Facts About Protein

Protein is necessary for the growth and repair of your body's tissues, in addition to being involved in the production of hormones and maintaining your immune system and electrolyte balance. Protein foods provide necessary nutrients that act as the body's building blocks.

Good protein sources are meat, fish, dairy, beans, legumes and nuts. While some protein is necessary, many are unaware of the facts about protein and how much they require in their daily diet.

Some experts believe the average sedentary person eats around 50% more protein foods than the recommended daily amount, which ranges from 40-70 grams per day, depending on your gender, age and level of exercise. If you are sedentary, you likely need only about 0.4 grams of protein per kg of body weight, whereas those who exercise lightly will need 0.5 - 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight. The very active who work out at a moderate to intense level for 30-60 minutes more than 4 days per week may need up to 1.0 gram of protein per kg of body weight.

If you are eating to build muscle, know that resistance training and endurance workouts can rapidly break down muscle protein, and thus require more intake of protein foods. Nevertheless, even bodybuilders don't require more than double the RDA, as there is no evidence that greater intake builds more muscle.

Facts About Protein: Protein Supplements

Protein supplements, such as whey protein, popular with bodybuilders, have been the subject of a number of recent studies. According to one study in the February 1999 issue of Sports Medicine, six sedentary men and women and seven highly trained athletes spent 13 days on a diet that included 2.4 grams of protein supplements per kilogram body weight, more than twice the amount recommended for the most active athletes. The study found that they added muscle no faster than when they ate just 0.86 grams of protein supplements per kilogram. Other studies have confirmed these findings.

While some extra protein will likely do no harm, it is possible to get too much for your body to handle. According to a report in the journal Clinical Pharmacy, ingesting too much protein can lead to stomach trouble, dehydration, gout, and calcium loss, as well as increased risk of cancer of the breast, colon, liver and kidneys. The best way to get an adequate amount of protein without overdoing it is from eating a balanced diet.

Facts About Protein: Dietary Protein Sources

Though some advise that we need to reduce our consumption of meat if we are looking to live a healthier lifestyle and help reduce the strain on our planet's limited resources, there's no reason why you have to give up meat entirely and limit yourself to tofu and rice cakes. Healthy options exist for those who enjoy a nice piece of red meat once in a while, with a number of other tasty choices, such as fish, beans and nuts if you want to limit your consumption. Our bodies need the protein and nutrients that meat provides, but something that is healthier than what you get from a fast-food burger that is laced with excessive amounts of fat and sodium.

You should be aware that not all meat is created equal. Most of the meat you find in the supermarket most likely comes from a CAFO, a large commercial operation where the cattle are raised on grain and given antibiotics and hormones to keep them healthy and make them grow faster and larger. Some theorize that the rate of obesity is so high due to the substances inherent in the factory farmed meat we eat.

Dairy products produced from cows treated with the hormone rBGH also show elevated levels of the hormone IGF-1. A study showed how the increased IGF-1 in rBGH milk was able to survive digestion and make its way into the intestines and blood stream of consumers. A number of other studies now demonstrate that IGF-1 is a significant factor in the growth of cancers of the breast, prostate and colon.

Nevertheless, meat is filled with nutrients and is an excellent source of protein and amino acids like cysteine, taurine, and carnitine. Amino acids are critical in order for our body to function properly. Their role includes repairing muscles, organs, nails, hair, skin, ligaments, and glands. Another key nutrient beef provides that is important for the cardiovascular system is coenzyme Q10.

To get the benefits of beef without most of its drawbacks, eat organic grass-fed beef!

Beef is also an excellent source of minerals like magnesium and zinc. Magnesium keeps our muscles from cramping, and zinc keeps our immune system functioning efficiently. Meat contains an abundance of vitamin B6 and is also is one of the best sources of vitamin B12, which is vital to a healthy nervous system and healthy blood, and the iron it contains keeps us from becoming anemic and listless. Organ meats provide vital fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins A and D, both of which are essential for protein utilization and mineral absorption.

