At any rate, Meat & Beans are the protein category of the Food Pyramid, and in my unqualified opinion, it's underrated! But then again, I tend to be more physically active than the average American, so perhaps that's where my discontent comes from. Plus, I think that Americans are generally sedentary today, as compared to the days of our parents or their parents, which should direct the macronutrient profile - versus a generic model that is similar to that of 20 to 40 years ago when we were more active, and used up ALL THOSE CARBS!! Sorry to digress again...so, meat & beans - just like they sound. Meat encompasses all animal flesh: beef, poultry (including eggs) , pork, seafood, and the less common meats such as buffalo, venison, lamb, etc. Obviously our choices should be as lean as obtainable. Beans are beans, including tofu, & peas (and these guys serve double duty in the Vegetable Group)! Nuts & seeds also fall into this category because of their protein and healthy fat content, which is good for vegetarians or those who try to go meatless for a day or two during the week.
The Pyramid recommends an average of 5 to 6 ounces per day for women and men, respectively. Studies tell us that protein is satiating. Studies also tell that when we snack or even have a meal, if we include lean protein with a carbohydrate it curbs the general hunger that follows an all carbohydrate meal or snack. Fat and protein are more satiating than carbohydrate alone.
For most, protein seems to be the easiest component of the Pyramid to figure out. The problems come about when we don't make lean selections and when we do make selections, we select too much according the Pyramid. The American Dietetic Association recommends between 10 and 35% of total calories to come from protein. But how many people can mentally break statement down and apply it. Here are two examples:
- First, for a 1500 calorie per day diet (which is about what I take in @ 120# and with an activity level classified as very active). 10% of 1500 calories is 150 calories from protein, or 38 grams. How much is that in ounces? One ounce is approximately 28 grams. Holy cow! That's a little over an ounce. Can someone please make the "wrong answer" buzzer noise!!!
- 35% of 1500 calories is 131 grams, or 5 ounces. This is more like it - at least for an active person. Actually, it's about what I take in - only I estimate it a bit differently: I try to get 1 gram per pound of body weight - specifically for the type of training I do. And truly, in my weight loss efforts over the past few years, this is one of the key components to my success, with the others being to increase exercise intensity, ensrue that most of my other nutritional choices wholesome and to cheat once a week (on purpose).
- So, let's do a 2000 calorie diet, which is where my husband falls (or a bit more). 10% of 2000 is 200 calories from protein, which is 50 grams or 2 ounces (ugh!). Imagine where all the other calories are coming from...and imagine worse if a person is sedentary!
- 35% of 2000 is 700 calories, or 175 grams of protein, which is 6 ounces. Again, more like it!
The ADA goes on to recommend that for recreational exercisers, 0.5 to 0.75 grams per pound of body weight is enough (I'd error on the high side). Endurance athletes are recommended to take in 0.6 to 0.7 grams per pound of body weight, and body builders or those trying to gain muscle mass and who train intensely are recommended to take in 0.7 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight.Don't forget that there are other sources of protein that you may be getting from your diet that fall outside the Meat and Beans Group. Milk, yogurt, kefir and cottage cheese supplies about 6-10 grams of protein per 8 ounce serving. Whole grains, specifically quinoa, brown rice, bulgur, kamut, whole wheat, millet and barley provide a good, quality source of up to 7 grams of protein per serving. So, it is easy to get protein in your diet. I think that each person has an individual threshold of the amount that works best for their body chemistry and makes them feel at their best. My husband knows within 5% if he's low or high on protein each day - he just feels it. The more in tune with your body, especially if your diet is clean and free of processed, refined junk, the easier it is to tell what it needs to function at its optimum level.
I do love this category! It's what we as Americans have been taught to base our meal planning around. Just make sure your sources are lean and of a quality nature!