Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading Health Decoded.

April 1, 2024 | Max Jenkinson

How much protein should we eat?

Yesterday my dad sent me a link to a podcast titled Should we eat more protein? with the question, “Anything you disagree with here?”.

I was cleaning the shower–from apparent mould. I put it on. It starts off with a few quick-fire questions.

The interviewer asks, “Do you think eating more protein can help with weightloss?”

Stanford professor Christopher Gardner answers, “Absolutely not.”

I immediately pick up the phone and text Dad that I disagree with this sentiment. Almost everything I’ve read so far points to the importance of protein especially in its effects on appetite.

During the entire podcast, Gardner is downplaying the importance of protein.

He tells us,

  • that if we eat enough calories we shouldn’t worry about protein,

  • that we need less than what people in America eat today,

  • & that the RDA of 0.8g/kg of bw is good.

Who am I to disagree? I ask myself the same question every day, but it’s not me that is disagreeing, it’s the ideas I inhabit.

If a set of ideas seem more logical I need to side on the side of logic. My pursuit of truth needs to be genuine.

Today I’ll explain,

  • why if we don’t eat enough protein we are more likely to overeat

  • why we probably need more protein than what we are currently eating

  • & why the RDA is probably inadequate, to say the least.

I would argue that most people would do better eating double the RDA—and perhaps even more. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.8-2.2g/kg of bw (or for the imperialists, 0.8-1g/lb of bw).

Let me explain why…


We used to eat a lot of protein

In last week’s newsletter, we explored reasons why real foods matter. To do so we looked at how we take care of zoo animals. Interesting right?

The entire reason why we try to design the enclosures as close to the animals’ natural habitat is because it works. And, it works because animals are, per definition, adapted to their natural environment.

In the world of evolutionary health, there’s a concept called evolutionary mismatches.

The idea is based on the fact that animals are healthier when they live in environments that resemble the ones they evolved in. The greater the mismatch, the harder it is for the animals’ bodies to maintain health.

This should make a lot of sense to you when we’re talking about animals. You wouldn’t feed your dog a diet of bark now would you?

If it makes sense, then all we have to remember is that humans are animals too. There is an environment in which we evolved. An environment our genes are still adapted to.

In this article, we’re looking at nutrition. In the context of food, we need to figure out what our biggest mismatches are and fix them. We have a few major mismatches to deal with.

To find a mismatch we need to assess the difference between what we did during our evolution and what we are currently doing. To fix a mismatch we need to bridge the gap between the two.

To find out how much protein we are adapted to eat all we need to do is look to the hunter-gatherers of the world.

There are three macronutrients, carbs, fats, and protein. During evolution, it seems as if the macro composition of the human diet has varied a lot.

The ratio of carbs to fats changes depending on the location where groups of humans evolved. This makes sense as the abundance of plant foods (carbs) is weather-dependent.

Regardless of locality, calories from protein seem to be consistent. Again, it makes sense. Animals of all sizes can be found all over the globe.

The literature on today’s hunter-gatherer populations estimates they consume 20-35% of their calories from protein, often on the higher end. Although, this number may have been even higher in the past.

In modern society, we only consume about 12-18% of our calories from protein. From my biological perspective, this is a large mismatch, and large mismatches tend to have dire consequences.

Increased body fat is one of the primary drivers of disease in modern times. An increase in fat tissue requires us to be in a calorie surplus.

Then, what causes a calorie surplus?

Appetite and metabolism want to be in equilibrium. The body tries to get just the right amount of calories to maintain its proper function.

We have two main levers to pull when it comes to maintaining the equilibrium,

  1. Lowered appetite

  2. Increased metabolism

So what does protein have to do with fat gain?

Protein, Satiety & Calorie Surplus

Protein is the most satiating macronutrient & protein-rich foods are usually more nutrient-dense. Protein is a complex macronutrient that plays a vital role in the body’s complexity and satiation.

There’s something called the protein leverage hypothesis. It suggests that humans will eat until their protein needs are met, rather than caloric needs.

Dr Andreas Eenfeldt is the CEO of DietDoctor, a company that helps people lose weight and the largest low-carb website in the world.

He and his team have a new startup called Hava. It’s a fascinating product. An algorithm trained on the best available data about how foods affect satiety.

It is used to determine the satiety index of foods. The logic is that the higher the satiety index, the fewer total calories you will eat. It seems to work.

The most important factor when it comes to satiety in its algorithm?

You guessed correctly, it’s protein.

I’ve written about this in the past, but appetite is tightly regulated. The regulation needs to only be slightly off to create an obese individual in a couple of years.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. But, if that apple is what tips the scale into a calorie surplus how bad could it be?

Let’s make two assumptions:

  1. An apple is 100 Calories

  2. All calories above maintenance (balance) will be turned into body fat

100 Calories above calorie maintenance (balance) every day is not a lot. But, in 77 days that is 1 kg of fat added to your body.

Eating an apple too much every day equates to almost 5 kg of fat added in a year. In two years I would go from lean to obese.

You can think of appetite as the amount of calories the body thinks it needs while calories burnt is what the body actually needs.

Repetition, repetition, repetition—biological confusion is no bueno.

Protein is the most satiating macronutrient we eat. If we don’t get enough it seems as if our appetite regulation can get out of whack.

If this is chronic we will gain weight over time regardless if we want to or not. If you were to maintain weight while your body wants to gain weight you are going to suffer.

The secret to sustainable, even effortless, fat loss is to increase metabolism while decreasing appetite. Once that is done all we are doing is eating until satisfaction and seemlessly losing weight along the way.

Weight loss is not supposed to be a struggle. Eating more protein will help us lose weight and maintain a healthy weight once we hit it.

