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Powerful Protein

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Powerful Protein

Protein is a hot topic these days. Are you wondering how much protein you really need? Can increasing protein in your diet help with weight loss? What types of foods have protein? Here's a nutritionists perspective on protein.

Protein is a macronutrient that has been glorified by many as the almighty and powerful ticket to weight loss. A common train of thought is to ramp up your protein intake, more, more, more! In Greek, protein is called “proteos,” translating to “taking first place” (1). While protein performs many functions in the body, and is an essential part of our blood, and most of our tissues, organs and parts, it is important to look at the quality of the protein you are consuming. It may even surprise you to learn that you are probably getting more than enough.          

            Proteins are made of amino acids; they are often referred to as building blocks as each protein has a different sequence of amino acids. There are 20 or so amino acids found in our diet that our body uses as building blocks for life. Of those, 9 are essential, meaning our body cannot produce them so we must get them from our diet, also known as exogenous sources. These include leucine, isoleucine, valine, lysine, tryptophan, threonine, methionine, phenylalanine and histidine. We also have cells and enzymes that generate protein within our bodies. They produce around 70 grams of protein a day, and these are known as endogenous sources (1). 

            Regarding how much protein you should be consuming, there is much more liberty in the recommendations, which can be confusing. You should be consuming anywhere from 10% to 35% of your total daily calories from protein. That is quite a range! If you are eating a 2000 calorie diet, that means anywhere from 200 to 700 calories should come from protein alone. The amount also changes based on your physical activity and lifestyle. The more active you are the more protein your body will need. The Dietary Guidelines are concentrating less on the amount of protein you should be consuming and more on the quality (2). So, let’s look at some sources you should concentrate on. 

            While animal sources of protein like beef, chicken and dairy are “complete,” meaning they have the complete amino acid profile our bodies require, there is more to consider. When considering your protein source, it is important to view the source as a package. Those “complete” proteins also contain considerable amounts of saturated fat and lack other vitamins and nutrients that plant-based sources of protein include (3). Getting a variety of plant-based proteins in your diet including beans, lentils, soy products, nuts, and some grains can give you a complete profile of essential amino acids while also supplying fiber, vitamins, phytochemicals and nutrients. Beginning to see a pattern? Quality over quantity. 

            To address the common trend in ramping up the protein for weight loss; the jury is still out. There are studies that show it is beneficial, and there are others that show it has no effect. In other words, studies on the effect of protein on lean muscle mass are inconsistent. More protein is not your golden ticket to weight loss! In a recent cross-sectional study on U.S. adults, it was suggested that the protein source, and physical activity were associated with lean mass in both males and females (4). Focus on the quality of your protein, concentrating on plant-based sources that add more to your nutrition profile and keep moving.

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