It’s currently summertime as we write this – which is arguably one of the best times of the year! Long sunny days call for adventures outside, fresh fruits and vegetables, picnics with friends, and maybe a dip or two in the water! It’s a fun, often lighter, time of the year.
But have you ever noticed that maybe the foods you eat at this time of year shift a bit? For example, you might find yourself eating more fresh produce, smoothies, seasonal fruit like watermelon, or fresh berries, and cooling salads? All of these are wonderful- filled with nutrients that our bodies love! But eating this way can make it pretty easy to miss out on one VERY important macronutrient- protein!
Before we get into it – we should mention that despite lower levels of protein often being more common in summer – it’s certainly not the only season it can appear! It’s important to pay attention to your protein consumption all year round – and in this blog post we’re breaking down exactly how to do that!
What are the Health Benefits of Protein?
Firstly, we wanted to quickly talk about the importance of protein within our diets.
Protein is found in all cells within our bodies- in fact, it’s the second most abundant molecule in the body, right behind water! It’s critical for growth and maintenance, especially when building muscle and repairing tissues. It’s also needed for hormone development/function, immune support, cell structure, neurotransmitter production, and so much more. On top of that, protein helps form our hair, skin, and nails. And potentially most important of all, the hemoglobin protein carries oxygen all throughout our bodies!
Specifically as protein relates to anxiety, along with helping to keep blood sugars balanced, when it’s digested, it breaks down into amino acids that go on to perform important functions to support the mind. For example, the amino acid tyrosine, helps to make both dopamine and norepinephrine which are very important neurotransmitters for regulating mood. Another example is the amino acid tryptophan which gets converted into 5-HTP and is then used to produce serotonin (our feel good neurotransmitter) which also plays an important role in keeping anxiety and depression at bay (1).
As you can see, protein is everywhere, and needed for SO many things!
Why Might Protein be Missing from Our Diets?
When you think of eating protein, what foods initially come to mind? Maybe meat, eggs, seafood, dairy, tofu, or possibly even legumes?
Whatever you might think of, the fact is that many protein-rich foods can leave us feeling slightly heavier after we eat them. Makes sense as protein takes a while to break down, in fact, it gets digested much slower compared to carbs or even fats, leaving us feeling fuller longer. We can also think of protein as a builder. As we mentioned, it’s needed to build muscle, repair tissues within the body, and bolster our immune system! A food that has the ability to do this, is typically not light and airy- such as carrots, leafy greens, celery, apples, berries, etc.
So, if our diet slightly shifts in the summertime (or potentially other times of year) to more fresh fruits and vegetables, or fast energy carbohydrates, it’s possible we might be missing out on some protein!
This is why we want to make sure we’re getting the necessary amounts each day to strengthen and protect our bodies from injuries, diseases, illness, and so much more!
So, How Much Protein Do I Need?
The truth is – one’s protein requirements can depend on all sorts of different factors such as:
- How much physical activity you do?
- What your health goals are (are you trying to build muscle or simply maintain?)
- Your body weight
- Personal preferences, and more!
A simple rule of thumb to get a quick idea of the minimum amount of protein (in grams) your body needs is to multiple your body weight in kilograms by 0.8. So for example, someone who weighs 55kg would need a minimum of 44 grams of protein:
55kg x .8 = 44g of protein/ day minimum
It’s important to note, this calculation is just an estimate of the minimum requirement and definitely varies depending on the person and one’s activity levels, etc. Simply put, those who are more active should consume more protein.
What we often recommend to clients to ensure they’re getting enough protein to keep anxiety at bay and keep their bodies’ functioning optimally is to include at least one protein source at every meal. We recommend making it approximately the size of the palm of your hand (of course with some exceptions from things like protein powder or hemp hearts). A single source of protein in a given meal might look like 2 eggs, a wild salmon filet, or a large handful of chickpeas.
We also recommend that when snacking to be mindful they are also including a source of protein. This might look like some hummus with carrot sticks, or almond butter with apple slices.
How to Include Enough Protein in Your Diet? Especially During Summer?
Below are some sneaky ways to add protein in your meals this summer (or other times of year) without feeling quite so heavy!
NOTE: If you choose to eat animal protein, we recommend selecting an organic option that is also pasture raised or wild caught when possible. As for grains and legumes, consider soaking, sprouting, and/or fermenting them as this renders the protein more accessible for our bodies to digest. Check out our blog for more info behind this!
- Protein shakes: This is an excellent way to get in a lot of protein while still feeling cool and refreshed. There are endless mixtures you could combine to make a tasty shake, it can be overwhelming! To start, we recommend picking one from each category below and going from there. Feel free to check out this autumn smoothie (it’s delicious all year round).
- Liquid base: water, coconut water, almond milk, oat milk, hemp milk, etc
- Protein powder: plant based (pea, hemp, nut/seed blends, etc), bone broth, organic goat, collagen. Check out this blog post for our top protein recommendation!
- Healthy fat: Flax, hempseed, pumpkin seeds, nut butter, avocado, etc
- Carb: Any fruit is great! Highly recommend freezing veggies and throwing them in too (zucchini, carrots, peas, sweet potato, greens) – we promise you can’t taste them. Tip: frozen fruit/veg adds a lovely consistency that fresh foods can’t quite duplicate. Plus it’ll help cool you down!
- Spices/herbs: These are a bonus for extra flavor and health benefits! Some of our favorites include cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, ginger, vanilla, nutmeg
- Tempeh nourish bowls: Filled with phytonutrients, tempeh comes packed with protein! As a fermented food, it also helps strengthen our GI tract and keep things moving with it’s ample amount of fiber. Here you can find a soothing nourish bowl made with tempeh and other yummy foods!
- Cooked & cooled lentils: Get this- one cup of lentils can have almost 18g of protein! Who would have thought? Lentils can certainly be prepared on the stove, used in stews, plant-based patties, and much more. But, for a time saver, we love the precooked lentils such as those found at Trader Joe’s or Eden Organic canned lentils. They’re affordable, last a long time, and easy to eat in a crunch!
- Quinoa salad: Believe it or not, quinoa is a complete protein- containing all 9 essential amino acids! It also comes loaded with protein. Check out this super easy, refreshing, chickpea and quinoa salad!
- Chia oats: Check out this easy on-the-go chia overnight oat recipe! One tablespoon of chia seeds has almost 4g of protein. That might not seem like much, but just doubling that gets you close to 8g! And in a recipe like this, you can easily add nuts/other seeds or even some protein powder for an additional boost!
- Wild fish: An often lighter source of animal protein, wild caught fish can be a great addition to a nourish bowl! If you aren’t exactly wanting something warm, we recommend cooking the fish and letting it cool in the fridge. Then afterwards, it’s great on any bowl – just be sure it’s wild and opt for smaller fish that are lower on the food chain!
- Hearty oatmeal: Oatmeal is a great opportunity to load up on nuts and seeds which are full of protein (and healthy fats). You can also mix in your favorite protein powder for an extra boost. Here is a quick oatmeal recipe that would be perfect for adding in a vanilla protein powder!
- A Veggie Omelette: Put all the summer fresh veggies to good use in a seasonal omelette! One of our fave combos for summer is sautéd onion, zucchini, and kale. One large egg is typically 7g of protein, and also loaded with the important brain boosting nutrient choline, which further helps to keep anxiety levels in check. Be sure you use pasture raised eggs to ensure top quality! Alternatively, if you don’t eat eggs – a chickpea omelette is also a great option. Check out our fave combo here.