To provide some background, the paleo diet specifically is a low-carb, high-fat and high-protein diet that excludes cereal grains, legume, dairy, refined sugar, potatoes, and processed foods. Instead it emphasizes consuming a diet of fresh vegetables and fruits, meats, eggs, seafood, nuts and seeds as well as healthy oils such as olive oil and coconut oil. There are many other high-protein diets such as the Atkins diet, but the paleo diet has been in the news recently for questions about its validity. Proponents of the Paleo diet state that our bodies have not adapted to consume the post-agricultural diet of grains and that it’s leading to the epidemic of obesity, chronic diseases, and autoimmune diseases in our society today. However, at the paleolithic site of Ohalo II dating back to 19,400 BP, anthropologists have found evidence of a grinding stone and grains, suggesting that the hunter-gatherers processed the grain before consumption. This example alone provides evidence of grain consumption before agricultural societies and refutes the main argument of Paleo proponents. However, I believe the main idea of the Paleo diet is healthful-- cutting out processed foods, excess sugars, and refined flours is beneficial to our health, although we can do it in a manner that doesn't exclude certain grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, farro, and whole grains such as spelt.
But back to the protein aspect of these diets! The essential dietary protein requirement is described as the minimum level of protein needed to maintain short-term nitrogen balance. In the US the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is a minimum of 0.8g/kg of body weight. That means that someone who weighs 125 lbs or 56.7 kg needs to consume 56.7x0.8= 45 grams of protein a day to cover all the essential needs in their body. This is not that much protein and half of that need can be obtained by consuming 3 ounces of chicken breast (23 g) or 1 cup of Greek yogurt (17-20 g depending on the brand). Athletes are recommended to increase their protein consumption from 1.2-1.8 g/kg per day depending on the type of exercise, length, and endurance to support optimal muscle synthesis and repair. However, increasing protein intake for weight loss should be viewed with caution as there are no studies that have evaluated the upper limit of amino acid intake in humans.
How much protein can our bodies absorb? I feel like this will be a good way to start my next blog post and follow up on the health benefits of a high-protein diet as well. In making these recommendations, it’s important to consider the sources of protein. Grass-fed meats and dairy have a better nutritional content, especially in terms of fat, than their corn-fed counterparts. Further, faster absorption of protein through whey protein powder may not have any advantages towards the body as I’ll discuss in my next post! Check it out!