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Protein Pushers – Bariatric Edition

Protein – How much is enough?


Are you so tired of hearing “eat more protein”?  Ya, I know – me too!  So how much should we be eating as bariatric patients?  How much is too much?  How much is not enough?  Let’s break it down.


We’ve got three macronutrients. Those are Carbohydrates, Fats, and Proteins.  Today it’s all about the protein.  A few years ago, it was all about the fat (think ketogenic).  Before that, it was all about the carbs.


Isn’t it all so complicated and confusing?  Let’s remember that we are all biochemical individuals and what is a perfect diet for me, may not be an ideal diet for you.  My stomach HATES beans.  My husband and kids can eat them every day with zero issues. 


Some of us post-surgery have issues with lettuce.  Many of us do not.  See how that works?  I think we need to be respectful of each other and our food intolerances and sensitivities.  Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk more about protein-rich food.


I am not going to discuss protein supplemental items like shakes/ bars/ cookies etc.  That’s an entirely different category.  That’s not food.  It is manufactured in a lab. Now, it has its place in the bariatric journey but let’s understand that these products are not whole, live, fresh, natural, good quality food.  It belongs in its own category.


Today high protein diets are in fashion.  They are in fashion because we are all trying to keep our blood sugars stable.  We know that eating a diet high in carbohydrates can raise blood sugar levels.  We get it.  But, until we all walk around wearing a continuous glucose monitor, we don’t actually know how every food affects us.  BTW, I would love to wear a continuous glucose monitor, and I may just get one as the ultimate experiment with how food affects my blood sugars. I may even set up something for my clients to be able to join me in this experiment (now I am getting off track lol).


When I eat protein, I feel good. My body feels good.  It works for me.  I feel very stable with my hunger levels. I feel good energy and I feel balanced throughout the day.


When I eat carbs like rice, pasta, bread (which I do adore), I feel STARVING hungry quickly after eating them.  It puts me on the carb-train and getting off that train is oh so hard to do.  Bread leads to pasta, leads to chips, leads to popcorn, leads to pizza and I walk around hungry constantly.  This diet doesn’t work for me – at all. 


Now, having said that, I have vegan clients who eat “all the carbs” and they TRIVE with their diet.  Let’s be aware that what works for me doesn’t work for my vegans and vice-versa.


What foods are high in protein?  What’s going onto my plate when I am eating “on plan”?   Here’s a simple list.


Eggs, chicken, red meat, turkey, seafood, fish, yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, milk, almonds, quinoa, lentils, Ezekiel bread, pumpkin seeds, black beans, chickpeas, chia seeds, nut butter. 


You can probably add to my list above.


I used to be carb-o-phobic.  I am relaxing my rules a tad at the moment.  Remember, what’s right for me might not be your ideal diet. I am not actively trying to lose weight right now. When I am actively trying to lose weight, I get a bit stricter.  That doesn’t mean that you cannot lose weight while eating quinoa.  Quinoa has a higher carbohydrate load than what I used to permit myself to eat. Quinoa also has a nice amount of protein even though it contains complex carbohydrates.


What’s the equation for figuring out how much protein we should be eating?  The “protein pushers” – those that sell shakes/ powders/ bars/ cookies – would love you to believe that you need a gazillion grams of protein each day. I mean if some protein is good, then MORE is better!!!  Uh, No – doesn’t work that way.  How much protein can our bodies even process in one sitting?  Nobody even knows exactly!  Hello, biochemical individuality.


I believe my body can process about 20 grams of protein at a time x 3 times a day.  The mathematical equation goes…. Your ideal weight x .36 = grams of protein I should eat per day.  So, let’s take an average to work with…

150 pounds x .36 = 54 grams a day. 


If I personally eat 54 grams of protein each day, I am “good to go”.  My hair will be happy.  My nails will be happy.  My skin will be happy.  My muscles will be happy.  It’s “happy land”.  Now, I cannot guzzle a protein shake and say “got all my protein” because I don’t consider that real food.  Just like I cannot take a multivitamin and say, “I’ve got all my nutrients”.  Shakes and supplements are different from real food.  Let’s say that all together.  SHAKES AND SUPPLEMENTS ARE NOT THE SAME AS REAL FOOD.  We use them as an insurance policy while we try to get what we need from the real source.


Now if I eat 70 grams of protein today and 40 grams of protein tomorrow, what happens then?  Our bodies figure it out.  Don’t’ get overly consumed with the numbers.  It all balances out.  I don’t want to eat 30 grams a day for a week. I try to balance it the best that I can, but we are not computers.  Let’s ease up with that thinking. You do your best.  Focus on the grams you need and when you plan meals and snacks, think about protein first.   That’s the way I do it also.


So, I hope this helps you to decipher how much protein you should be consuming on the daily. 


Healthy Hugs,





About the Author: Sheri Burke is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Bariatric Surgery Coordinator at International Patient Facilitators in Tijuana and Cancun, Mexico. She has worked with bariatric surgery clients for over 10 years and especially enjoys providing nutritional guidance to pre and post bariatric clients.  In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two teens and cooking up a nutritional storm in the kitchen.

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