Choose your Protein Sources Wisely
When we think of protein we generally think of meat, right? Most of us think of a beef steak or a piece of chicken as soon as we are asked to described what protein is. I know that most people are protein-focused when it comes to their main meal, because when I ask most patients what they eat the reply usually is “oh, I like chicken” (or red meat, fish, eggs, etc. But, I have found that this protein focus is usually centered around their evening meal. Most people would eat their main protein (usually a meat) with their evening meal. But before we go more into eating protein and the best protein choices, lets take a look at what proteins actually are, and the roles they perform in your body and why they are so crucial to your overall health and well-being. Proteins are nutrients that are essential to the building, maintenance and repair of your body tissues such as your skin, internal organs and muscles. They break down to become amino acids which themselves are the major components of many tissues of your body, including all your muscles and even your blood cells which make up your immune system and hormones. Proteins are absolutely vital in maintaining excellent health and should feature highly in your diet.
Here are some quick links that will take you to different pages of interest:
- Health On A Budget
- Healthy Food Choices
- High Value Foods
- What Is An Antioxidant?
- Dietary Supplements
- Lifestyle Changes
What Are Proteins?
Proteins are made up of substances called amino acids, 22 of which are considered vital for your health. Your body can make 14 of these amino acids, but the other eight, known as essential amino acids, must be obtained from the foods you eat. A certain amount of protein must be consumed through the diet in order for your nutritional needs to be met. Proteins are usually considered to exist in both complete and incomplete forms. If the protein in a food supplies enough of the essential amino acids, it is called a complete protein. If the protein of a food does not supply all the essential amino acids, it is called an incomplete protein.Whilst proteins are found in just about all types of food, it is only meat, eggs, cheese and other foods from animal sources contain “complete proteins”, meaning they are composed of the eight essential amino acids your body must have on a daily basis to maintain great health, while incomplete proteins lack one or more of the essential amino acids. Plant proteins can be combined to include all of the essential amino acids and form a complete protein. Examples of combined, complete plant proteins are rice and beans, milk and wheat cereal, and corn and beans.
As I mentioned earlier, n my clinical experience, I have found that people will generally eat meat at night with their evening meal (supper), but tend to eat “too light” with breakfast and lunch, meaning they are a bit too light on the protein in their diet. Most people simply don’t eat enough protein to sustain them throughout the day. And what is wrong with this you ask? If a person is active throughout the morning and afternoon, there caloric demand will be quite high. This demand can be from doing mental or physical work, and what you will find is that if your breakfast and lunch contain sufficient protein, you will have more staying power or endurance and much less chance of fatigue in the early afternoon. A person’s required protein intake varies and depends on your sex, height, weight and exercise levels but a normal protein intake ranges anywhere from 20 to 50 grams with each meal.
You will need to experiment to find out what protein sources suit you the best. Personally, I find that egg is the best protein for me in the mornings, and at least two to three times a week I like to eat a cooked breakfast for that reason. In many cases, I have found that once a person eats more quality protein (lean meats, eggs, fish and chicken) they start to notice that their energy levels improve, their mood improves, their sleep improves and that their overall levels of well being improve.Establish Your Own Unique And Individual Protein NeedsYou need to establish what protein suits you best, I really do not believe that a one-size-fits-all approach is good when it comes to determining your individual protein requirements. Sure you can get these “metabolic typology” books and “blood type diet” books, but in the end it boils down to what suits YOU best, the more I see patients the more I have come to realise that there is book or guru who can tell you with perfect accuracy what protein is best for you, it is only by trial and error and lots of experimentation that you will come to determine your own exact needs. Start by eating protein EVERY lunch time and dinner (a meat, legumes, etc) and rotate these proteins paying careful attention to your energy and sleep patterns. With a bit of practice you will become quite adept and “listening” to your body. Keep a food diary is a great help and will you understand the relationship o your health & well-being and your diet.
- Complete proteins – All animal protein is what is referred to as complete, and therefore meals containing milk products, eggs, meat or fish provide first class protein.
- Incomplete (plant) protein foods – Need to be combined to provide the same quality protein as animal protein.
- Beans with grains – tofu and rice, lentils and rice, corn and beans, buckwheat and tempeh, muesli and soy milk, kidney beans and barley. Beans and seeds: lunch meats beans, tofu and sesame seeds, Grains and nuts: nut butters on bread, rice and cashews, rice and peanut sauce.
- Read labels for protein content – If you are eating packaged foods, the number of grams of protein per serving is listed on the package. For whole foods, 3 ounces of most meats will provide about 20 to 25 grams of protein. A 4-ounce (100 gram) hamburger, which is processed, has about 20 grams of protein while 2 slices of whole wheat bread have about five grams per slice. One egg has about six grams of protein and a cup of milk (not typically recommended) has about 8 grams of protein.
Health Tip – Eggs are an excellent source of high quality protein
- Go organic. Organic eggs taste better and have a higher nutrient content than their caged cousins.
