The Power of Protein
Protein gets a lot of attention in the world of health these days.
High protein, low carb diets are super popular with the promise of quick weight loss and lean muscle. Everywhere you turn people are grabbing protein shakes and protein bars. So exactly how much protein is enough, where should we get it and when should we consider increasing or decreasing our protein intake to reach our health goals.
What is Protein?
Protein is the basic building block for the growth, healing and maintenance of basically all body parts and tissue including our hair, skin and muscle. It plays a vital role in the production of key hormones and enzymes that affect all our metabolic functions and even makes up the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood.
How Much Do We Need?
Protein requirements vary depending on your age, weight, activity level, and health status. There really is no definitive way to measure your required protein intake. In fact, most people tend to eat as much protein as they crave based on a mechanism in our brain that fairly closely regulates protein intake. That’s why on average the protein intake in most industrialized countries is about 15% to 20% of calories and it doesn’t fluctuate as much as carbohydrate and fat consumption does. Of course, many conditions in the body can compromise those feedback mechanisms. One standard calculation used by nutritionists is to multiply body weight in pounds by .37 to get the minimum daily number of grams of protein. Based on this formula, a person weighing 150lbs should eat 55 grams of protein a day. It’s important to note that in general in this country most folks don’t have to worry about being clinically deficient in protein. In fact, it is estimated that Americans consume 6x more protein than their body actually needs. For instance, two eggs, a can of tuna and a 3.5 oz. piece of chicken is already about 80 grams of protein. Add in a half-cup of almonds and a Greek yogurt and you easily get to over 100 grams of protein.
Sources of Protein
Our body uses amino acids as building blocks to make protein and we can synthesize all but nine of the 20+ amino acids that we need. Animal foods such as chicken, beef, fish, eggs and dairy all contain complete protein that is all essential nine amino acids. Complete proteins in the vegan world are found in quinoa and soy products including tempeh, miso and tofu. Plant based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and beans all contain protein but do not comprise a complete protein by themselves because they provide only some of the essential amino acids. If you are vegetarian or do not eat animal protein every day, it is important to eat several types of plant proteins daily throughout the course of your day. For example, having a hot quinoa porridge for breakfast, nuts and seeds as a mid-morning snack, lentils in your salad for lunch and tofu stir-frye for dinner with brown rice ensures you get adequate amounts of those essential amino acids necessary for adequate protein production.
Nonetheless, when considering Animal vs. Plant based proteins note the following key distinctions:
- Does not contain fiber
- Excess is linked to heart disease, cancer obesity and high blood pressure
- People reduce intake and find relief from constipation, low energy and sugar cravings
- Seek quality: Organic Dairy and Poultry, Grass Fed Beef, Wild Caught Fish
- Iron, but in a less digestible form
- Does not contain B12
- People feel lighter and clearer
- Digestive health and inflammatory markers improve
Protein and Weight Loss
There is a ton of research high protein diets can be effective for both short and longer-term weight loss. First, protein is the most satiating macronutrient vs. carbohydrates and fats. Therefore, it really is key when it comes to weight loss and weight maintenance because when we feel satisfied we naturally control our appetite. The body also has to use more energy to digest protein so you actually burn more calories in the process. Furthermore, protein is great for stabilizing blood sugar and has been shown to have a beneficial effect on a host of metabolic and inflammatory markers including blood lipids, fasting blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. When I work with clients who are struggling with weight loss with the underlying cause of blood sugar balance issues, I will often recommend they increase their protein intake throughout the day, especially at breakfast including eggs or chia seed porridge to help with blood sugar regulation. In the same vein, when people who are under a huge amount of chronic low level daily stress and dealing with adrenal fatigue which leads to the breakdown of body tissue, protein can play an important role in the healing and rebuilding process. And because stress and adrenal issues have a destabilizing effect on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, increasing protein intake can be a very effective weight loss strategy.
Other Situations to Increase Protein Intake:
- Chronic Illness
- Recovery from Surgery
- Recovering from Serious Burns
- Elderly at Risk for Muscle Wasting / Tissue Breakdown
Problems Caused By Too Much Protein:
Excess proteins put stress on the kidneys increasing risk for developing kidney stones or disease or dysfunction. Too much protein can also cause excessive calcium leaching from the bones causing osteoporosis.
Bottom-line: Respect Bio-Individuality
In conclusion, the principle of bio-individuality rules when it comes to protein intake or any other nutrient. Paying attention to the body’s signs and symptoms like appetite, energy, immunity, mood, digestion, weight, the quality of your skin, hair or nails – all these provide ample information for you to evaluate the macronutrient balance of your food and begin to see what works for you. Thus, it is important to listen and respect the innate wisdom of the body and at the same time there are also situations where we can use scientific knowledge therapeutically to best support our health.
Dark Chocolate Brownies
- (1) 15 oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed (“Eden Organic”)
- ¼ cup refined coconut oil (“Spectrum”)
- 2 large organic eggs v ¾ cup natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder (“Shiloh Farms”)
- 1 cup coconut palm sugar (“Wholly Wholesome”, “Sweet Tree”)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract v 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda v ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ cup dark chocolate chips (“Sunspire Organic 65% Cacao Bittersweet Baking Chips”)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan with coconut or grapeseed oil
- In a food processor, combine all ingredients except the chocolate chips. Blend until smooth. It should form a pudding like consistency.
- Pour the batter into a bowl and using a rubber spatula fold in the chocolate chips.
- Spoon the batter evenly into the muffin tin.
- Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until the tops are solid.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes before using a fork gently remove from the muffin tin.
- Store in an airtight container for 2-3 days or in the refrigerator for longer.