We’ve come a long way from the low fat diet fad of the nineties, so far in fact that we’ve now experienced something quite different, a high protein diet fad. According to recent research, getting an optimal amount of protein is vital to health and can also help with weight loss. The popularity of protein naturally leads to confusion. So let’s clear it up! Here are the top 4 myths about protein I hear from clients and the facts.
Myth #1: More protein is better
Of course, you want to make sure you get enough protein every day. That amount will vary from person to person, but it’s generally recommended that 10% to 35% of your daily calories comes from protein. For many adults, the optimal protein intake works out to about 25 to 30 g of protein per meal. But is even more protein better? Not really. Adequate protein is needed to maintain body systems, including muscle. Beyond that, more protein will not help you develop even more or bigger muscles. Plus, each gram of protein contains the same 4 calories as a gram of carbohydrate. So excess calories, whether from protein, carbs, or fat can lead to weight gain.
Myth #2: If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can’t get enough protein
Most plant foods are not complete proteins, meaning that they don’t contain all 9 essential amino acids. We used to think you had to eat foods that contained complementary proteins (e.g., corn and beans) within the same meal but we now know that eating a variety of plant foods throughout the day will provide enough protein and all 9 essential amino acids. And yes, you can easily meet your protein needs by eating beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy!
Myth #3: Soy is an unsafe protein
The myth about soy’s safety is a persistent one. Soy contains beneficial compounds called isoflavones. They are phytoestrogens that mimic what the hormone estrogen does, in some ways. The effects of eating soy have been researched extensively, and the latest evidence suggests that rather than increase breast cancer risk, it is linked to lower risk of diseases including breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and type 2 diabetes.
Myth #4: It doesn’t matter when you get your protein
Commonly, we get the bulk of our protein from lunch and dinner. This is in part because popular breakfast foods like cereal and toast tend to be lower in protein compared with other foods. It turns out, however, that it is important to distribute your protein evenly throughout the day, about 25 to 30 g of protein per meal. Since the body breaks down and rebuilds muscle all day long, spacing out your protein helps the body to do this far more effectively. Also, research studies have linked uneven protein distribution with fatigue, slower walking speeds, and frailty.