- Keep a few chickens yourself if you have the room.
- Don’t be afraid to eat eggs. You can easily eat twelve eggs or more each week, as eggs will not cause your cholesterol to increase.
- Avoid eating eggs if you allergic to them. Like many foods which have an allergic potential (see the hypo-yoghurt diet sheet) its important to avoid eating eggs daily because you may develop an allergy to eggs.
- Do not eat raw eggs – Eggs can be consumed lightly scrambled or boiled. I really do not believe that eggs are OK to be consumed in their raw state, regardless of what you read on line. Egg protein is best cooked, even if you cook eggs lightly. You will be able to digest them much more efficiently, and it is important to bear in mind that egg white contains the protein avidin which blocks the absorption of biotin by way of binding to it.
Don’t Load Up On Dairy ProductsMany people who go light on the meats go heavy on the dairy products, especially cheese, milk and sugary foods. I have found that vegetarians are particularly prone to loading up on cheese, dairy products and breads. If you have any allergies, consider avoiding all dairy products for some time. I generally recommend a break from all dairy for about twelve weeks if you find you have allergies. But you are worried about your calcium intake, right? You do NOT need to drink cow’s milk to get sufficient calcium, many generations existed (and with stronger bone densities than today) without the cow. you may find that you can tolerate raw milk but not the pasteurized and homogenized kind. When eating yogurt, please pay special attention to the yoghurt content as many conventionally packaged yoghurt today contain added sweeteners, with many being artificial or corn syrup, which dramatically increases the carbohydrate content. Also, low-fat dairy products tend to be densely packed with carbohydrates and should be avoided. You may like to try and make your own yoghurt.High Protein DietsDr. Atkins made the high protein and low carbohydrate diet popular some years ago, and the Atkin’s Diet has made a big come back recently. While there are some good points associated with this dietary approach, there are also some concerns. You can read more about the high protein diet approach in my article called Weight Loss And The Low Carb Approach.
Why do many people view the protein heavy Dr. Atkin’s Diet as a way to loose weight, when they should really view a diet rich in complete proteins as a way of life? Weight-loss to me infers some sort of program you do to loose weight, and then you just go back to your “normal” way of living again. Fads and diets will come and go, I have seen dozens in the 20 + years of my naturopathic practice, but the fact remains that we all have a high requirement for protein and that protein does not have to be a meat to qualify as a quality protein.Avoid animal meats which are processedAvoid meats from the delicatessen, like sausages, processed meats, salami, bacon and hams. Stay with chicken, fish, beef, sheep, goat and “real” meat from preferably organically raised animals. Fish is an outstanding proteinIt is unfortunate for those living in many countries far away from Australia and New Zealand that their fish stocks are sourced from very polluted and contaminated waters. We are still lucky living down-under close to Antarctica with our relatively low polluted waters, sadly though, seafood and fish, whether from the ocean, lakes and streams, or farm-raised, are all showing signs of such contamination in the Northern Hemisphere. I don’t recommend that people eat farmed salmon for many reasons. Eat red salmon and wild caught salmon for this reason. Unfermented soy products – Some may want to avoidSoy is a healthy food when consumed in a fermented form like tempeh or miso. Like Dr. Mercola, I generally recommend the avoidance of soy milk, especially with those who have any type of allergy, but also those with thyroid issues as soy is know to impair thyroid function. I do believe however that a regular glass of soy milk can be beneficial for older males and menopausal women, particularly those who have drunk soy milk for some time and feel better for it. I do not believe that all unfermented soy is “poison” as Dr. Mercola makes it out to be. My guess is that the soy smear campaign is mainly tied in with Monsanto’s seed and chemical monoculture monopoly. Soy may be no good for some but will be OK for others, and while you may disagree, that’s fine by me. I have known many people who have eaten soy protein for many years with no health concerns, in fact, I know of many in outstanding health who eat soy several times a week. Good health is all about balance and common sense, and while one man’s meat is another man’s poison, it is not good to promote that all meat is poison. I have eaten tofu personally for over 30 years and am in excellent health (I haven’t grown breasts yet) , and I always feel better for eating tofu than a meal containing cow’s meat. Ultimately, it is YOU who decides what is right, and informed consent is the way to go folks.Don’t forget the nuts and seeds as protein sourcesSmall amounts of fresh nuts and seeds taken regularly can be a great aid in overcoming low blood sugar levels. Aim for a (small) palmful each day and chew them well. The best nuts are fresh nuts, and my personal favorite choices are almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts and hazelnuts. Avoid peanuts, and be cautious with cashews (high fat) and pistachios (high refined salt). You need to be careful with allergies and tree (and ground) nuts as well, I occasionally see a patient with a major nut allergy and do you know why? Because they eat too many nuts in one sitting, like 300 or 400 grams of Brazil nuts, or a large packet of peanuts in one evening. Common sense folks!