Your Protein Deficiency is Starving Your Health
You live in America (or some other 1st world country), there is no shortage of food and yet many people are starving for protein. I am writing this article because I have probably had the following conversation 15 times this month, so the problem is growing. Not a single one of my patients knew they suffered from protein deficiency. Even though my patients aren’t physically starving to death, their health is starving and suffering in search of more protein.
Dr. Anderson: Based upon my findings, it seems that you are suffering from dysglycemia. This means that your blood sugar is imbalanced with lots of highs and lows and it is taking a toll on your adrenal, thyroid and immune systems health. Do you eat lots of sugar and refined carbohydrates?
Patient: No, I hardly eat anything that is refined and the only processed foods I eat are things like bacon.
Dr. Anderson: Are you getting enough healthy fats in your diet?
Patient: I eat avocados every day, eggs every day, I cook everything in coconut oil or olive oil and I use oil and vinegar on my salads, so I think I get plenty of healthy fats.
Dr. Anderson: How much protein do you get in the day?
Patient: I eat eggs, chicken, fish, nuts and seeds and some read meat. I add chicken to my salad every day at lunch.
Dr. Anderson: How much is some red meat, how many eggs and how much chicken on your salad?
Patient: I eat red meat about 1 time a week, I eat 1-2 eggs most mornings and I add about ¼ breast of chicken to my salad or have ¼ breast for dinner.
Do you see the problem? Seems like a healthy diet right? Well unfortunately many times it is not enough and can lead to serious health consequences.
You aren’t really protein deficient.
So let’s be clear here. In the world of traditional medicine and traditional dietetics, you most likely aren’t protein deficient at all. All of your lab markers would be in the normal ranges most likely and there would be no signs of muscle wasting or excessive weight loss.
Here-in lies the tricky part about navigating your health. While your traditional doctor says you are “a picture of perfect health”, you know that you don’t feel so well. This is what is referred to as sub-clinical protein deficiency. It means that due to your inadequate protein intake, your body is being forced to adapt and make changes in order to make up for your nutritional imbalance.
Protein Deficiency is STRESSFUL!
One of the major things that occurs if you have low protein intake is that your blood sugar becomes unstable. As the blood sugar goes high then low all day every day, your adrenals get worked. They are forced to release cortisol (a stress hormone) all day to regulate your blood sugar.
If you are like 90% of my patients, you are overstressed, overworked, overemotional, overtired and running on less sleep that you should be. Adding low protein intake to the mix can make all of the above worse.
Do You Suffer from Protein Deficiency?
Some of the signs and symptoms include:
- If you say you don’t like meat (obviously you are less likely to eat it)
- If you are vegetarian or vegan (even the healthy ones)
- If you crave bread, pastas or sweets
- If you have to have chocolate every day
- If you can’t go extended periods of time without eating (18-24 hours)
- If you have to snack between meals
- If your HbA1c is above 5.5 (pre-diabetic)
- If your joints stiffen during the winter
- If your body is unresponsive to traditional therapies like chiropractic or PT
- If you can’t flall asleep at night or you wake up in the middle of the night
- If you have low energy and don’t recover well from stressful events
I think the list could go on and on, but these are some of the major ones that people don’t think about.
So How Much Protein Do You Need?
This is one of those gray areas, but from the people that have entered my office over the years and what it took to get them feeling better, the absolute minimum per day is usually around 90 grams of whole food protein. (If you are using protein shakes instead of whole foods, I recommend increasing that minimum amount about 15%) The standard recommendation for the average women is only 46 grams for women and 56 for men, which simply isn’t enough.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, your jaw probably just dropped. That’s okay, you don’t have to convert to an Atkins diet carnivore, but you still should follow the protein rule. Two cups of beans for example contains 26 grams of protein, but you still have to realize that you will need to eat close to 7 cups of beans….per day….forever. Tempeh and tofu contain up to 20 grams per half cup, but I don’t really consider them health foods. (Yes, I know there are bodybuilders, muscle men, etc. that don’t consume this level of protein. Some people can adapt to almost anything, most cannot.)
Let’s get back to maybe an even more optimal protein intake for the average American. I believe that for most people a diet that where 20-40% of your calories come from protein to be more optimal.
This means if you consume a 2000 calorie diet, then you should be eating 100 to 200 grams of protein each day. If you are eating the “Standard American Diet,” the average American consumes over 3500 calories per day. This means to stay in the protein rule, you need to consume between 175 and 300 grams of protein per day. That is 3 to 6 whole chicken breasts or 13 to 23 cups of beans per day to follow this protein rule.
Even if you are sedentary, the minimum of 90 grams per day is where I think most people should be. If you are an athlete, weekend warrior, yoga student or orange theory member, then you should be aiming much closer to 40% of your daily calories.
(Side Note: This article/protein recommendation is not intended to be the protein secret to bodybuilding, CrossFit, endurance athletes, etc. This is only as a general guideline for minimum protein rather than possibly optimal protein intake, nutrient timing, insulin mediated muscle growth, better recovery, etc.)
If you looked at the symptoms above and found at least 2 or 3 that you resonate with, then maybe its time to add some more protein into your diet. It is really easy, just eat your meat first. If you are already protein deficient, red meat is really the best way to restore your health. There have been times in my life when I have been so run down that I have eaten 1lb of red meat a night for a few weeks to restore my adrenals and my health. When you eat adequate protein, you will know because you will feel better. Protein shakes from whey, pea, rice or hemp are additional ways to get protein into your diet although whole foods are far superior.