Protein Rich Foods & Nutrient density

You are what you eat, literally. Every single molecule that you are made up of was either consumed by you or built with building blocks you ate.

There’s another hypothesis when it comes to appetite regulation outside of calories. The idea is that if we don’t gain sufficient nutrients from the calories we consume we will overconsume calories. Both protein and nutrients seem to be more of a priority than calories.

Carbs and fats can be viewed as mainly fuel. It is what our body burns to create the energy needed to run everything. But, what is everything built of?

Well, most structure in the body is built with protein. Along with protein, nutrients (minerals & vitamins) ensure the structures do what they are supposed to. Then energy is what runs them.

But, without the structure (protein), or the operators (nutrients), there is nowhere for the energy to go. Energy is necessary to run the operation. Without an operation to run, energy doesn’t matter.

We work on the same operating system as other mammals. We also seem to have consumed ruminants throughout our entire evolutionary history. This suggests we are highly adapted to the molecules that constitute ruminants.

The nutrients we need to thrive are high and in a form that makes them easy to absorb, also known as bio-availability, in animal products. This makes protein-rich foods often denser in nutrients. Here is a great study on the most nutrient-dense foods.

Getting enough calories is not something you need to worry about, getting enough protein and nutrients is. In most cases eating real food and prioritizing protein fixes the problem.

Below is a short list to help you get enough protein in your diet.


Protein Hacks For The Uninitiated

We have established some assumptions about protein.

  1. We are adapted to eat way more than we currently do.

  2. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient meaning it will help regulate appetite correctly.

  3. Protein-rich foods are also (generally) nutrient dense meaning the more protein we eat the more nutrient dense our diet becomes.

1) How much should we eat?

The first point states that we are adapted to eating protein, and we established that the amount should be around 25-35E% (or even higher). Now, what does that mean?

We’ll use me as an example. I eat around 3000 Calories per day. 25% of 3000 is 750. 1 g of protein is 4 Calories. Meaning I should get 750/4 = 187,5g of protein per day.

Let’s get back to the recommendation I started with, 1.8-2.2 g/kg of body weight. I weigh 78kg. You do the math. Just kidding we’ll do it together.

  • 78 x 1.8 = 140,4

  • 78 x 2.2 = 171,6

That’s even lower than what our hunter-gatherer brothers are eating. Getting 190 grams per day is hard and according to the data probably not necessary for optimal health.

But we want to aim for at least 1.8 g/kg of (ideal) body weight.

2) Become a wizard protein estimator

Start by familiarising yourself with the protein content of different foods.

For the non-nerds, most animal meat has around 20g of protein per 100g of meat. Eggs are around 6/7g per egg.

The easiest way to get more protein is by eating more lean meat and supplementing with a protein powder. Put it in your smoothies, your pancakes, or your porridge.

What I do is prioritise protein in my meals. I eat three meals a day and always aim to eat at least 30g of protein. In my mind a meal with less than 30g of protein is not a meal, it’s a snack.

Good rule of thumb, the more snacks we eat the fatter we become.

Imagine your only protein source is red meat. To get 140 g of protein I need to eat 700g of red meat a day.

To you, that might sound crazy but I think it is way more crazy that 2/3 kids in Sweden are too unhealthy to join the military.

The main problem with the standard dietary intake today is the lack of nutrients along with a surplus of calories. Increasing protein fixes both of these issues. It creates a more nutrient-dense diet and leads to fewer total calories consumed.

If you don’t trust my reading of the science then I suggest you look up the work of Dr Gabrielle LyonTed NaimanDr Eenfeldt and Marty Kendall.

Until next Sunday, eat more protein and do what makes your future self proud.

How Hibernation Reveals The Mystery of Human Health

This is the unlikely story of how hibernation reveals the mystery that is human health (& disease)...

Hacking The Status Game To Get What You Want

Playing the game of life on your terms will make you happier, healthier and more successful. It's...

Why Life Has To Be Hard

Has anything worthwhile ever been easy? If not, why are we constantly searching for the easy way...

The Final Diet Boss: Intuitive Eating

Here's how you eat what you want, when you want, to get and maintain the body you want...

Grow Up & Eat Real Food

Let's gain a firm grip on why eating real food matters. To do so we need to, of all things, turn to...

Why You Might Want To Quit Social Media For Good

There is a reason why social media is messing with our minds and it's not what you think...

Turning The Food Pyramid Upside Down

Eat the opposite of what you've been told and you'll become a super human...

How To Be Healthy

The Minimal Effective Dose For Health...

Making Food Make Sense

Our bodies are not perfect, but, they're trying their very best at keeping us healthy. Eating a diet...

Your Body Is Confused By What You’re Eating

Food is information. If your body cannot understand what the food coming in is it will make...

You Are Doing Cardio Wrong

Most people doing cardio are shooting themselves in the foot. There are way more time efficient ways...

4 Harsh Truths To Make You Healthy

4 uncomfortable truths that will force you to reshape your view on health. The world wants you to be...

How To Lose Weight (And Keep It Off)

The train more, eat less is for most people is terrible advice. All we need to do is help our body...

The Only Reason You Need to Get Into The Cold

Is cold water immersion healthy or not? After reading this it won't matter. A short post on why it...

Expand Your Time Frame: Success Will Come

This is a post about the forever elusive question: What determines success? I think it's an...

Beyond the Rat Race: The Art of Problem-Solving

Exploring the transformative power of problem-solving. Discover a three-step formula to shift your...

The Human Ecosystem: Navigating the Terrain of Chronic Disease

Exploring Chronic Disease, Cellular Disruptions, and the Path to Optimal Health...

Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading Health Decoded.