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Effects of Protein on the Body
Candice joined me for one of my east coast weekend seminars in early November a handful of years ago. She had been dealing with lifelong insomnia, worry and anxiety that she had for as long as she could remember. She had been a strict vegetarian for 20 years, which initially helped her feel much better. Her digestion became stronger, elimination more consistent, and her energy and mental clarity were dramatically improved.
I began discussing how the body has increased needs for protein in the fall and winter months in an attempt to rebuild the structure and provide more bulk and insulation. I told the group that, in early winter, the body will start scavenging for protein from other parts of the body to re-stock its protein reserves, and that this could destabilize blood sugar levels.
Eating a low-protein, high-sugar (presumably natural sugar) vegetarian diet may increase the risk of blood sugar issues and protein deficiency symptoms that are likely to worsen in the fall and winter, such as:
- You may experience more worry or anxiety.
- You may find it hard to get warm as the cold weather comes.
- You may find yourself craving more sweets, processed carbs or caffeine.
- Your joints may begin to ache or muscles feel stiff.
- You may have difficulty sleeping.
- You may have occasional light headaches.
Candice raised her hand and told the group her story; that she was experiencing all of the symptoms I was describing. She was concerned that she was not getting enough protein, and was a very strict vegetarian.
Red meat is considered a medicine in Ayurveda used to stabilize blood sugar and remedy protein deficiencies. Red meat is the most acidic of all the proteins and therefore penetrates, stores and is utilized quickly by the body. Plant-based proteins are more alkaline and do not have as powerful a storing and re-building effect, which may put some vegetarians at risk.
I told the group that the Ayurvedic treatment for these symptoms is to eat 4 ounces of red meat every day for two weeks to rebuild the protein reserves and stabilize the blood sugar. Candice rejected the whole premise that red meat could ever be good for you. I gave them all a vegetarian alternative, but I told them that if you truly have unstable blood sugar due to a low protein diet, I see miracles with the red meat therapy that I just do not see with the vegetarian plan.
That night, Candice must have done some soul-searching and connected some dots regarding how lousy she had been feeling. The next day, she shocked the class by announcing that she went and bought a steak and ate it for dinner for the first time in 20 years. She said, “It was the first time I slept through the night in 10 years!”
See also Do You Need More Protein as You Age?
So, How Much Protein Do You Need?
According to the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), adults need .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For example, if you weighed 150 pounds, you would need to ingest 54 grams of protein per day. (150 x .36)
That would look something like this:
- Breakfast: 2 eggs (12 grams of protein)
- Lunch: 4 ounces of salmon (28 grams of protein)
- Dinner: 1/4 cup of nuts (6 grams of protein), 1 ounce of goat cheese (6 grams of protein) and 2 tablespoons of hummus (2 grams of protein)
Many believe these recommendations are outdated and need revision. In 2014, the International Osteoporosis Foundation and the European Society of Clinical Nutrition joined forces to review the science around this issue. (1) The results indicated that, for younger adults, .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight was sufficient, but because older folks tend to lose muscle mass with age, more protein is suggested. They recommended that those over 60 years old got .54 grams of protein per pound of body weight in order to maintain healthy body mass.