Nutrition Myths, Busted: The Protein Edition

Today, I’m breaking down four nutrition myths in regards to all things protein! Read on to learn what the science has to say on plant-based protein, soy, and protein supplements.

Nutrition is a relatively new and emerging science. There is a ton of fresh information out there regarding nutrition, food, and wellness. There are also many people who deem themselves “experts” in this space who love to give advice on what you should be eating. Because of this, it can be overwhelming and confusing to dig through information to find answers to your nutrition questions. Lucky for you, that’s my job as a registered dietitian!

In the very first post of my Nutrition Myths series, I’m delving into myths surrounding all things protein. Raise your hand if you’ve heard any of these statements: Plant-based diets don’t provide enough protein. You need protein supplements after a workout. Soy protein may cause breast cancer. Collagen supplementation will improve your hair, skin, and nails. As an RD, I know I’ve heard my fair share, plus many more like them. Let’s get into the nitty gritty of these four myths, and break down the facts.

#1 – Plant-based diets don’t provide enough protein.

Greek Quinoa Salad/Plant Based Protein - nutrition myths

A balanced, well-planned vegan or vegetarian diet absolutely can provide enough protein. The key here is balanced. If you follow a plant-based diet, make sure to include plenty of plant-based protein sources in your meals and snacks daily! Some of my favorites include quinoa, legumes, and tofu.

Protein needs do vary individually, based on many factors including age, activity level, and preexisting health conditions. That said, many of us get more than enough protein each day without even trying! In general, an adequate amount of protein is 0.8-1.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day. For a 130 pound woman, that equates to 47-71 grams of protein per day. A vegan could easily hit this range by eating 1 cup of beans, 1 cup of lentils, 1 cup of quinoa, and 1 cup of tofu in a day!

Verdict: A well-planned, balanced plant-based diet provides enough protein from food sources, including legumes, beans, nuts, and soy products.

#2 – You need protein supplements after you work out.

protein powders - nutrition myths

I’m not the only one who has seen people waltzing around the gym with their shaker bottle filled with a protein drink. Protein supplements come in all different varieties these days. There’s whey protein and casein protein from milk, as well as many vegan varieties from peas, hemp, rice, and soy.

But, are these protein supplements necessary after a workout, or any time, for that matter? For a majority of people who work out regularly, the answer is no. While you should be eating a meal or snack that contains protein within an hour of exercising, choose food first before supplements to refuel. One cup of Greek yogurt, a two-egg omelet, or a 3 oz of salmon are all perfect options, as they provide 15 grams or more or protein!

Verdict: There is no need to take protein supplements for the average person who works out up to an hour a day. Protein rich foods provide enough high quality protein to support muscle repair and growth.

#3 – Soy protein heightens breast cancer risk.

Edamame - Nutrition Myths

Soy is one of the most controversial foods of our time. Soy foods include tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soy protein isolate. It is low in saturated fat, contains fiber, protein, and important nutrients like calcium, iron, and potassium. Soy also contains phytochemical compounds, called isoflavones.

Soy isoflavones are phytoestrogens, which means they have a very similar structure to the hormone estrogen that our bodies produce. The skepticism revolving soy protein is largely due to these compounds and their potential effect on the body as promoting hormonal cancers, especially breast cancer. In the past, we thought that soy isoflavones bind to estrogen receptors in the same way as the estrogen hormone. We now know that they bind differently, and have different functions than estrogen (1).

The research has shown that soy consumption does not increase risk of breast cancer. Lifelong soy consumption may in fact lower the risk of breast cancer! Studies that looked at Asian women who eat soy throughout their lives have found this connection (2).

While moderate amounts of soy foods in the diet have no effect of breast cancer risk (and may decrease risk), the same cannot be said for soy protein supplements. These supplements are much higher in isoflavones than tofu, tempeh, or edamame. Right now, there is not enough research to show whether these supplements have any effect on breast cancer risk. For now, I recommend taking them in moderation, like all things in our diets.

