February 5, 2019

How Much Protein do we Actually Need?

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Recently, I have found more and more scientific evidence to support Ayurveda’s ancient wisdom that we can’t just commit to a vegan diet or a keto diet or any diet that may work for us, and then eat it indefinitely.

Nature works in cycles, and so must we. It can be easy to forget, since we can now control so much of our environment, but you do not want to be eating the same thing in March as in December, the same thing at 20 as at 60, or even the same thing at 8 a.m. as at 5 p.m.

According to Ayurveda, there are circadian cycles that we must pay attention to in order to maintain good health. Based on these daily, seasonal, and life cycles, there is mounting evidence that our diet should be ever-shifting.

Emerging science suggests that our diets should evolve throughout our lives, as we move through specific life cycles. The last third of life is what Ayurveda calls the vata time of life. As we will see, it is in the vata time of life (60-plus) and during the vata season (winter) that we all need to ingest more protein and fat.

Let’s look at circadian science and ancient wisdom to determine how to shift our fat and protein intake during vata cycles.

Seasonal Protein Shift

Soil microbes attach to the plants we eat. These microbes change with the season, and we now have solid evidence that the gut microbiome of hunter-gatherers also changes dramatically with the season. Some of these microbial shifts are so dramatic that certain gut bacteria can be undetectable in one season and extremely abundant in the next.

In a study with the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribe, the Hadza, researchers found that the microbiome shifts to digest more protein in the dry hunting season. During the wet season, there is an increase in microbes that better digest berries.

Each winter, Ayurveda suggests we consume a diet rich in heavier and warmer foods (which conveniently are more abundant in winter), such as fats and proteins. Squirrels, for example, eat more nuts and seeds in the winter, and their gut bugs will change accordingly.

While the best longevity evidence suggests that we should lower our animal protein intake to around 10 percent, during the winter months these percentages can go up. But we should remember that in nature, when one macronutrient goes into season, another goes out. So in the winter, when we all need a bit more insulating and rebuilding protein and fat, we will need to lower our carbohydrate intake to maintain dietary balance.

We have two primary sources of fuel: fat and carbohydrates. They rotate in and out of season naturally. We are provided with more carbs in the late summer and more fat and protein in the winter. So each winter, as long as you lower your intake of sweets and carbs, you can safely increase the amount of nuts, seeds, fish, eggs, cultured dairy, and meats. Fall and early winter are still higher-carbohydrate times of year, as the harvest of beans and grains is traditionally available.

Ayurveda’s Life Cycles

>> Ages 0 to 16: kapha
>> Ages 16 to 60: pitta
>> Ages 60-plus: vata

Once again, we see an accordance between Ayurveda and modern science. During the vata time of life (60-plus), we need to increase protein.

In fact, numerous studies suggest that the elderly should shift their daily protein intake from 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day to 1.3 grams (a 30 percent increase). Furthermore, studies show that protein restriction in the elderly can be harmful.

According to Valter Longo, longevity expert and author of the The Longevity Diet, an increased amount of animal protein beyond the 10 percent recommended to those under 60 is essential for longevity once you reach 65. High-protein foods like cheese and red meat, which should be limited in middle age, are required to support health and longevity in the elderly—a finding that is well-supported both scientifically and in Ayurveda.

Conclusion: Get in Sync

We have evolved to thrive in sync with the changing cycles of nature. There are daily, monthly (especially for women), seasonal, and life cycles that we must dance with for health and longevity.

Pay attention and stay flexible, because our modern culture of eating similarly every day is not serving us well.

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