July 28, 2008
Look at a nutrition label, and it will tell you how much protein is in each serving
of the food you plan to eat.
Over the past several years, protein has found its way into the headlines for various
reasons: from high protein diets that say they are good for weight loss and optimal
health to recent news reports that mention the increasing food costs that are causing
people to find meat, eggs, and dairy more difficult to afford.
Everyone needs protein, but not all protein is created equal. Sometimes it can be
difficult to make it through the headlines to really understand the role that protein
(in its various forms) plays in a healthy diet.
"Proteins are part of every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies. These body
proteins are constantly being broken down and replaced. The protein in the foods
we eat is digested into amino acids that are later used to replace these proteins
in our bodies. ... Proteins are made up of amino acids. Think of amino acids as
the building blocks. There are 20 different amino acids that join together to make
all types of protein. Some of these amino acids can't be made by our bodies,
so these are known as essential amino acids. It's essential that our diet provide
these. ... A complete protein source is one that provides all of the essential amino
acids. ... An incomplete protein source is one that is low in one or more of the
essential amino acids. Complementary proteins are two or more incomplete protein
sources that together provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids."
Everyone needs protein. Those who are not getting enough protein (whether they don't
have access to proper nutrition or they suffer from an eating disorder) end up with
health problems as a result.
"Adequate protein intake is essential for good health: It's necessary for maintaining
the body's normal growth and its muscle mass (which is mostly protein), its immune
system, and heart and respiratory functions. Protein deficiency is generally not
a problem in the U.S., but it is in many parts of the world. Malnutrition takes
two forms: a person doesn't get enough total calories (and they waste away) or he
doesn't get enough protein."
Protein comes in many forms. In addition to vegetable sources and whole grains,
there are the traditional meat, eggs, and dairy sources that many still think of
when they think of protein in their diets. While there is a variety of protein sources,
there is also a great range of healthy versus unhealthy within these sources.
"[I]t's important to eat the right amount and the right kind of protein
to get the health benefits. ...
- Seafood is one of the best sources of protein because it's usually low in
- Stick to the white meat of poultry for excellent, lean protein. Dark meat is higher
in fat. ...
- Not only are dairy foods excellent sources of protein but they also contain valuable
- Eggs ... The American Heart Association says normal healthy adults can safely
enjoy an egg a day. ...
- Beans: One-half cup of beans contains as much protein as 3 ounces of broiled steak.
Plus, these nutritious nuggets are loaded with fiber...
- Pork Tenderloin: This great and versatile white meat is 31% leaner than 20 years
- Soy: Twenty five grams of soy protein daily can help lower cholesterol and reduce
the risk of heart disease. ...
- Lean beef has only one more gram of saturated fat than a skinless chicken breast.
While meat, eggs, and dairy are more well known protein sources, there are also
numerous vegetarian and vegan sources of protein. For those who chose to limit or
avoid animal products, it is important to find other sources of protein to enjoy
on a daily basis.
"Protein helps muscles remain strong. Proteins need to be eaten regularly,
because the body cannot save them for later use. Since meat has a lot of protein,
it's extremely important to find alternate sources if you are a vegetarian. Foods
that contain protein include beans, nuts, nut butters, lentils, tofu and other soy
Whether people choose to limit meat because it is getting more expensive or because
they have chosen a vegetarian lifestyle, it is important to remember that protein
is found in many sources that do not come from animals.
"You don't need to eat foods from animals to have enough protein in your
diet. Plant proteins alone can provide enough of the essential and non-essential
amino acids, as long as sources of dietary protein are varied and caloric intake
is high enough to meet energy needs. Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds and
nuts all contain both essential and non-essential amino acids. You don't need
to consciously combine these foods ('complementary proteins') within a given
meal. Soy protein has been shown to be equal to proteins of animal origin."
Questions of the Week:
What sources of protein are in your diet? How can you find out how much protein
is in the various foods you eat? In what ways can you replace unhealthier sources
of protein in your diet with healthier sources? Which animal products are healthier
sources of protein and which should be avoided or eaten in moderation? Which plant-based
foods are good sources of protein? Without giving up all of what you like, what
modifications can you make to your diet to improve the quality of the protein that
you are consuming?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.