Food Freedom Friday Edition 150 - Protein - The Basics

Protein is an essential macronutrient. This means you need it in relatively large quantities (grams as opposed to micrograms) and must obtain it from food.

What is Protein?

Proteins are large molecules found in all humans, animals and plants. They are made up of chains of small molecules known as amino acids.

When you consume large protein molecules, stomach acid along with digestive enzymes in your gut break them down into smaller chains (peptides) and eventually into individual amino acids. This process is seamless and simple as long as everything is working properly.

The digested proteins are then utilized by your gut bacteria and are also absorbed through lining of your small intestine into your bloodstream. From there these amino acids are shuttled throughout the body to create new proteins.

You probably already know the amino acids are used to build and strengthen your muscles. But, that’s certainly not all!

Proteins play many roles in your body

·       Allow you to move.

·       Provide structural support within your cells.

·       Responsible for transporting molecules within the cell as well as throughout the body.

·       Act as messengers, such as certain hormones, and send important signals to other cells and tissues.

·       Act as antibodies, which are a big part of your immune system. Essentially, they’re responsible for attacking and neutralizing foreign invaders.

·       Behave like enzymes, which are the catalysts for the thousands of biochemical reactions that take place within your cells. This includes energy production.

Without proteins your body would not function and consuming dietary protein is the only way for your body to make the proteins it needs.

Thus, a lack of protein in your diet can lead to numerous problems, including loss of muscle, fatigue, stunted growth, and weakened immunity among MANY other things.

Protein & Fat Loss

An adequate amount of protein is necessary to sustain existing and build new muscle. The more muscle you have, the more fat you will burn. This is because muscle tissue is very active and requires more energy than less active tissues, such as your skin.

When you are losing weight by creating an energy deficit and moving your body more, you also have the potential to burn muscle tissue. This is not an ideal scenario! Eating enough protein, especially during weight loss, is essential to maintaining your lean muscle mass.

There are a few other important ways in which eating protein can support your weight loss efforts:

·       Protein requires more energy to digest than carbohydrates and fat. This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF). This means you actually burn more calories (15 – 20% more) by eating a serving (4 oz) of chicken versus a helping of pasta.

·       Protein does not cause sharp spikes in your blood sugar and insulin. Maintaining optimal levels of blood sugar and insulin is an important component of weight loss, weight management, and type 2 diabetes prevention.

·       Protein is satisfying and keeps you feeling full long after your meal making it less likely you will overeat or snack between meals.

Several studies have actually shown that when dietary protein levels are increased, fewer calories are consumed.

Recommended Amount of Daily Protein

The goal is to eat enough protein to build muscle, prevent muscle loss, and ensure your body has enough left over to perform all the other functions mentioned above.

The exact amount varies from person to person. It really depends on several factors, including your activity level, health goals, and age.

In general, 70 grams to 100 grams of protein per day will cover most people. This amounts to approximately 30% of your total daily intake.

For example, if you are eating a reduced calorie diet (approximately 1500 calories) and are moderately active, then 70 grams of protein is probably sufficient.

On the other hand, if you are already at your ideal weight and exercising frequently at high intensities, you may need 100 grams or more a day.

What exactly does 70 grams of protein a day look like?

·       4 oz chicken breast = 35 grams of protein

·       4 oz salmon fillet = 23 grams of protein

·       2 eggs = 14 grams of protein

If you consumed these three things in one day, you would have eaten 72 grams of protein.

There is a debate about how much protein your body can absorb and utilize at once. In reality, this really only applies to body building. Studies have found that the muscle boosting effects of consuming protein after a workout maxes out at about 30 grams. This means a protein shake with 50 grams is not benefitting your muscles any more than a 30-gram shake.

Whatever protein is not used for building muscle can be used for all the other functions discussed earlier. Excess can also be converted into glucose and used to make energy in a process known as gluconeogenesis.

I generally recommend spacing out your protein in even proportions the best you can. This will keep your metabolism running high, maintain balanced blood sugar levels, and ensure you are full and satisfied.

Gut Health & Protein Digestion

The health of your gut plays such an important role in how well your body is able to digest and absorb nutrients. When it comes to protein, your body needs an adequate supply of stomach acid as well as several other digestive enzymes and a healthy population of gut bacteria to effectively and efficiently break proteins down into amino acids.

Without these essential components, protein remains undigested in the gut. This can cause digestive distress and damage to the lining of your digestive tract. When this happens, large particles of protein can “leak” your bloodstream, which then triggers inflammation.

This is one of the reasons why I recommend bone broth and hydrolyzed collagen so often, especially when one is experiencing digestive distress. They are both great sources of highly digestible and easily absorbable protein. They also provide a great source of glycine and proline (amino acids) that help repair the lining of your digestive tract.

Slowing down to eat and thoroughly chewing your food is also vital for o0timal protein breakdown and digestion. Chewing not only breaks the protein down into smaller pieces, but it also acts a signal to get your digestive juices flowing.

Protein & Aging

As you age, the ability for your body to process protein naturally declines.

In addition, without proper nutrition and movement, your body naturally begins to lose skeletal muscle. This is known as sarcopenia and is one of the leading causes of immobility among seniors.

Thus, as you age, your protein needs may increase.

Is there such a thing as too much protein?

Protein is essential.

You need to eat adequate amount of protein.

You also need to ensure you are able to get lots of healthy fats and colorful vegetables in your diet. It is essential not to crowd out these other important food groups by eating too much protein.

While going over occasionally is not harmful, eating too much protein can become a problem for those with poor kidney function.

In addition, your body requires water to digest protein. This means eating too much protein without increasing your intake of fluids could lead to dehydration. Dehydration can bring on a whole host of other problems – make sure you always hydrate adequately.

Quality Matters

Eating meats from unhealthy, factory-farmed animals is not doing your body any good. These meats are inflammatory and could possibly contain growth hormones, antibiotics, and other harmful additives.

When choosing animal proteins, it is important to eat meats from healthy, pasture-raised animals. This means animals free to roam outdoors with lots of space and fed a natural diet free from pesticides. This is true for fish as well. You will get the biggest bang for your protein buck with wild cold-water fish, such as Alaskan salmon.

In Summary

·       Protein is an essential macronutrient that must be obtained from food.

·       Eating adequate amounts is important to maintain good health as well as lose fat whilst preserving lean tissue.

·       How much protein your body needs depends on several factors, including your activity level, health goals, and age.

·       The best sources of protein come from healthy, pasture-raised animals and wild fish.

Please be sure to include high quality sources of protein in your diet, but there’s no need to overdo it. Three to four ounces of chicken, steak, or fish is typically all you need at any given time. All your meals should most often include a combination of protein, healthy, naturally occurring fats and a variety of vegetables for optimal health and a slim waistline.

Michal Ofer