How Much Protein Do We Really Need?

If you are worried about getting enough protein when drinking green smoothies, I want to tell you that there is no reason to worry!

You don’t need to be adding any expensive protein powders to your smoothies, munching on protein bars, or loading your salads with “lean protein” to boost your protein intake.

Our entire society is on a protein binge, brainwashed with poor information. We live in such a “must have enough protein” society (thanks to the meat industry and let’s not forget those Atkins and Paleo diet proponents), that few of us actually realize how harmful and unnecessary that is.

How Much Protein Do Humans Really Need?

Protein is an essential macro-nutrient that provides the building blocks for our bodies. However, the amount of protein that we need is greatly overestimated.

Despite the advertising hype of the meat and dairy industries, humans require an extraordinarily low amount of protein in their diets.  The primary function of protein is growth, which is negligible in adults, as well as repair from injury and replacement of worn-out cells. 

We need only 2.5 to 10% of our calories from protein, according to official sources. Many official groups, including the World Health Organization suggest that eating a mere 10% of our total calories as protein is sufficient. Protein deficiency is extremely rare in developed countries, even for those on strict vegan diets.

If you think that this is not enough, consider this: our greatest need for protein is when we grow the most, i.e., in infancy.  An infant practically doubles in size during the first 6 months. The ideal food for a baby is mother’s milk. Therefore, breast milk can be used the “gold standard” for nutrition – including protein content.

Mother’s milk provides on average approximately 6% of calories from protein (far less than cow’s milk, which has 22% of calories as protein). This is the maximum concentration of protein we will ever need in coming from our food.

It should be obvious that adults do not require more protein per calorie than this, as infants, with their extremely rapid rate of growth have the highest need for protein per calorie of all humans.

So even though meat has more protein than vegetables, it doesn’t matter, because the amount in vegetables is already much more than you need. If you’re shopping for a car and one goes 200 miles an hour and the other goes 300, it doesn’t matter, since the maximum speed limit in the U.S. is 80 mph. Two hundred mph is more than enough for a car, and 22% protein from vegetables is more than enough when your protein needs are only 2.5 to 10%.

The extra protein isn’t better, it’s actually harmful.  Too much protein – especially protein coming from animal sources – is dangerous and has been linked to various serious health conditions, including heart disease, cancer, strokes, hypertension and osteoporosis.

Most American’s get way TOO much animal protein. The average American eats over 100 grams a day – an unhealthy amount. Most adults only require 30-50 grams of protein a day. Still, many of us, including athletes, fitness enthusiasts, bodybuilders, dieters, and the overweight are obsessing about their proteins and turn to meat, dairy, protein powders, protein drinks, and nutritional bars in a quest for even more protein.

Myth: “People Need 20% Protein—and Animal Protein Is Best”

Many people still believe that protein is only available from meat and animal sources and we will get sick, weak, lose all muscle mass, or even fall over dead without animal protein! They even use “meat” and “protein” interchangeably, as if plant foods had no protein content at all!

(Once you realize that protein is a nutrient that is present in most foods we eat, you will see how the MyPlate recommendations make no sense, since vegetables, fruits and grains all have PROTEIN!)

Protein needs according to

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If you are worried about protein deficiency, you need to know that plant foods contain protein too, for example, rice is 9%, potatoes are 8%, corn is 11% and spinach is about 30% protein per calorie.

People often comment they know sickly vegetarians to justify daily meat eating as a healthy lifestyle choice. But of course, not all vegetarians eat a healthy diet or live a healthy lifestyle: although they don’t eat meat, they might eat white bread and cotton candy for breakfast, and avoid exercise like plague! Have you ever seen a sickly gorilla? He eats plants all day and gets plenty of physical activity.

The truth is, taking too much protein – especially animal protein – is not a small matter. It contributes to many diseases, ages you prematurely and can cause significant harm.

While vegetable foods are alkaline, animal products are acidic foods, and they require huge amounts of hydrochloric acid from the stomach to digest them. This acid needs to be neutralized, at the expense of our bones. The excess protein you are not using isn’t stored by the body as protein; it’s converted to fat, or eliminated via the kidneys. Eliminating protein leaches even more calcium and other minerals from the bones and breeds kidney stones.

How Can We Get Enough Protein?

When a diet is centered around WHOLE unprocessed foods (vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts & seeds), the diet automatically contains a healthy amount of protein. It does not need to be a concern. No protein counting is necessary.

A typical assortment of vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains supply about 50 grams of protein per 1000 calories. And don’t forget, some green vegetables are almost 50 percent protein, and when you eat more green vegetables, you are getting your protein with a ton of other super-nutrients for optimal health.

Many factors determine how many calories and how much protein you really need: age, size, growth, activity level, digestion, metabolism, body type, genetics, culture, geography.

By eating a variety of these foods, you are getting much more than protein. Plus, you are priming your body to be disease-proof.

It’s easy to build muscle even on a completely plant-based vegan diet

And if you want to build muscle, let’s remember that exercise, not extra protein, builds strength, denser bones, and bigger muscles. Loading on various protein powders and other muscle building supplements may lead to higher body  mass; however, excessive body mass, even excessive muscle development from over-consumption of animal products, is a risk factor for heart attacks and other diseases later in life.

Animal products may lead to quick muscle mass, but eating lots of animal flesh is a Faustian bargain: short-term gain for a steep long-term price.

