Episode 293 – The Shocking Difference in Protein Vegetables vs Meat

Written by Jonathan

Protein, Protein, Protein – Protein is incredibly important, your body uses it to synthesize or build muscle, your cells use it to duplicate themselves and to grow, as well as many other functions, in fact you could call protein the building block or foundation to which every function in your body is built and if we get outside your body for just a second, foods that are high in protein also tend to taste really good and keep you feeling full for longer periods of time.   

The average person usually needs somewhere between 50 and 100g of protein or about 1g per kg of body weight in a day. This is enough to maintain all your bodily functions as well as grow some muscle, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re incredibly athletic, do a lot of strength training, powerlifting or bodybuilding and you want to build a lot of muscle, you may want to push your protein uptake to 100 to 200g of protein a day or 1 to 2g per kg of body weight, but keep in mind that for most people that’s around the top end of what your body can absorb for muscle building and that’s only if you’re consistently doing strength training. Once you go much beyond that the protein is more likely going to be used as energy, this means used as glucose or stored as fat for a later date.

Now that we understand how much protein we need, what are the best sources of protein? If I put that question to you what would you say, if you’re like most people you might say foods like, chicken breast, salmon, milk, extra lean hamburger or eggs, probably anything that is a lean meat, but what if I were to tell you that if we were to break it down by the calorie there are lots of vegetables that have as much or more protein in them than meat, especially once you exclude calories from fiber, because as we know, our bodies can’t absorb fiber, but the calories from fiber are still included in the nutritional labels on foods, which is a bit misleading because it makes it look like many high fibre foods are higher in calories than they actually are, if you would like to learn more about this I would definitely recommend the very entertaining Episode 118 where we give you the long and skinny on fiber.  Anyways, back to it,  let’s look at a few examples, once you exclude the fiber calories from broccoli it weighs in at 8.5 total calories per gram of protein, what I mean by this, for every 8.5 calories of broccoli you ingest you’re getting 1g of protein, making broccoli almost 50% protein, because 1g of protein is 4 calories.  Let’s take a look at Kale, for every 7 calories of Kale you ingest you’re getting 1g of protein, which means it’s over 50% protein and finally Asparagus is 80% protein, for every 5 calories of asparagus you eat you get 4 calories from protein.  This quite coincidentally is the exact same ratio as chicken breast, which was the leanest meat I could find. But, let’s explore some slightly fattier cuts of meat. In 7 calories of salmon you’re getting 1g of protein, almost identical to kale and for every 10 calories of filet mignon you eat you’re going to get 1g of protein which is a worse calorie to protein ratio than broccoli. Just think about that for a second, filet mignon has a worse calorie to protein ratio than broccoli, this would technically make broccoli a better source of protein than steak. Now I know what most of you are thinking, that’s great Jonathan, but what does all of this mean for me.

I don’t know what it means specifically for you because I’m not sure what your goals are, but here are some things you could consider.  

Are you concerned about your protein intake to build muscle? If you’re vegan or vegetarian than this can help you pay close attention to your vegetable sources and by reading the nutritional labels you can make an informed decision and pick vegetables that are higher in protein. If you eat meat and you just want more protein without the added calories of eating even more meat, you can use this same strategy when buying your vegetables.

Are you concerned about losing weight?

If that’s the case then eating more high protein vegetables will definitely benefit you because the volume of food is going to be several times bigger when you eat more vegetables. If we go to our asparagus and chicken breast example, we can extrapolate that 100 calories of chicken weighs 60g vs. 100 calories of asparagus which weighs 500g or half a kg. What this means for you is that if you’re trying to lose weight asparagus is a much better food option. Just based on shear food volume that’s going to take much longer for you to digest which will help you feel full for a longer period of time.

Are you concerned about getting enough micronutrients? These are vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, but fear the loss of protein because you won’t be eating as much meat? If you make the switch to eating half as much meat and eating high protein vegetables instead you’re probably going to more than double your micronutrient intake while at the same time maintain a high protein intake. Most meats have very little in the way of micronutrients chicken breast for example really only has vitamin B6 with some B12 and some Iron and Magnesium, but asparagus is loaded with Iron, Vitamin A, C, B6 and let’s not forget all that fibre, especially if you’re eating 100 calories worth.

I realize this idea flies in the face of conventional wisdom that you have to eat meat to get enough protein and quite honestly it caught me off guard too, until just a few weeks ago when I was in the grocery store reading the nutritional label on asparagus, that’s when I saw that it was so high in protein, I decided to explore some other vegetables to see if it held true for them as well and it does for many, especially cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, brussel sprouts and kale to name a few. Now when you go to the grocery store or farmer’s market you’re armed with some new information that can help you make some better decisions for the life you’re trying to live, especially if that means eating more vegetables and more protein in the process too.



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