocado oil, nuts (not peanuts), and seeds to avoid this toxicity. Also include fatty animal meats like steak and bacon to help balance the amount of fat. We will talk more about this in other posts before you start flipping out about saturated fats.
The Bottom Line…
The bottom line is this is going to vary a ton based on your size and how active you are. Human bodies are too complex to start using exactitude because hormones affect us all very differently. Look at how different we deposit fat and how tall we each grow. You throw in different levels of activity for each person and it can get kinda crazy.
I am all about the unmeasured approach. Counting calories can be like a Richard Simmons yelling episode to the face. A safe measure is to eat what you can fit in the open palm of your hand each meal. See how much energy you have. If you are noticeably lackluster or don’t have as much energy working out, then add more protein before you try to add less. If you want to tinker I would always add more instead of less.
Animal protein is so key whether you are losing fat or gaining muscle. If you are eating protein with fats, fresh fruits and vegetables, then there won’t be a limit for animal protein. Simply put: eat until you are full and notice differences in your health.