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You Ask, I Answer: Protein/Biological Value

Posted Aug 26 2008 11:44pm
I'm trying to determine how to increase my protein intake.

The only animal product I eat is salmon 2 or 3 times a week, and I don't eat very much dairy. I do eat mostly whole grain products and plenty of fruits and vegetables, but my diet is probably quite lacking in protein.


I've been considering adding whey protein powder, casein powder or pasteurized, organic egg whites to my diet in the form of shakes/smoothies to boost my protein intake. I'm avoiding soy protein isolate because the jury seems to still be out on the health risks of non-whole food soy products.


As far as drinking skim milk, I'm not a huge fan. I'm definitely not lactose-intolerant, but it tends to cause me to produce more mucous than usual in my airways (I'm asthmatic).

You probably can't provide any specific personalized advice, but any feedback regarding the benefits and drawbacks of adding whey protein, casein protein or pasteurized egg whites (aren't egg whites considered to be the perfect protein or is that food industry hyperbole?) to an otherwise protein-deficient diet would be appreciated.

-- Steve W.
Boston, MA


Although I do not know what your eating patterns are, I seriously doubt your diet is "protein-deficient" if you eat salmon 2 or 3 times a week and have a diet rich in whole grains.

In fact, it is extremely rare to see protein deficiencies in developed countries.

In the rare chance that your diet needs more protein, this does not mean you need to start chugging down protein shakes. Something as simple as spreading two tablespoons of peanut butter on toast or adding beans to a salad will increase your protein intake.

Think about this. To determine how much protein you need, take your weight in pounds, divide it by 2.2, and then multiply THAT number by 0.8.

So, if you weigh 160 pounds, you divide that by 2.2 and get 72.7. Multiply that by 0.8 and you determine that you just need 58 grams of protein a day. Now, there is a 200% window that, among other things, accommodates for people with SLIGHTLY higher protein needs (i.e.: long-endurance athletes).

So, if you need 58 grams but end up consuming 75 grams (it's very easy to overconsume protein), you are still in the "safe" zone.

It is VERY easy to get 58 grams -- even without ever biting into a piece of meat, chicken, or fish. Whole grains are high in protein, as are beans and legumes (particularly soy-based meat alternatives like seitan and tempeh).

In terms of eggs being the "perfect protein": there is something known as "biological value," which tells us how well a certain protein is absorbed and used by the body. Egg protein has the highest biological value of all the proteins, meaning that almost none of it is wasted in your body.

For more information, please take a look at my Small Bites newsletter dedicated to protein.

By the way, click here to read what I wrote about the lactose-mucus myth.
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