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Avocados & Protein. A "How To" Guide

Updated: Jul 25, 2020

We Just finished discussing the many reasons AVOCADOS ought to be a part of your grocery list.

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Here are a few bullets from the last post:

  • The avocado is on the "clean-15" list. It's not necessary to buy organic if you're cutting costs!

  • If one were to subsist on avocados alone** for an entire month, and ate a 2000 kcal/day diet, then their average grocery bill would be: $201 per month for inorganic single-buy avocados OR $432 per month for organic single-buy avocados. Details Here!

  • They're full of "healthy fats" namely mono and poly-unsaturated fats, high in potassium, fiber, folate, and other nutrients! (note the nutrition facts panel below)

  • Avocados are widely acceptable in a variety of diets, if you so choose to follow one.

  • They're budget friendly when it comes to meeting nutrient and energy needs, and are a very versatile vegetable-like fruit that's easy to cook with.

** I am certainly not recommending for anyone to only eat avocados every day of their life (this would likely result in various nutrient deficiencies and related negative effects).

While they’re often demonized for their lofty price tag, Avocados are actually a yummy means to helping control one’s food budget while meet daily nutrient needs in a healthful and nourishing way.

Avocados: Part Two Focus

  • A Few Recipes! Less than 10 minutes prep + cook time, easy, and interchangeable!

  • A Breakdown: Calories and Macronutrients (carb, protein, & fat) per recipe

  • A Brief About Protein intake, muscles, and living a healthy life for the long-haul

  • A Dabble into Blue Zones and centenarians

Recipes! Foods That Avocados Love...Besides Toast.

You’ll notice that these bowls are very similar, in case your tribe’s palate and needs are many, you can still save time and money by batch cooking and then customizing plates. I describe reasons for the key differences below.

Note: if you have diabetes, the carbohydrate load in these meals may not be what is recommended for you. Adjust per your Dietitian or Physician’s recommendations for carbohydrates per meal. If you are on a fat-restricted diet or must include specific amounts of protein (for instance - folks with kidney disease), ask whether these recipes might be accommodated. To note, they are full of "healthy" unsaturated fats from plants (vegan option).

First: The Recipes (GF, V, DF)

I combined all three recipes into one spread for easier viewing.

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Second: A Breakdown of Ingredients

Calories and Macro-nutrients (carbs, protein, fat)

I don't divulge into all the vitamins and minerals here, but I can assure you that there's plenty of good fiber, vitamin C, beta-carotene (vitamin A), vitamin K, folate, selenium, magnesium, calcium, phytochemicals and so many other micronutrients. There's even Omega-3 in the walnuts.

The Minimalist (a snack)

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The Forager Bowl (a vegan meal with non-vegan adds)

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The Endurance Bowl (a hearty meal for the growing, highly active, and athletes)

A note on cilantro: 9 sprigs has only 5 Calories, is loaded with vitamin K, and even this small amount has some good vitamin A, C, folate, and even magnesium, among other nutrients.

I highly recommend going organic here. There is a considerable price difference but it's worth the flavor and health benefits. Looking for an alternative to store-bought? Read about how cilantro can be grown indoors!

But Dana, These Meals are Too Low in Protein...

Or are they?

Researchers scrutinizing the foundations for longevity suggest that, for the average person under 65 years old, consuming as low as 0.31 to 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight may promote a healthier and longer lifespan.1,2 (p.52) It plays a role all the way down to how our very genes and DNA behave!2 Typically, this much protein means less than 10% of a meal’s Calories.3 After age 65, a little more protein and weight can actually be protective.1

Regarding diet trends and protein intake, maybe you've heard of the "lectin free diet", commercialized by Dr. Gundry. While there may be something to explore there, readers please beware.

Dr. Gundry mis-references Dr. Longo, stating: "...both Dr Longo...and I agree that people require only 0.37 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight". (The Plant Paradox, 182)

This is less than half of what research supports.

Dr. Longo's research-based recommendation actually proposes 0.37 grams of protein per pound of body weight. (One pound is equal to about 0.45 kilograms).

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So, What Does 0.31-0.36 grams per Pound Look Like?

The current RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for the average adult under age 65 is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight. Let's compare the two for a 150 pound adult:

Longevity Low-end: 150# x 0.31 g/# = 46.5 grams of protein per day.

  • This is (46.5x 4kcal/g) 186 Calories from protein. In a 2000 kcal per day diet, this means they're eating about 9.3% of their total Calories from protein.

Longevity high-end: 150# x 0.36 g/# = 54 grams of protein per day

  • This is (54x 4kcal/g) 216 Calories from protein. In a 2000 kcal per day diet, this means they're eating about 10.8% of their total Calories from protein.

Current RDA: 150#/ 2.2#/kg = 68kg person

68kg x 0.8 g/kg = 55 grams of protein per day

  • This is (55x 4kcal/g) 216 Calories from protein. In a 2000 kcal per day diet, this means they're eating about 11% of their total Calories from protein.

One egg is 6 grams of protein, 3 ounces (a deck of cards) of chicken, beef or fish is ~ 20 grams.

Essentially, the higher end of what Dr. Longo and other longevity experts recommend, namely 0.36 grams per pound of body weight, is equal to what the current RDA advises for most healthy adults, at 0.8g per kilogram of body weight.

