Five Protein Myths
Protein myths abound. Many Americans don’t know how much protein they need or how much they’re getting. People who follow a Western diet—loaded with meat and dairy products—consume about twice the amount of necessary protein, as well as excessive amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol. While those on plant-based diets—rich in beans and greens—consume protein sources that provide beneficial nutrients that help build, maintain, and repair tissues in the body.
Dietitians with the Physicians Committee debunk five of the common myths about protein:
Myth 1: Protein is only in meat.
Truth: Vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are excellent sources of protein without the health risks of meat and other animal products. A half cup of firm tofu contains 13 grams of protein and is not linked to diabetes. A cup of lentils has 16 grams of protein and has no cholesterol. Split peas have 16 grams of protein per cup and are cholesterol free. Just one broccoli stalk has more than 4 grams of protein and is low in calories. The list goes on:
Myth 2: You need a ton of protein—and you’re not getting it.
Truth: If you follow the traditional Western diet—meat and dairy products—you are most likely getting twice as much protein as you actually need. That can harm the body. One study found that those who consume the most animal protein raised their diabetes risk by 22 percent. Excessive protein consumption is also linked to osteoporosis, cancer, impaired kidney function, and heart disease.
Someone who weighs 150 pounds only needs 54 grams of protein per day. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein for the average adult is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. To find out your average individual need, perform the following calculation: Body weight (in pounds) x 0.36 = recommended protein intake (in grams).
Myth 3: Protein is good; carbs are bad.
Truth: Both protein and carbohydrates are part of a nutritionally balanced diet. Carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source and should take up the majority of your plate. Grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans are considered carbohydrates. They are also excellent sources of protein, fiber, and other essential nutrients. A carbohydrate deficiency results in ketosis, a state where the body does burn fat—at the expense of side effects including bad breath, gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, and possible organ damage, among other symptoms.
Myth 4: Protein combining is an absolute necessity.
Truth: There’s no need to plan meals around complementary proteins. In 2009, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) released a paper stating that eating a variety of plant foods over the course of the day provides all the required amino acids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees with the AND and discredits the rumor that humans need to eat certain proteins together to receive adequate nutrition.
Myth 5: High-protein diets help you lose weight.
Truth: Calories are calories, whether they’re from carbs or protein. Excess protein calories will not magically turn into muscle. To lose weight in a healthy way, it is important to have a balanced diet focusing on all of the necessary nutrients. Instead of following the protein-fortified fad, many Americans could benefit from finding ways to incorporate plant-based protein sources into their meals. For recipes, try the 21-Day Kickstart or visit PCRM.org/recipes.