You Need to Eat Protein. This is WHY!

Protein is having a moment and it’s time we all started paying attention! You need to eat protein and this is WHY…

What is protein?

Proteins are large, complex molecules made up of smaller units called amino acids. They are fundamental to life and perform a wide range of vital functions in the body. Proteins serve as the building blocks for tissues like muscles, skin, and organs. They also play key roles in various biological processes, such as enzymes that facilitate chemical reactions, antibodies that defend against infections, and transport proteins that move substances around the body. In your diet, proteins are crucial for providing the necessary nutrients for these functions and supporting overall health.

Why protein; why now?

It’s important to include an adequate amount of protein in your diet to support various bodily functions, maintain overall health, and prevent negative consequences such as muscle loss, weakened immune system, hair, skin, and nail issues, slow wound healing, fatigue, and weakness, or nutritional deficiencies. The exact protein requirement varies from person to person based on factors like age, gender, activity level, and health goals, but ensuring a balanced intake of protein-rich foods is essential and ensures that you obtain a wide range of essential amino acids and other nutrients that come with different protein-rich foods.

Let’s explore 5 key points on the importance of dietary protein: 

Muscle maintenance:

protein is essential for maintaining and building muscle tissue. Muscles are made up of proteins, and when we exercise or engage in physical activities, our muscles experience wear and tear. Consuming an adequate amount of protein helps repair and regenerate these muscle fibers, leading to muscle growth and strength. For example, athletes and bodybuilders often have higher protein requirements due to the constant breakdown and repair of their muscles during intense training. A study published in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition” in 2018 found that higher protein intake can enhance muscle protein synthesis, which is crucial for muscle growth and recovery.

Weight management:

Protein plays a vital role in weight management by promoting feelings of fullness and reducing overall calorie intake. When you consume protein-rich foods, they help control your appetite and prevent overeating. Additionally, protein has a higher thermic effect, meaning your body burns more calories digesting and metabolizing it compared to fats and carbohydrates. For instance, incorporating lean protein sources like chicken, fish, or tofu into your meals can help you feel satisfied and make it easier to control your calorie intake, aiding in weight loss and maintenance. A study in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” from 2008 demonstrated that high-protein diets are effective for weight management and can lead to improved body composition.

Metabolic health:

Protein has a positive impact on metabolic health. It helps regulate blood sugar levels by slowing down the absorption of sugars from the digestive tract. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals with or at risk of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, protein-rich diets can improve lipid profiles by reducing bad cholesterol levels and increasing good cholesterol. For example, research published in the “Journal of Nutrition” in 2016 found that increased protein intake can lead to improved insulin sensitivity and better glycemic control, which are essential factors in managing diabetes and metabolic disorders.

Immune function:

Proteins are essential for a well-functioning immune system. They are the building blocks for antibodies and immune cells that protect the body against infections. Insufficient protein intake can weaken the immune system, making it more challenging for the body to defend against illnesses. For example, a lack of protein in the diet can lead to a decreased production of antibodies, rendering the body less capable of fighting off infections. This is why it’s important to consume protein-rich foods like lean meats, dairy, and legumes to support a robust immune system.

Tissue repair and health:

Protein is crucial for the repair and maintenance of various tissues in the body, not just muscles. It is involved in the repair and growth of hair, skin, nails, and internal organs. Without adequate protein, these tissues may become brittle, weak, or damaged. For instance, the collagen protein is essential for maintaining skin elasticity and wound healing. Insufficient protein can result in slower healing of injuries and a decline in overall tissue health. Consuming protein from sources like eggs, dairy, and collagen-rich foods like bone broth can support the body’s ability to repair and maintain these tissues.

Where can I get protein?

Protein can be found in a wide variety of foods, both from animal and plant sources. Here is a list of common sources of protein:

Lean Meats: Chicken, turkey, lean beef, and pork are excellent sources of protein.

