Protein: Why Your Body Needs It
“The cornstalks act as supports for the climbing beans, the beans fix nitrogen in the soil for the corn and squash, and the squash provides mulch and root protection for the corn and beans. And then, just to make it all perfect, when you eat the corn and beans together, they form a complete protein.” ― Abbi Waxman, The Garden of Small Beginnings
Our bodies are made up of nutrients that need constant replenishing. According to the WHO, World Health Organization, “these are essential nutrients and compounds (amino acids) that our bodies can’t make in sufficient quantity. These nutrients must come from food, and they are vital for disease prevention, growth, and good health.” Overall, there are 6 top nutrients that we must pay constant attention to:
1- Protein (MA)
2- Carbohydrates (MA)
3- Fats (MA)
4- Vitamins (MI)
5- Minerals (MI)
6- Water (MI)
** (MA) = Macronutrients: Eaten in large quantities and are the primary building blocks of our diet which help to provide the body with energy.
** (MI) = Micro-nutrients: Eaten in small doses which go a long way.
What is protein and how does the body use it?
In a nutshell and according to Ace Fitness, proteins are used to repair damaged muscle fibers and tissues exhausted by exercise. When we workout, we tear down muscle fibers so that they can build back up stronger. When muscles are overloaded from the amount of work a muscle performs, the muscle is depleted of energy. It needs the energy that proteins provide to repair, restore and rejuvenate the muscle. At 4 calories of energy per gram of protein, not only is muscle and tissue getting the proper nutrition is needs to keep working properly but it calms the body and satisfies hunger.
According to Healthline, in the category of protein, “protein provides the building blocks of the body, and not just for muscle. Every cell, from bone to skin to hair, contains protein. All our hormones, antibodies, and other important substances are composed of protein. Protein is not used to fuel the body unless necessary.”
“The essential nutrient of protein is broken down into amino acids which are found in meat, poultry, and eggs. These amino acids help the body with various processes such as building muscle and regulating immune function.” Other sources of protein, essential amino acids, come from plant sources such as soy, nuts, grains and beans. Your daily activity level and age are factors that determine how much protein your body needs. Protein helps your body repair cells and make new ones.
More from Healthline, Why Eat More Protein?
1- Protein reduces appetite and the hunger hormone, ghrelin (the noisy critter that loudly protests when it needs attention in the form of protein.) If you need to lose belly fat, consider, with your doctor’s permission, replacing some carbs with protein. An example would be to replace some of your rice or potato with a little extra fish or meat.
2- Increase muscle mass because protein is a building block of muscles.
3- Bone health and mass is maintained with fewer incidences of osteoporosis after menopause.
4- Kicks late night munchies to the curb. In one study of overweight men, increasing protein to 25% of calories reduces cravings by 60%.
5- Burn that fat. A high protein intake significantly boosts metabolism and increase the number of calories you burn.
6- Lowers blood pressure. High protein also lowers high cholesterol.
7- Helps maintain weight loss. In one study, overweight women who ate 30% of their calories from protein, lost 11lbs. in 12 weeks without intention restriction of their diet.
8- Does not harm healthy kidneys. This is a particularly interesting piece of information because if you suffer from kidney stones but have otherwise healthy kidneys, increasing your protein by a little will not harm your kidneys. It is important to monitor that because high protein is not good for kidneys that produce stones on a regular basis.
9- Better injury repair. Protein forms the main building block for tissues and organs so anything that helps a body recover quicker after an injury is a good thing.
10- Fit for life. Age brings muscle weakness but eating more protein is one of the best ways to reduce age-related deterioration. Staying physically active like weightlifting and resistance training is most important.
So, what are the healthiest proteins to eat? Protein should be consumed throughout the day rather than at one single meal. That is why smaller meals throughout the day are better than 3 or fewer meals throughout the day. Leaner white meats such as low saturated fat content, unprocessed and good sources of omega-3s and no red meat or processed meats such as fast-food meats, smoked meats, salted meats, cured meats or added preservative meats).
A good judgment of serving size is a deck of cards. The recommended daily intake of protein for women is 46 grams and for men 56 grams. Check with your doctor to find out if these numbers are a good target for you or if you need more protein or less daily.
1- White meat poultry such as chicken or turkey breast (approx. 53 grams of protein)
2- Fish such as salmon, lake trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, or tuna (Tuna one can 142 grams of protein)
3- Pork tenderloin or lean sirloin steak (85 grams of protein per 3 ounces)
4- Eggs and egg whites (6 grams of protein)
5- Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, milk low fat, non-fat (28 grams of protein per 1 cup for cottage cheese and 17 grams of protein per 6 ounce of Greek yogurt)
6- Nuts such as almonds (6 grams of protein per ounce)
7- Oats (11 grams of protein)
8- Broccoli (96 grams of protein per cup)
9- Lentils (198 grams of protein per cup)
10- Ezekiel bread (4 grams of protein per slice)
11- Pumpkin seeds (28 grams of protein per ounce)
12- Brussel sprouts (78 grams of protein per ½ cup)
What about protein powder? How does that factor into a healthy diet?
If getting your recommended amount of protein each day consists mostly of protein shakes, you are in luck. According to Healthline.com, “Protein shakes are an easy way to add more protein to your diet and have been shown to help with weight loss.”
“By mixing protein powder with water you get a nutritional source of protein.” It is convenient and a good alternative to eating the foods required for the daily amount needed to maintain a healthy body. One shake per day is a good way to start with this protein option. “Take it before or instead of a meal with 1-2 scoops of powder. Mixing it with water, ice and a piece of fruit creates a satisfying and delicious shake. Beware of possible side effects of using the Whey or Casein powder, they could cause bloating, cramps, gas and/or diarrhea.”
Some popular protein powder options are:
1- Whey protein: Absorbed quickly, dairy based.
2- Casein protein: Absorbed slowly, dairy based.
3- Hemp protein: Plan based, high in omega-3 and omega-6 but LOW in essential amino acids
4- Rice protein: Plant based, and LOW in essential amino acids
5- Pea protein: Plant based, and LOW in essential amino acids
Here are some high protein recipes for you to get started on your protein increase journey:
WHAT YOU NEED
•1 scoop vanilla protein powder
•1/2 cup pineapple, chopped
•1/2 banana, chopped
•1/2 small mango, peeled, chopped
•1-1/4 cup (300ml) coconut water
•1 tbsp. chia seeds
•ice cubes, to serve
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO
In a high-speed blender, add the pineapple, banana, mango, coconut water, and chia seeds. Add scoop of protein powder and purée until smooth and serve immediately, topped with ice cubes.
Slow Cooker Chick Fajitas
WHAT YOU NEED
•2 lb. chicken breasts
•4 bell peppers, sliced
•1 red onion, sliced
•2 tbsp. honey
•1 tbsp. olive oil
•1 lime, juice
•1 tbsp. chili powder
•1 tbsp. cumin
•1 tbsp. paprika
•1 tsp. salt
•1 tsp. onion powder
•1 tsp. garlic powder
•1 cup chopped tomatoes
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO
Place half of the sliced peppers and onion in the slow cooker. Layer the chicken and coat with honey, olive oil, lime juice, all the seasonings and chopped tomatoes.
Lastly, add the remaining peppers and onions and cook for 4 hours on high.
Remove the chicken and shred it with a fork, then return it in in the slow-cooker. Mix well and cook for another 10 mins. on low.
Assemble fajitas and enjoy.
For more high protein recipe ideas, check out the High Protein Meal Plan