Verdict: Moderate consumption of soy foods are safe and may actually help reduce breast cancer risk in certain populations.

#4 – Collagen supplementation will improve your hair, skin, and nails.

Collagen protein powder - nutrition myths

Collagen is one of the trendiest food products on the market these days. It’s touted for improving nail strength, hair length, reducing wrinkles, and eliminating joint pain. But what is it? Collagen is connective body tissue protein – think bones, skin. tendons and ligaments. It’s the most abundant protein in the body, making up about 30%. The collagen supplements we ingest are made from cooking the tendons, ligaments, skin, and bones of animals, then drying them into a powder form (3).

Why Collagen?

Collagen contains 19 amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. In particular, collagen includes glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. It is difficult to obtain the amino acid hydroxyproline from other protein sources. The thought is that collagen supplements, which contain hard-to-get hydroxyproline, will lead to higher endogenous collagen production. Increased collagen production is thought to improve hair, skin, and nails, as well as joint pain.

How it all Breaks Down

Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose what the amino acids do in our bodies. When we take a collagen supplement, the protein is broken down into single amino acids (or very small chains) when it is digested and absorbed. The individual amino acids may not be used for collagen production at all! Just like “spot training” doesn’t work to tone specific areas of your body, the body will prioritize where the amino acids are needed. We cannot alter this process by taking collagen supplements.

While some studies have shown beneficial results of collagen supplements on skin health and joint pain (4, 5, 6), there are no long term studies to support these results. It’s also important to note that many of the current studies have limitations, such as small sample size. Also, be sure to look at who is funding the studies you read – they are often funded by the collagen industry, which poses a conflict of interest.

Verdict: There is not enough research to show collagen supplements support endogenous collagen production, and the amino acids from collagen supplements will be used as the body needs.

I hope you guys loved reading this post about protein nutrition myths! I would love to hear what myths are on your mind, so I can break them down in another Nutrition Myths post in the future.

Let me know if you love this Nutrition Myths post by leaving a comment below, and check out Instagram and Pinterest for more healthy lifestyle inspiration. Thanks for stopping by!

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Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which help keep Daisybeet running. I truly love all the brands I link to, and use them frequently in my daily life!


10 Easy Product Swaps and Tips for a More Sustainable Kitchen

Looking to make your home more eco-friendly? I’m sharing 10 easy tips to make your kitchen more sustainable that have worked for me!

Sustainable Kitchen

Creating a more sustainable home is one way you can reduce your carbon footprint. Since moving to Boston, I’ve made a conscious effort to live my life in a more eco-friendly way. Since I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, this was the obvious place to start for me!

Read on to learn about some easy product swaps and tips to get you started building a more sustainable kitchen!

1. Buy in Bulk

Sustainable Kitchen - Buy in Bulk

Whenever I need grains, nuts, dried fruit, or seeds for a recipe, I head to the bulk bins first. Many large grocery stores like Whole Foods and Wegman’s have extensive bulk sections for you to take advantage of. Bring a reusable container or bags to fill up. You’ll also save money by shopping the bulk section, because you can get only the amount of food you need!

2. Reusable Shoppers

Reusable Shopper - Sustainable Kitchen

One of the easiest ways to make your grocery shopping trips and kitchen more sustainable is to use reusable shopping bags. While paper bags may seem greener than plastic bags, they still have a big impact on the environment. Paper bag manufacturing takes up four times more water than that of plastic bags, and the paper used to make them is often not recycled. And because they’re heavier, paper bags use more resources to transport them (1).

You don’t even necessarily need to purchase reusable shoppers. Stores like Lululemon and Athleta give them out to hold your purchases. I use these all the time when I grocery shop, and they hold up well for months and months. Keep your reusable shoppers by the door or in your car, so you never forget them.

