When we were young, our parents nagged us to eat our vegetables. Now media coverage has upped the message; It’s no wonder that we feel a pang of guilt when passing over the bowl of steamed vegetables with dinner or opting out of the salad option at a restaurant.
But while fruits and vegetables are crucial to the diet, do we ever hear the same fuss made about protein? In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of dietary protein, including its importance in our diet and the best forms of protein to eat.
A closer look
What exactly is protein? Here’s the chemical breakdown, if you will: proteins are strings of folded polypeptides, consisting of amino acids strung together. When we consume protein, our digestive system breaks down these polypeptides and releases the amino acids. Amino acids are functionally necessary in the body?without them the body cannot heal and repair itself properly.
Additionally, protein offers basic energy for the body and is a source of essential nitrogen. Protein is also important for blood sugar regulation; instead of raising blood sugar in the same way that refined carbohydrates do, it encourages a slow, steady blood sugar release. This means that adequate protein helps prevent food cravings, which are often sparked by ?crashes? in blood sugar levels.
How much protein is enough? I usually tell patients this simple rule: try to have at least one serving of protein per meal. An easy way to calculate your recommended daily protein intake is to multiply your body weight (in kilograms) by 0.8. For instance, if you weigh 68 kg, your minimum daily protein target should be approximately 54 g protein.
And remember, moderation is still in order. I don’t recommend the Atkins diet or any other diets focused on very high protein intakes, since protein overload can interfere with kidney function.
What shall I eat?
What are some sources of good-quality protein? Although meat is an obvious example, there are also many protein-filled options for vegetarians or for those who prefer to reduce the consumption of animal products in their diets.
Whole eggs also offer a balanced protein source, as well as B vitamins (used in a myriad of cellular reactions in the body). One medium to large-sized whole egg offers 6 g protein. If you can’t fit scrambled eggs into your hectic morning schedule, protein powder might be your best option. This can be purchased at health or grocery stores, and is usually made from whey protein isolate or vegetarian protein (usually derived from pea, hemp, or rice). Whey protein offers the highest concentration of protein per serving, usually more than 20 g. However, when choosing whey protein, ensure you choose an isolate form That’s been cross-filtered for purity. You’ll be ending up with a higher quality protein.
Dairy is another source of protein; try snacking on yogurt to stave off cravings. Particularly high in protein is the increasingly popular Greek yogurt (it can contain up to 15 g per serving).
If you prefer a plant-based diet, don’t worry?you can obtain your protein needs from vegan choices. For instance, ½ cup of cooked tofu offers 20 g protein. The same amount of cooked beans and legumes (like lentils or black beans) can contain up to 10 g protein.
Nuts are another healthy source of protein and contain other nutrients like essential fats. One handful of almonds (¼ cup) contains 8 g protein, and the same serving size of peanuts offers 9 g. Pumpkin seeds and flax seeds are similar.
A caution about vegetable-based proteins, though: they are incomplete proteins, meaning that they don’t contain all the essential amino acids. But this problem is easily avoided, and certainly shouldn’t prevent you from including plant proteins in your diet. Different vegetarian proteins contain different combinations of amino acids, and all it takes is being aware of which ones complement each other.
There are three rules to make this easy. First, combine grains with legumes. Second, combine grains with nuts and/or seeds; and, last, combine legumes with nuts and/or seeds. For example, this could mean serving rice with lentils, eating whole wheat bread spread with almond butter, or snacking on hummus (which contains chick peas and tahini, or sesame paste). Note that you don’t need to make the combinations happen in one meal. Rather, you can have rice at one meal and beans at the next, and still cover your essential amino acid requirements for the day.
It’s clear we should include protein in our diets, and It’s easy to incorporate proper levels regardless of our food preferences. Examine your own diet; are you getting adequate protein? Is it sufficiently varied and (if You’re a vegetarian) combined properly?
Getting sufficient protein can help keep our blood sugar levels on target and our bodies in good repair. don’t pass up that lunchtime salad?but add a serving of protein to make a more body-happy meal.
Katie D?Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.