Absolutely everyone is talking about protein. You would honestly think people would be bored with it by now but they're not. Many people believe the answer to their weight loss problems will come in the form of high protein, low carbohydrate (carbs) dieting. You can see my thoughts on this in a previous article. Now since you know my thoughts on "fad dieting" let's talk about the real deal on protein.
Why is protein essential? How much do we need? Where does it come from?
Protein, made up of amino acids, is the major building block for our bodies. Our bodies literally build muscle and cells using protein that we consume every day. Hmmmm the old saying "you are what you eat?" Makes you wonder why you choose a processed, fatty hamburger instead of the lean deli turkey on whole wheat for lunch?
Protein is essential for optimal immune function, and if we are lacking, our bodies become more susceptible to infections and disease. Not only does our "amino acid friend" do all this…protein also helps repair all the tissues in our body! Not a shabby job description. What protein is not: protein is not our bodies main or desired energy source. This is the job of carbohydrates. Protein is a back up of sorts. It will come in as an energy source if the body is lacking carbohydrates, however, our body prefers to use carbs as the main source for fuel.
How much protein do we need?
Nutrition experts recommend .8gm/kg protein/day (1 kg=2.2 lbs). This translates into about 50 grams of protein for a 140 lb adult woman. Believe it or not…most Americans are not lacking in protein. This is primarily due to the fact that we eat so many calories every day. However we may often be lacking in quality protein. Many Americans consume large quantities of fast food that are packed with saturated fats and sugar. The protein is there but it comes with a big serving of the saturated fats that are linked to heart disease. Our arteries would be cleaner and happier if we chose leaner ways of getting our protein.
Where is protein found?
A 3 oz chicken breast has 21 grams of protein, a cup of pasta may have 7-10 grams. Dairy foods are high in protein but these are ones to watch out for. Whole milk dairy products rank high in saturated fats, so choose your low fat dairy to make it a "lean protein source". Even your veggies have some protein so think muscles when your serving up your broccoli or baked potato! The bottom line is protein is essential to our optimal health, just like carbohydrates and fat are essential. The key is moderation. You have to consume a balance of lean protein, carbohydrates and fats to really meet your body's needs.