The Beef About Beef
By Dan Gleason, DC
People often wonder if they are eating enough quality protein. With all the emphasis on ‘plant based diets,’ getting enough protein in an eating plan to achieve and maintain an optimal level of health may be of concern to some, especially since many common disorders arise from protein deficiency. At the same time, there is vilification of ‘meat based diets.’
There are a number of well-researched books and YouTube videos on these diets. In 2009, Lierre Keith wrote The Vegetarian Myth depicting her recovery from years of veganism. In 2014, Judith Schwartz wrote Cows Save the Planet making the argument that raising ruminants can reverse climate change and restore topsoil and local ecosystems. In 2017, Robb Wolf published Wired to Eat emphasizing the importance of adequate dietary protein and describing how to determine which foods are best for an individual. In 2020, Wolf and Diana Rodgers wrote Sacred Cow: Why Well-raised Meat is Good For You and Good for the Planet in which they make the case for better meat. These books are all easy to read and informative.
While plant-based diets are high in certain beneficial nutrients, they are significantly low in protein and absorbable minerals like zinc and iron. The RDA for protein is 0.8 g/Kg of body weight. This requirement translates to the following protein recommendations:
• 125-pound woman 46 grams/day
• 154-pound man 56 grams/day
• 166-pound woman 60 grams/day
• 195-pound man 71 grams/day
Remember, this is the amount of protein recommended to prevent serious deficiency, not to achieve optimal health or to recover from deficiency, injury or disease.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) publishes the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) using an acceptable range of 10 to 35 percent of calories consumed. So, for a woman eating 2000 calories per day, the range would be 50 to 175 grams of protein per day. For a man eating 2600 calories, the range would be 65 to 228 grams.
In a real-world diet, these protein ranges could include the following:
• 1 cup cooked lentils 18g
• 1 cup cooked tofu 20g
• 1 cup cooked beans 15g
• 1 cup cooked peas 9g
• 3 Tbsp hemp seeds 9g
• 3.5 oz broccoli 2.4g
• ¼ lb beef 31g
• ¼ lb chicken breast 26g
• ¼ lb pork 25g
• ¼ lb cheese 27g
Based on the AMDR, a conservative estimate for the average woman would be 100 grams of protein per day and, for a man, 125 grams. So, the math indicates that a woman should eat five to six cups of cooked tofu, beans and/or lentils to get that amount of protein. With meat and cheese, it would be three to four ¼-pound servings. Men would require six to eight cups tofu, beans and lentils; cheese and meat would amount to five to six ¼-pound servings. All these numbers don’t take into account other protein sources like milk (8g/cup), eggs (7g), etc. While this seems like a lot of protein, Wolf and Rodgers find great results when these levels are attained with their health and fitness clients.
Of note is the quality of vegetable protein. It is often lacking adequate amounts of the essential amino acids methionine, lysine and tryptophan. A NIH publication from 2005, Health benefits and risks of plant proteins, comments that “subjects with predominant or exclusive consumption of plant foods have a higher incidence of hypoproteinemia (low protein in the blood).” Vegans need to carefully combine protein sources to avoid this deficiency.
As well as taking a deep dive into the health and nutritional issues around meat and protein the above-noted books also deal with important ethical and environmental issues. Much like fat vs. low-fat or high vs. low cholesterol foods, the animal vs. plant issue is much more complicated and nuanced than a simple good/bad model suggests. These books are highly recommended for anyone interested in optimal health and nutrition derived from protein sources, along with the environmental aspects that surround these diets.
Dr. Dan Gleason is the owner of The Gleason Center located at 19084 North Fruitport Road in Spring Lake. For more info: go to TheGleasonCenter.com or call 616-846-5410.