Protein is always a hot topic.

We have been taught that the centerpiece of your meal should be protein. We have also been taught that “complete” protein comes from animal sources including dairy. You would be doing yourself a favor to forget what “we have been taught” and move your protein to a smaller role at mealtimes.

WebMD says: “Although important in the diet, extra protein will not help you build more muscle or make you stronger. When you’re consuming too much of it, you’re probably taking in more calories and fat than your body needs. You need protein because “it has its hands in every critical function of the body,” says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. But the truth about protein is that many people don’t need as much as they are taking in.”

How much protein do we need?

Most Americans get way more protein than is beneficial each day. Adults are told to get 10% to 35% of their day’s calories from protein foods. That is about 46 grams for women, and 56 grams of protein for men. The World Health Organization recommends 5%.

When you are confronted with a disease such as cancer you should increase the amount of protein you consume to help maintain your weight. I would recommend you speak with an Oncology Certified Nutritionist to decide what is right for you. It depends on the individuals health picture. Too much protein can stress the kidneys if you have decreased kidney function already. It is important to look at your unique situation.


Where should we get our protein? For example….

  • Veggies: Artichokes, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, spinach, yams, zucchini, potatoes…..
  • Legumes: Garbanzo, kidney, lentils, lima, navy, soy, peas, black beans, pinto beans….
  • Grains: Barley, brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, rye, wheat germ, wild rice, millet….
  • Nuts & Seeds: Almonds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds….
  • Fruit: Dried apricots, plums, peaches, coconut, blackberries, dates, avocado….

I came across the following exchange on the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Website’s “Ask the Nutritionist”, (look at our resource page). I like this because it is a balanced view of plant based vs animal proteins.

Q: Why do you recommend a plant-based diet but also advocate animal proteins at the same time?

A: A plant-based diet is one of the most common recommendations that we make, but it is important to clarify exactly what “plant-based” means.

There are many sources of protein in a plant-based diet, such as nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and quinoa that round out the fruits and vegetables you would expect to see on a vegetarian plate. Choosing to make at least half your grains whole, eating a variety of seasonal produce, and incorporating these plant-based proteins will ensure you are getting the benefits of a balanced diet.

However, a completely plant-based diet is not the only form of healthful eating available to you. Fatty fish, such as wild salmon, provides beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, and lean proteins, such as chicken or ground turkey, can be incorporated into your meals in balanced portions (3-4 ounce servings or a portion the size of a deck of cards.) Red meat, which includes beef, bacon, sausage, and other processed meats like hot dogs, should be limited due to high levels of saturated fat. However, they don’t have to be eliminated completely. Enjoy these foods on occasion and be sure to round out the plate with whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Also consider trying the more omega-3 rich and leaner grass-fed beef versus the highly marbled grain-fed or ground beef, and consider choosing organic chicken, turkey and eggs.

We recommend you find what works best for you. No matter what you choose, start by filling at least half of your plate with a variety of phytonutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. Then add some fiber-rich whole grain and a form of lean protein or fatty fish, or, on occasion, red meat, which you might enjoy. These animal-based proteins, when enjoyed in moderate portions and accompanied by plant-based foods, can be incorporated into a healthful, balanced diet.

Protein Sources 

Animal protein and vegetable protein are not the same. It’s the “protein package” that makes a difference. A 6-ounce broiled porterhouse steak has 38 grams of protein and 44 grams of fat, 16 of them saturated. 6 ounces of salmon has 34 grams of protein and 18 grams of fat, 4 of them saturated. 1 cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein, but under 1 gram of fat.

When you choose your protein source look at the entire “package”. Not all protein is the same nutrient wise. Nuts & seeds are high in protein, high in fiber, vitamins & minerals.

Nuts & seeds: A handful not a can full! Check this website for nutritional information. National Nutrient Data Base  This is a very helpful database. You can choose what foods you want the nutritional content for & choose what information you need. The link I have above has only protein & fiber because that is what I chose.

Compare: Protein in Dairy & Beans/Legumes

  • Egg…1 large… 6 gm 
  • Milk…1 cup… 8 gm 
  • Yogurt…6 oz…5 gm
  • Greek Yogurt…6 oz…15 gm
  • 1 cup of lentils cooked…18 gm
  • Black beans 1 cup cooked 15 gm
  • Kidney beans 1 cup cooked 13 gms

Add Hemp & Chia to increase the protein in your smoothie or sprinkle on any dish!

  • Hulled hemp seeds, nuts or hearts: 3 tablespoons….11 grams of protein
  • Chia seeds: 1 oz…4.5 grams of protein & 10 grams of fiber!!

Click on these links for more information:

Protein Sources Non-vegetarian

Protein in Meat Substitutes