The Power of Protein

September 19

You may have heard that protein is needed for a healthy body and should be included in our daily diet. There have been many fad diets that emphasize a high protein diet to lose weight. However, Fitness4Her advocates a balanced diet of foods rich in vitamins and minerals. This is the best way to lose weight and to keep it off permanently. So what is the power of protein? Read on to find out why protein is important to our health today and in the future.

Protein is an important component of every cell in the body. Hair and nails are mostly made of protein. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. You also use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. An important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood, protein is a powerful nutrient that is necessary for a healthy body.

Along with fat and carbohydrates, protein is a “macronutrient,” meaning that the body needs relatively large amounts of it. Vitamins and minerals, which are needed in only small quantities, are called “micronutrients.” But unlike fat and carbohydrates, the body does not store protein, and therefore has no reservoir to draw on when it needs a new supply.

When you eat foods that contain protein, the digestive juices in your stomach and intestine go to work. They break down the protein in food into basic units, called amino acids. The amino acids then can be reused to make the proteins your body needs to maintain muscles, bones, blood, and body organs.

These amino acids can join together to make thousands of different proteins. Scientists have found many different amino acids in protein, but 22 of them are very important to human health.

Of those 22 amino acids, your body can make 13 of them without you ever thinking about it. Your body can’t make the other nine amino acids, but you can get them by eating protein-rich foods. These are called essential amino acids because it’s essential that you get them from the foods you eat.

So if protein is so wonderful, why not eat it all day long? The truth is, we need less total protein that you might think. But we could all benefit from getting more protein from better food sources that are lower in fat.

How Much Protein Do You Need?
We’ve all heard the myth that extra protein builds more muscle. In fact, the only way to build muscle is through exercise. Bodies need a modest amount of protein to function well. Extra protein doesn’t give you extra strength. Everyone who eats an eight-ounce steak typically served in restaurants is getting more protein that their bodies need. Plus they’re getting a hefty amount of artery-clogging saturated fat as well.

We need protein at every meal, but the amount of protein that we need is considerably less than we actually consume regularly. But how much protein do you need each day? Though sources are conflicting at times, most studies indicate about 4% of your daily caloric intake.

The Dangers of High-Protein Diets
Many people who have jumped on the high-protein/low-carb bandwagon think that they can pack away as much protein as they like. But I urge caution. When people eat lots of protein but few carbohydrates, their metabolisms change into a state called ketosis. Ketosis means the body converts from burning carbs for fuel to burning its own fat. When fat is broken down, small bits of carbon called ketones are released into the bloodstream as energy sources. Ketosis, which also occurs in diabetes, tends to suppress appetite, causing people to eat less, and it also increases the body’s elimination of fluids through urine, resulting in a loss of water weight.

High-protein diets may trade short-term benefits for long-term health consequences. Among the risks: The body produces ammonia when it breaks down protein. No one knows the long-term risks of higher levels of ammonia in the body.

Carbohydrate foods shunned by some people on low-carb diets include fruits and vegetables, which are the best sources for vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants — nutrients that help prevent disease. On the other hand, animal foods that are high in protein are usually also high in saturated fats, which increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes.

The American Heart Association warns: “Reducing consumption of [carbs] usually means other, higher-fat foods are eaten instead. This raises cholesterol levels even more and increases cardiovascular risk.” The AHA also notes that by concentrating on protein sources and skipping carbs, dieters may be getting too much salt, and not enough calcium, potassium, or magnesium, which are typically found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Good Choices of Protein
The type of protein you eat can attribute to successful weight loss and your overall health. As often as possible choose alternatives to meat when considering protein choices. Below are some healthy choices of foods that are rich in protein and good for you, too.

• Fish: Fish offers heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and, in general, less fat than meat.
• Poultry: You can eliminate most of the saturated fat by removing the skin.
• Eggs: A great source of protein, the white part has a considerable amount of protein, but none of the cholesterol.
• Tofu: A soy based food product, rich in protein.
• Beans: Beans contain more protein than any other vegetable protein. Plus, they’re loaded with fiber that helps you feel full for hours.
• Nuts: One ounce of almonds gives you 6 grams of protein, nearly as much protein as one ounce of broiled ribeye steak.
• Whole grains: A slice of whole wheat bread gives you 3 grams of protein, plus valuable fiber.
• Plant based foods: Avocado is a great example of a non-meat source of protein.

Now that you are familiar with the health benefits of protein, you’ll want to choose foods that are protein rich but lower in fat and calories. Armed with the facts we have examined, it should be easy to choose your protein wisely.

We’d love to hear your input.  Leave a comment below:

~ Karen Ficarelli

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One Comment

  1. I was searching around for articles on protein for my girlfriend and wanted to give a thank you as she found it pretty useful.

  2. Michael Goodwind on 07/31/2010 at 3:32 am

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