Protein

Eric Bakker N.D.May 17, 2022

Protein is an absolutely essential component of a healthy and balanced diet. Amino acids are chemical 'building blocks' that make up proteins. Aminos help your body create and repair muscles and bones, as well as produce hormones and enzymes. Check out this comprehensive page, all about protein.

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Eric Bakker Naturopath » Recipes » Protein

What Are Proteins?

Your body need protein as a nutrient in order to function correctly and in particular to help your body’s cells grow and repair. You can get protein in a wide variety of foods, and it’s crucial you include sufficient amount of protein in your diet each day. The amount of protein you need in your diet depends to a high degree on several different factors, including your activity, weight, gender, age, and your state of health.

Eating a variety of meals can help you meet your protein demands. Protein can come from both plant as well as animal sources, including:

Meat or Animal Based Protein

  • Meat and fish
  • Eggs and chicken
  • Dairy products

Vegetable or Plant Based Protein

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Soy and tofu
  • Lentils and beans
  • Leafy green vegetables

Protein’s Nutritional Value Are The Amino Acids

A protein’s nutritional value is determined by how many of the essential amino acids it contains. Amino acids are the building components that make up proteins. There are 20 different amino acids that may be combined in various forms that make up these amino acids. They are used by your body to create new enzymes, hormones, and protein tissue like bone and muscle. In addition, amino acids can be used by your body as a source of energy.

From the known 20 amino acids, your body can make 11, commonly referred to as “non-essential” amino acids. There are 9 amino acids however, classified as “essential” amino acids that your body cannot make. To ensure that your body can function at an optimal level, you’ll need to consume enough foods in your diet containing plenty of proteins that include all of the nine essential amino acids. It is important to remember that the quantity of necessary amino acids in a diet can vary quite a bit, depending on the type of foods you eat.

Animal products, including meat, poultry, fish, and dairy foods, are referred to be “complete” proteins since they include all nine necessary amino acids. They are therefore considered ideal or high-quality protein. But that doesn’t mean you “have” to eat meat in order to be really healthy!

All of these nine necessary amino acids can also be found in soy products, quinoa and amaranth. Plant proteins like beans, lentils, nuts & seeds and whole grains often lack just one of these essential nine amino acids and are therefore considered “incomplete” proteins. To ensure they acquire a proper balance of critical amino acids, those who follow a strict vegetarian or vegan diet would be wise to include a wide range of protein sources from different plant-based foods every day. This will ensure they end up with plenty of all the necessary amino acids by the body.

The most important thing to remember here is that as long as you consume a wide variety of foods, you can get all the protein requirements if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, even strictly. Plant proteins can be combined to include all of the nine essential amino acids and form a complete protein meal. Examples of combined, complete plant proteins are rice and beans, milk and wheat cereal, and corn and beans. Baked beans on toast, a meal made of cereal and legumes, has all the necessary amino acids present that can be found in traditional meat dish.

Many People Don’t Consume Enough Protein During The Day

I’ve found many people in my experience will eat meat (a complete protein) at night with their evening meal, the supper, and tend to eat too light with breakfast and lunch, meaning they are a bit too light on the protein in their diet during their working day. Many people just don’t eat enough protein to sustain them throughout the day, potentially leading to snacking at night. Some may end up with hypoglycemia, low blood-sugar, a common complaint I’ve seen with many patients over the years. Others end with weight, appetite or low energy issues from eating insufficient protein.

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.

Proteins are a type of macronutrient found in many different kinds of foods and drinks. Protein, carbohydrates, and fats are called macronutrients.

  • Macronutrients are the nutritive components of food that the body needs for energy and to maintain the body’s structure and systems functioning optimally. Macronutrients are the nutrients your body uses in the largest amounts.
  • Micronutrients are vitamins, minerals and trace elements needed by the body in very tiny amounts. Their impact on a body’s health is critical, and deficiency in any of them can cause severe and even life-threatening conditions.

High Protein Foods

When we think of protein we generally think of meat, right? Wrong way of thinking. 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 based around their evening meal.