3. Reusable Mesh Produce Bags

Reusable Mesh Bags - Sustainable Kitchen

There is really no need to stick your produce in those thin plastic produce bags you find in rolls all over the produce section. But, I totally understand the desire to keep apples with apples and oranges with oranges. Enter reusable mesh produce bags! There are tons of brands available on Amazon, but these are the ones I use and love because they are a bit thicker. If they get a little dirty, I just throw them in the wash!

I also use these bags for things besides produce. They’re good for travel to hold toiletries, as a mini dirty laundry bag, or to hold sweaty clothing after the gym.

4. Stasher Bags

Stasher bags

I love my little collection of Stasher bags! These silicone pouches completely erased the need for plastic baggies in my kitchen. Stasher bags are durable, leak-proof, and see through, so you know exactly what you are storing. And can we talk about all the gorgeous color options they have? They’re perfect for half-used produce, snacks, and just about anything you’d use a Ziploc baggie for.

We have four or five original sized bags and 3 snack sized bags, and that is the perfect amount for our family of two. They’re also great to hold non-food items, like makeup!

5. Beeswax Wraps

Beeswax Wraps

Beeswax wraps are my second-favorite sustainable swap for food storage. They are cotton sheets coated with beeswax, which makes them pliable and easy to wrap around bowls, fruit, cheese, etc. I love to use these for more awkward-shaped items, like half of a cut melon, or something that wouldn’t fit in my Stasher bags. They’re a great alternative to plastic wrap!

6. Various Sizes Glass Jars/Storage Containers

Glass Jars

Glass containers are my favorite for storing extra dry goods. Off the top of my head, I know I have glass jars filled with leftover nuts, chia seeds, cacao powder, oats, and lentils in my kitchen right now! I prefer glass containers because they don’t hold on to odors as much as plastic Tupperware.

If you don’t have glass containers, Ball Mason jars and Weck jars are both wonderful! I also have lots of repurposed glass containers from things like peanut butter or tomato sauce that I just clean and hold onto.

7. Cloth Napkins

Cloth Napkins

This is one of my newer practices, but it’s been a super simple swap. Instead of using paper napkins with meals, I’ve been grabbing a cloth napkin or clean tea towel. Unless I spill something major, I’ll even just use the same napkin for 3-4 meals before tossing it in the laundry hamper. Stock up on a few pretty sets, so you’ll always have a clean one on hand! I love these simple linen blend ones.

8. Metal/Bamboo Straws

Bamboo Straw

You need a reusable straw for all those iced matchas or smoothies you’re making this summer! We all know paper straws suck, and they are definitely not the answer. I love these metal straws, especially in gold! I also recently got a few beautiful bamboo straws, and I think they are PERFECT for thick smoothies because they are a bit wider.

9. Reusable Cleaning Sponges

Amala cleaning sponges

I love these reusable cleaning sponges as a replacement for paper towels! They’re super sturdy and durable. When they are dirty, just toss them in the laundry to be washed. They are biodegradable, vegan, and can be washed and reused over 100 times!

10. Reduce Food Waste

Pickled Veggies

One of the simplest ways to create a more sustainable kitchen is to reduce food waste! Many of us aren’t fully aware of how much food we are wasting on a regular basis. In the United States, it’s estimated that 30-40 percent of the food supply goes to waste (2). Tossing out those less than prime berries, making something new for dinner when you have leftovers, or not using the whole vegetable are all culprits.

Some easy ways to reduce food waste are:

  • Eat your leftovers for lunch the next day
  • Cook using the whole vegetable. Roast up broccoli stalks, make pesto from carrot tops, braise beet greens…the possibilities are endless!
  • Pickle leftover vegetables. See instructions here for my favorite way to quick pickle vegetables!
  • Make a big batch of soup with wilting vegetables
  • Make berry chia jam with berries that are soft and mushy

Let me know if you love this post by leaving a comment below, and check out Instagram and Pinterest for more healthy lifestyle inspiration.

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Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which help keep Daisybeet running. I truly love all the brands I link to, and use them frequently in my daily life!