Note: This does not include pregnant/nursing women, growing babies/children/adolescents or persons with certain diseases and related requirements. These populations have specific recommendations that should be met by following the current RDA for their respective ages, gender, and life-stage, or their Dietitian's or MD's advice, until these standards are further evaluated.4,5

One "pillar" of longevity research, as expert Dr. Longo puts it, is looking at centenarian populations. Who's living the longest and what are they eating and doing? Related: perhaps you've heard of Dan Buettner's popular book Blue zones, accounting for five populations in the world with the largest percentage of people living to over 100 years old.

Very Briefly: A few common threads with regards to types of foods consumed by centenarian populations: very little to no meat or animal products (with the exception of goat and sheep dairy products - in moderate amounts), lots of vegetables, some fruits (including avocados!), legumes, certain whole grains, and a small amount of wild fish.

More details about blue zone food and lifestyle in Longo's and Buettner's books.

As I mentioned, too much protein can alter the way our DNA behaves, increasing the risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other conditions.2 You might be interested in this study about how excess protein, especially from animals, is associated with an increased risk for type-two diabetes.

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Interestingly, this study also noted that vegetable protein and vegetable fat was inversely related to the risk of developing type-2 diabetes. And I'm barely scratching the surface of research and reasons for supporting lower but sufficient protein diets.

You can read more in-depth about protein impact & the science of longevity in Dr. Longo's book.

For shorthand longevity nutrition tips, read here.

Protein and Your Muscles

Dr. Longo makes an important point when considering protein intake and weight: how much muscle mass a person has, and meal timing. You might already be practicing this, to a degree.

In his book, The Longevity Diet, Longo states:

"If you weight 100 pounds, that is about 31 to 36 grams of protein per day, of which 30 grams should be consumed in a single meal to maximize muscle synthesis. If you weight 200 pounds and have 35 percent body fat, 60 grams of protein per day are instead sufficient, considering that it is the lean body mass that utilizes most of the proteins." (emphasis added)

"What?? I'm supposed to eat ALL of my protein in one sitting?"

That's not what he's getting at.

For smaller individuals, it might look like 25 grams in a single sitting - ideally timed after a workout - and then spread the remaining 10 grams between the other two meals of the day.

It is important to note that while protein plays a vital role in muscle repair and synthesis (among other things), carbohydrates are the heavy-lifters when it comes to maintaining muscle mass. If we don't eat enough carbohydrates, our bodies tend to tap briefly into muscle reserves for fuel while it resorts to fat. Also, excess protein can be converted to fat.

Burning muscle away is like burning up our metabolism -- it will slow down.

On average, our bodies burn about 3 Calories per pound of fat and about 13 Calories per pound of muscle.5 That's a big difference.

Preserve your muscles and help them repair with sufficient carbohydrates throughout the day, and 25-30 grams of protein post-workout, ideally within one hour of finishing.

Often athletes, especially those in extensive weight training and endurance sports, need more protein than the average active individual.

What I love about these recipes is that they're easy to make and manipulate to meet your needs!

You'll notice that the "Endurance Bowl" has significantly more protein than the forager bowl -- primarily for the recovering athlete as a potential post-workout meal. This higher level of protein helps promote muscle retention and aid in recovery.

My marathon friends and competitive body builders may need to add more protein and carbs.

The "Endurance bowl” has more sweet potato as well as extra Calories from fat and the added protein I mentioned -- in part from additional avocado and goat cheese.

I also include an egg with two additional egg whites, which are a good source of protein and a lot of vitamins and minerals.

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Fun Fact: eggs are the bench-mark for measuring bioavailable protein. Meaning, the protein they contain is considered to be 100% usable by the body with negligible waste: a bench-marker for measuring the protein quality of other foods.

A number of longevity experts might frown upon adding an egg.

At the same time, a lot of athletes would probably frown at the "low" amount of protein included in these meals. Let's not forget about the blue zone of Nicoya, Costa Rica, where people often add an egg to their meal.

With this, there is wisdom in selecting foods that were on your parent's, grandparents, and great grandparents tables.2 I know that eggs were a staple for my ancestors, so I do eat them.

Maybe you'd rather omit the egg but you want to keep the protein.

Simply sub-out the egg protein for 2 ounces of wild salmon - about the size of 2/3 a deck of cards. Beans are a good source of plant protein, but they do come with some extra carbohydrates, and you may decide the meal already has enough of those; just remove some of the sweet potato, and remember beans come with a lot of good fiber, decreasing total carb load.

A pesceterian diet (essentially eating a vegan diet with the addition of fish) is a common component of many long-lived blue zone populations: Icaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; and some Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California. A lot of these folks also eat avocados!

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  • Fun Fact: with the exception of organic spinach, most of the recipe ingredients earn an “A” rating for cost per Calorie (kcal) in their respective categories. (Starchy Veggie, Lean Veggie, Nuts, Fats).

  • To figure out how to determine cost per Calorie, refer to my previous post and costing table, then insert the costs for the item you're curious about and your daily Calorie needs.

What Did We Learn?

  • Don't bypass that avocado on your next grocery trip, but grab it along with a few budget-friendly ingredients and make the bowls!

  • Research show us that a pescetarian diet is better than a vegan one for healthful longevity.2

  • Try one of my Forager or Endurance Bowls for a quick, easy, and nourishing meal that's simple to make in bulk for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and a great refuel for post-workout.

Snag a few avocados for your week and smile when you mix the bowl because ultimately, you're saving grocery money too!

Leave me a note -- what's your favorite way to eat an avocado?

A Protein Challenge: You might be surprised at just how much of it you eat a day.

For fun, I encourage you to add up how much protein you take in for a day.

Don’t forget to count the protein from veggies!


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