Protein is a body priority. Proteins are like strings of lights. Each bulb is an amino acid. Some bulbs can be made from recycled materials. Other bulbs are exclusively from diet. These essential amino acids are vitamins. However, vitamins ‘A through Zinc’ do not include P for proteins.
When we don’t eat enough protein for energy and essential amino acids, the body prioritizes among our own ten thousand proteins. Proteins found in enzymes and blood are generally prioritized over muscles, bones and nails. In other words, if we don’t eat enough protein, we cannibalize muscle and store calories as fat. Attention Barnes and Nobles diet book browsers: Fat cells only burn calories at 1/3 the rate of muscle cells. Therefore, not only do muscles look attractive, muscles are the key to metabolism.
We get protein by eating meat, poultry, fish, organ meats, shellfish, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy, tofu, gelatin, dry beans and vegetable protein powders. Most of us need 50 – 60 grams daily. This is calculated as 1 gram of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) body weight each day. Physical and mental stress increase protein needs. Fifty grams of protein is found in one large serving of fish, poultry, beef, pork, wild game and one pound of tofu. An egg, a glass of milk, a cup of yogurt, and a packet of Knox gelatin, each contain 6-8 grams. A cup of beans, half a cup of nuts and a serving of soy-protein pasta have about 13 grams of protein. Look for snack bars that contain at least 10 grams of protein.
Approximately one in three American women don’t eat enough protein. Initially this data surprised me because I associated protein deficiency with my work among African refugees, not in this land of plenty. People who should consider if they are getting enough protein are people who:
• are trying to slim by eating less, especially less fat
• avoiding protein sources because of dental pain
• skip breakfast
• don’t eat protein after exercise
• need more protein because they are going through physical or mental stress
• need more protein because they are preparing for elective (scheduled) surgery
• may not be absorbing protein because of weight reduction surgery
• may not be absorbing protein because of low stomach acid or medicines that cut stomach acid
Don’t go out and eat steak. That is not the point of this essay. The message is to eat lean, preferably vegetarian sources of protein enough for the body’s daily needs. Many of my patients have benefited from incorporating whey protein into their diet and from taking protein supplements rich in muscle-building amino acids.