The Truth About Protein
By Karen Azeez
Every few years, it seems a part of our diet is either demonized or glorified. In the 70’s and 80’s, people jumped on the low-fat bandwagon and gave up bacon and eggs for a “healthy” bran muffin and grapefruit juice. Today, many would turn in horror at that carb-laden breakfast as they embrace a meaty start to their day once again. Now it appears that protein has become the diet superstar, fat is having a mild comeback and eliminating carbs is still in fashion.
The truth is that our bodies – even yours! – need all three essential macronutrients – carbs, fats and protein – to survive. But it’s the balance of those macronutrients and the quality (whole foods, rather than processed ones) that make or break a healthy diet. But why all the fuss about protein? Is it healthier than its partners, fat and carbs?
Protein: The Pros
We need protein for many reasons: to build muscle, tissue, bones and cartilage; for enzymes and hormones; to create immune system antibodies; and to maintain fluid and pH balance in our blood. Because protein is so closely linked to growth, we need more of it when we are younger, if we are pregnant, or if we are increasing muscle (post illness/trauma, or for bodybuilding). Otherwise most adults need between 50-100 grams of protein each day*.
The body digests protein more slowly than carbs, or even fat and therefore, it helps us feel fuller longer. It is the last of the micronutrients to be stored as fat and that is why protein has become the darling of the diet world.
Protein: The Cons
But too much protein is not a good thing. Here’s why: 1) lots of traditional protein comes packaged with saturated fat (like burgers, bacon, hot dogs, deli meats, cheese, eggs) and will lead to weight gain, heart disease and a host of other problems; 2) even if you consume lean protein, eating any more than what your body requires will just be turned into fat since the body cannot store excess protein (what a mean trick, right?) and 3) Focusing on protein likely means displacement of other nutrients and fiber found in fruit, vegetables and grains.
Where to Get Good Protein
So, as with everything in life, the key is to strike a balance. Try to incorporate a modest amount of protein (3-4 oz.) in every meal for satiety and for overall health, but focus on leaner more nutritious sources such as:
- turkey slices
- chicken breast
- fish and seafood (try this easy salmon recipe)
- eggs (mix 2 whites with one whole egg for a lighter omelet)
- raw nuts and nut butters
- beans, seeds and legumes
- organic tofu and tempeh
It’s actually pretty easy to get enough protein in this country, so if you’re not a bodybuilder, or overcoming an illness, forget about over-processed protein powders or sugary protein bars. Just keep it natural to keep it healthy!
*To calculate your own specific protein requirement, convert your body weight to kilograms by dividing it by 2.2, then multiply that number by 0.8.
Health Coach, Wellness Expert and Freelance Writer
at Well Beings
Karen Azeez is a health coach, wellness expert and freelance writer. Karen helps busy men and women incorporate simple lifestyle changes into their daily routine to address issues such as weight gain, insomnia, stress and digestion problems. Karen enjoys cooking healthy meals, hiking with her husband and border collie and watching way too many TV shows about wedding dress shopping.
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