Simply put, proteins are essential to life. Protein is an important component of your skin, hair, fingernails, bones, blood, and cartilage – in fact, it literally holds us together. Your body also uses it to produce important body proteins like enzymes and hormones. Enzymes speed up certain chemical processes – like digestive enzymes that help break down our food and release energy into your system. Hormones act as ‘cellular messengers’ and help to coordinate all kinds of activities in the body – like insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar in our body. Our immune system needs protein to make antibodies – specialized proteins that help the body defend against foreign invaders. And, the body also makes transport proteins that move things around – like hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to all the cells of our body, or specialized proteins that carry vitamins and minerals to the cells that need them.
Plants are the best natural source of protein as they are efficient to digest and free of saturated fat and hormones.
You can combine plant sources in such a way to provide the complete set of essential building blocks that the body needs. The essential amino acid that is lacking in beans, peas, and lentils, for example, is abundant in grains and, conveniently, what the grains lack, the beans can provide. So, when you pair black beans with rice, you can provide your body with all the essential amino acids that it needs. Soy, quinoa, peas, chickpeas, spinach are some other plant proteins you could load up on.
How much protein do you need?
There are established guidelines for how much protein the average man or woman should eat every day, and these recommendations are set at levels to meet the very basic needs of most people. But, body sizes and body composition can vary a lot from person to person. Since protein helps to support lean body mass, it stands to reason that protein needs are going to differ between, for example, a 90-kg male bodybuilder and a 70-kg male office worker who doesn’t get much exercise. For this reason, I would suggest that you take a more personalized approach to protein – the recommended daily amount of protein is determined by the amount of lean body mass in the body. I advise body composition testing to determine the amount of lean mass you have and recommend that you eat about 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per kg of lean body mass each day. In general, you should eat about 30% of your calories from protein. This amount will provide your body with the building blocks necessary to help you build and maintain lean body mass and to help you satisfy your hunger.