The average person isn’t getting nearly enough protein in their diet. And while the Paleo diet advocates for high protein intake, it’s not the perfect diet for everyone. Here’s how to do it better.
The Paleo diet is designed to take people back to the way our ancestors ate in the Stone Age, as hunter-gatherers. That means no processed foods and refined sugars, and no grains, dairy, or legumes. For the most part, people on the Paleo diet eat meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats and oils.
At Parsley Health, we take a slightly different approach with something we like to call plant-based Paleo (PBP). This means focusing on protein, greens, and healthy fat on every plate, and avoiding refined carbs, refined sugars, and trigger foods like gluten and dairy. Ideal protein sources for this style of eating include wild caught fish and seafood, and pasture raised local eggs. This style of eating keeps inflammation in the body low, which is key to optimizing your health and resolving many chronic conditions.
Regardless of if you decide the Paleo diet, PBP diet, or another eating style is right for you, taking a cue from the high protein tenant of the Paleo diet can be helpful. At Parsley Health, we find that many members are not getting enough protein, and they’re rarely getting as much protein as they actually think they are.
The average person should have at least 20 grams of protein per meal, or a minimum of 60 grams per day. If you’re highly active, meaning you work out regularly and do any kind of high intensity exercise, you may need up to one gram per pound of body weight per day. This means if you’re a very physically active 140 lb woman, you should be eating 140 grams of protein a day.
Chances are, if you eat out a lot of your meals, rely on takeout or prepared food, or even if you cook for yourself, you’re not getting anywhere near that and you’re a lot more carbohydrate reliant than you think.
A high protein diet, where studies show the most benefit, is considered one where anywhere from 20 to 35 percent of calories coming from protein. Most people who come to see us at Parsley Health are averaging less than 15 percent of dietary intake from protein.
I had one vegan patient swear to me that she was getting plenty of protein in her diet, but she was tired all the time, couldn’t build muscle, and found herself frequently getting injured in her long 5 mile runs. When we looked at her diet, she was only averaging about 30 grams of protein per day.
We worked with her to get around 60 grams of protein per day by eating more legumes, nuts, and seeds, and to open her diet to organic, free range eggs. She also added one of our Parsley Rebuild Protein Shakes to her breakfast every morning, which has 26 grams of vegan protein. Soon her energy levels skyrocketed and she stopped getting injured while running.
The downsides of not eating enough protein
- Slower metabolism
- Fatigue and poor concentration
- Poor muscle building
- Poor injury and wound healing
- Muscle and joint pain
- Blood sugar imbalances
Benefits of a high protein, low carb diet
Increases resting metabolism
Eating protein for breakfast in the morning has been shown to increase your resting metabolism throughout the day, meaning you burn more calories at your desk without trying (1).
Eating protein lowers ghrelin, the hormone that spurs your appetite, and increases peptide YY, the hormone that increases your sensation of being full (2).
Helps maintain lean body mass
Eating protein has been shown to keep you from losing your muscle mass when you’re not working out, which is essential if you sit at a desk regularly (3).
Builds and maintains strong bones
In a large study looking at osteoporosis, higher protein intake was shown to be associated with stronger bones (4).
Balances blood sugar
People who eat high protein diets have been shown to have better overall blood sugar control and cardiovascular health (5). And because controlling blood sugar is essential to preventing everything from weight gain to dementia, all the more reason to take the idea of eating for blood sugar balance seriously.
Improves energy and recovery
There are numerous studies on protein intake and sports performance. While each person is different, it’s well established that muscles recover better with adequate intake of essential amino acids (6).
High protein diet risks
A very high protein diet is anything more than 30 percent to 35 percent of calories from protein. Some people worry a high protein diet could damage kidneys, but scientific research has not shown this to be true. If you have healthy kidneys there is no reason you can’t eat a high protein diet. (7)
If you have a pre-existing kidney condition, talk to your doctor before trying a high protein diet. Women who are pregnant should also consult their doctor, as they may not break down protein as well as non-pregnant women.