So, if you are wondering if you should I add protein  powders to your smoothie after your workout, the answer is ‘No.’  As an athlete, your body needs carbohydrates at each meal to fuel your muscles, as well as vitamin C, antioxidants and various other nutrients, to neutralize the free-radicals created during the workout; and green smoothies are great for that. There are no antioxidants or vitamin C in meat.

Plant foods supply plenty of protein even for athletes and those trying to build muscle. Remember, the largest land animals in the world, elephants, are exclusively vegetarian.  Your body can assemble all the amino acids from a plant protein source to create quality muscle mass.

Eating more calories usually supplies the extra protein for building muscle mass. Carbohydrates are better for supplying extra energy for strenuous activity.

What About Pregnancy and Breast Feeding?

Increased protein needs during pregnancy and breast-feeding are usually met by the extra calories from eating more food.

Plant-Based Diet (and Protein) For Better Health

Even though nutritionists seem to disagree on many topics, most agree that plant-eaters tend to live longer and healthier lives than do meat eaters. In every way, the brocolli-munchers tend to be healthier than the meat-eaters:

  • Plant eaters have a lower incidence of cancer, especially colon, stomach, mouth, esophagus, lung, prostate, bladder, and breast cancers.
  • Plant eaters have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, namely heart attacks and stroke.
  • Plant food is better for your heart, since it is low in cholesterol and saturated fat, and high in fiber.
  • Plant eaters are much less likely to get diabetes than animal eaters.
  • Plant eaters tend to weigh less than meat eaters, even those who skin their chicken and trim the fat off their steak.

Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines recommend eating more vegetables and grains and less meat, despite pressure from the politically-connected meat industry to promote meat.

Green Smoothies are Naturally Rich in Protein

No, really.

They are chock full of amino acids because greens contain lots of amino acids. Your body uses these amino acids to produce protein. The more greens you eat, the more amino acids that you provide your body with.

Dark green leafy vegetables contain similar or larger amounts of amino acids than the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). However, because of the confusion between vegetables (roots) and greens, we are told that vegetables, including greens, are a poor source of amino acids. Dr. Joel Fuhrman wrote in his book Eat to Live: “Even physicians and dietitians… are surprised to learn that …when you eat large quantities of green vegetables, you receive a considerable amount of protein.”

I like the explanation provided by Victoria Boutenko on her blog:

Let me explain the difference between complex proteins found in meat, dairy, fish, etc. and individual amino acids, found in fruits, vegetables, and especially in greens.

It is clear that the body has to work a lot less when creating protein from the assortment of individual amino acids from greens, rather than the already combined, long molecules of protein, assembled according to the foreign pattern of a totally different creature such as a cow or a chicken. I would like to explain the difference between complex proteins and individual amino acids with a simple anecdote.

Imagine that you have to make a wedding dress for your daughter. Consuming the complex proteins that we get from cows or other creatures is like going to the second hand store, and buying many other people’s used dresses, coming home and spending several hours ripping apart pieces of the dresses that you like and combining them into a new dress for your daughter. This alternative will take a lot of time and energy and will leave a great deal of garbage. You could never make a perfect dress this way.

Consuming individual amino acids is like taking your daughter to a fabric store to buy beautiful new fabric, lace, buttons, ribbons, threads, and pearls. With these essential elements you can make a beautiful dress that fits her unique body perfectly. Similarly, when you eat greens, you “purchase” new amino acids, freshly made by sunshine and chlorophyll, which the body will use to rebuild its parts according to your own unique DNA.

Contrary to this, your body would have a hard time trying to make a perfect molecule of protein out of someone else’s molecules, which consist of totally different combinations of amino acids. Plus, your body would most likely receive a lot of unnecessary pieces that are hard to digest. These pieces would be floating around in your blood like garbage for a long time, causing allergies and other health problems. Professor W. A. Walker from the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, states that, “Incompletely digested protein fragments may be absorbed into the bloodstream. The absorption of these large molecules contributes to the development of food allergies and immunological disorders.” Source: Raw Family Blog

What About Adding Protein Powders To A Smoothie

As I have explained above, green smoothies already contain all the proteins that you need. A protein powder is a highly processed food, and I don’t recommend adding any to your green smoothies. If you decide to do it, choose high quality plant-based powder.

If you wish to add more high-protein foods to smoothies to make them more filling, I recommend adding a handful of nuts or seeds, such as pumpkin or sunflower seeds.  Adding ground nuts or seeds to your smoothie not only adds protein, but boosts the healthy fat content which makes a green smoothie more satisfying and keeps you full longer. Nuts and seeds are also mineral powerhouses and will make your smoothie not only high in vitamins and antioxidants, but also rich with minerals.

Try small amounts of raw nuts such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, Brazil nuts or macadamia nuts. Sunflower, pumpkin, sesame,  hemp, flax and chia seeds are all excellent when ground up and added to smoothies. You can also add a tablespoon of raw nut butter, or substitute water with almond milk.

Just don’t overdo the fat content of your smoothie or else bloating, gas and digestion problems may result.

What About Milk?

While milk does contain protein, all of our smoothie recipes are dairy-free. I do not recommend using milk or yogurt as a base for smoothies, especially green smoothies. Consuming dairy has been linked to a variety of health problems and can get in the way with your ability to lose weight and obtain optimal health. For more on dairy, click here.


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Questions? Comments? Suggestions?

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I also welcome any comments, questions and suggestions. Thanks!