The Optimal Amount of Protein Your Body Needs

The following is based on research from The China Study. This article was originally posted on NYC Vegetarian Food Festival and China Study Diet

The body has an optimum percentage of protein that it needs each day. Think of it like a sweet spot that you want to hit. Let’s use a houseplant as a metaphor:

How much protein do I need?

If you’ve overwatered a plant you know what that’s like—it looks pretty nasty. And if you under water it? Also not good. But there’s an optimal amount of water ever plant needs to be healthy — and that’s what we’re talking about, the optimal amount of protein you need to stay healthy.

What happens when you exceed that amount? Over time your body is more prone to disease (in the research they specifically looked at cancer, heart disease, obesity, and autoimmune diseases).

What does 10% of animal protein look like?

What does 10% protein look like?
Gram estimates based on Web MD:


The Big Payoff: Not all proteins are alike

In the China Study, author T. Colin Campbell explains, “plant protein did not promote cancer growth, even at the highest levels of intake.”

To summarize, the 10% (of calories per day) threshold for protein I mentioned is exclusive to animal based proteins, and therefore if you eat a plant-based diet you’re much less likely to promote disease in the same way animals proteins do.

Perhaps I’m oversimplifying the study a bit (in that there is some context missing as to which specific types of protein were tested, and how and when these reactions occurred), but the higher level takeaways are:

1. There is an optimum level of protein your body needs.

2. Not all proteins are alike. Animals proteins tend to have an “overwatering effect,” leading your body into disease, whereas plant proteins don’t contribute to the overwatering effect.

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How to Tell If It’s Organic

Next time you’re at the grocery, pick up a piece of fruit. If the food label begins with a “9” it’s organic, a “4” and it’s not organic.

For example, this food label with a “4 it’s not organic. (aka. it’s referred to as being “conventional”)

 Organic vs. Conventional Labels

Now pick up another apple.

If the label begins with a “9. It’s organic. 

 Organic Labels

It’s as simple as that. Here are some common questions I’ve been asked when explaining this method.

Organic Troubleshooting:

Q: Does this apply to all fruits and vegetables? 

Yes, all fruits and vegetables. (Only in the United States, as far as I know. Email me if you know otherwise.)

Q: What if the number doesn’t begin with 4 or a 9? 

4 — Non-organic
8 — Includes GMOs
9 — Organic

I’ve been trying this method for a year now and it seems to be accurate.

A few times I’ve seen avocados that start with a 6 and also have the word “organic” on them. Freaking wildcard! I’m not sure what that means, but had to trust my gut (and Whole Foods) in this case. Which was yes, I love avocados.

Q: What if there isn’t a food label? 

Sorry, you’re on your own. Or you could always ask the seller.

Q: What about people who write this is a “myth”?

In 2010, Jeffery Smith wrote that this PLU practice is a “myth,” but all he’s saying is that because it is optional for the seller to include it, that it’s not 100% reliable. Which is fair. But it doesn’t mean it’s a myth. Snopes backs me up here.