Beef does contain saturated fat, which, as we explain in our section, facts about fats, plays many important roles in our body's chemistry. Saturated fats enhance the immune system, are necessary for healthy bones, provide energy and structural integrity to our cells, protect the liver and enhance the body's use of essential fatty acids. As saturated fats are stable, they do not become rancid easily, do not deplete the body's reserves of antioxidants, do not initiate cancer, and do not irritate the artery walls.

So how can you get beef's benefits without the above-mentioned drawbacks? Organic grass-fed beef provides all the good nutrients without the bad chemicals, and it contains lower amounts of saturated fat. Plus, grass-fed beef has four times more vitamin E than grain-fed beef and is a great source of both Omega 3 fatty acids, essential for growth and the prevention of coronary heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, cancer, and other inflammatory and autoimmune disorders.

Grass-fed beef also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fat that reduces the risk of cancer, obesity, diabetes, and a number of immune disorders. Grass-fed beef has from 30-40% more CLA than that found in conventionally raised beef. Studies have shown that CLA can reduce the amount of dangerous belly fat that is stored around the midsection, so grass-fed beef actually helps you lose belly fat! Sources can be found either at your local whole foods market or online.

Non-Meat Protein Alternatives

If you are interested in cutting down on the amount of meat you eat and would like to try some alternatives that still provide you with plenty of protein and nutrients, try some of the following:

Quinoa - a grain that is cooked like rice, but with a nutty taste and creamy texture, quinoa contains a higher amount of protein than any other kind of grain and can be a meal in itself by preparing it with sauteed vegetables and serving it with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. 

Almonds - High in both protein and calcium, almonds are a great low-carbohydrate snack with only a few grams of non-fiber carbohydrate per serving. Try almond milk or a sandwich with organic almond butter. If you can splurge a little, look for Marcona almonds from Spain that have been fried in olive oil and lightly salted. A little bit of heaven in a nut!

Yogurt or kefir -Boasting protein, calcium and active probiotic cultures, organic yogurt makes for a healthy and filling breakfast or dessert. Plain, organic, full-fat yogurt is healthiest, and you can add your own fruit or topping, such as nuts or honey. Low-fat yogurt is highly processed, and flavored yogurts are very high in sugar and/or high-fructose corn syrup.

Kefir, a fermented milk drink similar to yogurt, contains a wider range of healthy cultures than yogurt and has been around for centuries. It has an abundance of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes, among which are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin B2, and B12, vitamin K, A and D. Tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in kefir, has been found to have a relaxing effect on the nervous system.

Legumes - The humble legume, such as the lentil, black bean and chickpea, are both filling and high in protein and fiber. They can be prepared a myriad of delicious ways, such as in hummus, which uses chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), lemon, garlic, and olive oil, all of which are not only healthy, but also delicious!

Small Fish - Fish are an excellent source of protein and healthy fats. Small oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel, and herring are best, as they contain considerably less mercury than larger fish like tuna and swordfish, and are high in calcium and those all-important Omega 3 fatty acids that reduce your risk of contracting cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory disorders. 

Eggs - Contrary to what most people have been led to believe, eggs are actually a healthy source of protein. A large egg has only 1.5 grams of saturated fat and 70 calories, while providing 6 grams of high-quality protein. The yolk is also a source of zinc, B vitamins (including riboflavin and folate), vitamin A, iron, and many other nutrients.

Eggs do not appear to contribute to heart disease in most people. A pivotal study from Harvard in 1999, of nearly 120,000 men and women, found no association between eggs and heart disease, except in people with diabetes. Nor did it find a link between eggs and strokes.

Recent studies have found that dietary cholesterol does not generally have a significant impact on blood cholesterol for anyone but a few people who have a sensitivity to dietary cholesterol and that most people can eat one or two eggs a day without it affecting their cholesterol levels.

Egg substitutes are mostly just egg whites, but some brands contain less desirable ingredients such as vegetable oil, cellulose gum for thickening and corn oil as a carrier for beta carotene and the fat-soluble vitamins. If you must avoid dietary cholesterol it may be better (and less expensive) to just buy whole eggs and discard the yolks, or use a combination of one whole egg and two egg whites if cooking something like an omelette.

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