Fish: Salmon, tuna, trout, and other fatty fish are rich in protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Dairy Products: Milk, yogurt, and cheese provide protein, particularly from the dairy protein casein.

Eggs: Eggs are a complete source of protein and provide essential amino acids.

Seafood: Shrimp, crab, and other shellfish are protein-rich and low in fat.

Processed Meats: While they provide protein, it’s best to consume processed meats like bacon and sausage in moderation due to their higher fat and sodium content.

Plant Sources:

Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are high in protein and also provide fiber.

Tofu and Tempeh: These soy-based products are popular sources of plant-based protein.

Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, peanuts, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds offer protein and healthy fats.

Grains: Quinoa, bulgur, and farro contain more protein compared to other grains.

Plant-Based Dairy Alternatives: Products like almond milk and soy yogurt can be good sources of protein for those following a vegan or lactose-free diet.

Vegetables: Broccoli, spinach, and peas are some examples of vegetables with a modest amount of protein.

Whole Grains: Whole wheat pasta, brown rice, and oatmeal provide some protein along with carbohydrates.

Seitan: Also known as wheat meat, seitan is a high-protein meat substitute made from gluten, commonly used in vegetarian and vegan diets.

Spirulina and Chlorella: These are types of blue-green algae that are protein-rich and available in supplement form.

Plant-Based Protein Powders: Pea, rice, hemp, and soy protein powders are popular choices for those looking to supplement their protein intake.

Many people struggle to eat adequate protein at breakfast. Here are some ways to boost your morning protein intake:

Greek Yogurt: Opt for Greek yogurt, which is higher in protein compared to regular yogurt. You can top it with honey, fresh fruit, nuts, or granola for added flavor and texture.

Omelets or Scrambled Eggs: Eggs are a fantastic source of protein. You can make an omelet or scrambled eggs with various fillings such as vegetables, cheese, and lean meats like turkey or ham.

Protein Pancakes: Consider making pancakes using protein powder, Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese in the batter. Top them with berries or a light drizzle of honey.

Smoothies: Blend a protein-rich smoothie with ingredients like protein powder, spinach, kale, banana, and almond milk. You can also add peanut butter or chia seeds for extra protein and texture.

Chia Pudding: Mix chia seeds with your choice of milk and let it sit overnight. In the morning, you’ll have a protein-packed pudding. Add fruits, nuts, or a drizzle of honey for flavor.

Cottage Cheese with Fruit: Cottage cheese is a great high-protein, low-fat option. Top it with fresh or canned fruit, a sprinkle of cinnamon, or a drizzle of maple syrup.

Nut Butter on Whole Grain Bread: Spread almond, peanut, or cashew butter on whole-grain toast or a whole wheat English muffin. It’s a simple way to add both protein and healthy fats to your breakfast.

Protein Cereal: Look for cereals made with added protein, or you can sprinkle protein powder over your favorite cereal.

Quinoa Breakfast Bowl: Cook quinoa and top it with nuts, seeds, Greek yogurt, and a drizzle of honey. You can add fruit for a refreshing touch.

Leftovers: Don’t hesitate to enjoy leftovers from last night’s dinner. Grilled chicken, lean beef, or tofu can be great sources of morning protein when paired with some vegetables.

Protein Bars: If you’re in a rush, consider keeping high-quality protein bars on hand. Look for options with minimal added sugars and a balanced macronutrient profile.

High-Protein Oatmeal: Prepare oatmeal with milk instead of water to increase protein content. You can also add nuts, seeds, or protein powder to make it more protein-rich.

Now that you know why protein is a crucial component of a balanced diet, and the essential role it plays in your daily life, I hope you will find ways to make it the focal point of your diet and reap the benefits of muscle maintenance, weight management, metabolic health, immune function, and tissue repair. By understanding these key benefits, you’re better equipped to make informed choices about your protein intake. 

If you have any questions or would like to talk one on one about your nutrition goals, contact us here!