Most people would eat their main protein (usually some type of meat) with their evening meal. But before we go more into eating protein and the best protein choices, let’s 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:


Establish Your Own Individual Protein Needs

You need to establish what protein suits you best, I don’t believe a “one-size-fits-all” approach is good when it comes to determining your individual protein requirements. Sure you can get these “metabolic typology” and “blood type diet” books, but in the end it comes down to what suits you the best, the more I saw patients in the past, the more I have came to realise that there is no book nor guru who can tell you what protein is best suits you, it is only by trial and error and experimentation that you will come to determine your own needs.

If you take a look at different health websites, you’ll read that most have quite specific recommendations about the quantity of protein you need at what time of day and at what age. How much protein you need depends on your activity level as you age. If you remain very active like me, you’ll still need plenty of protein, even in your 60s.

If you drive your car every day (activity), you’ll need to stop quite regularly for gas (protein). But if you only drive it once a week to church on the Sunday (couch potato activity), I don’t think you’ll be going to the gas station all that often, and if you are sedentary, the chances are high in my opinion that your protein(and probably carbohydrate) intake may not be particularly good either.

Observe Energy And Sleep Patterns Around Your Protein Choices

Start by eating protein EVERY lunch time and dinner (a little meat, some legumes, soy, green vegetables, etc.) and rotate these proteins paying careful attention to your energy and sleep patterns. With a bit of practice you will become quite adept at listening to your body. Keeping a food diary is a great help and will you understand the relationship between health and well-being and your diet, especially the protein content.

  • 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. While I do eat meat, it is few and far between. My personal preference is more for fish, tofu, eggs and chicken.
  • 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.

How To Get More Protein In Your Diet

If you are trying to get more protein in your diet, try these following suggestions:

  • Eggs are a very quick and easy way to increase your daily protein intake. They can be prepared and enjoyed in a variety of ways.
  • Natural Greek yoghurt is a protein rich food that you can eat at various times of the day.  Add some yogurt on your breakfast cereal, serve a little yogurt with fresh fruit or have some on your pumpkin soup.
  • Ricotta or low-fat cottage cheese can be added to scrambled eggs, mashed potato, a casserole, or pasta dish. Some people like to spread a little cottage cheese on their toast for breakfast.
  • Seeds and nuts are high in protein, they can be added to casseroles, vegetable soups & stews, on top of main dishes like curry, roasted and added to a wide variety of dishes, especially salads.
  • Beans and legumes are also high in protein, and can be likewise added casseroles, soups & stews, pasta sauces, chilli, and salads.
  • Sandwich or toast with a nut butter, like peanut, almond or tahini (sesame seed).
  • Hummus (chickpea) and vegetable sticks, or hummus spread on a sandwich. A great way to give you a protein boost.

Eggs Are A Great Source Of Complete 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, it is important to avoid eating eggs if you are allergic to them. I found a common egg allergy symptom to be cracked and itchy skin, especially in children.
  • Don’t 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 something you are likely not to know is that egg white contains the protein avidin which blocks the absorption of biotin by binding to it, making it unavailable. Studies have shown this binding to be irreversible.

Don’t Load Up On Dairy Products For Protein

Many people who go light on the meats go heavy on the dairy products, especially cheese, milk and sugary foods containing dairy. I’ve found that vegetarians are particularly prone to loading up on cheese, dairy products and bread. 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 pasteurised and homogenised 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 Diets

Dr. 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.

According to Harvard, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. But this doesn’t take into account much, because it’s the minimum amount you need to keep from getting sick — not the specific amount you are supposed to eat every day.

I’ve noticed that there are various types of high protein fad diets, some even recommend protein intakes from 200 grams even up to 500 grams per day, much too high. There are established nutritional protein guidelines however, and you can even find an online protein calculator these days. For example, a 50-year-old woman who weighs 140 pounds woman and who is sedentary (who doesn’t exercise), that translates into 53 grams of protein a day.

I believe that whilst it is important to eat enough protein, there is a general misconception out there that we need “huge” amounts of protein, and that many people either eat too much, or not enough. The protein recommendations in the “Guidelines” provide enough protein to build and repair muscles, even for people who are very active.  Studies show that those who train with weights, and who do not eat extra protein (by way of protein powders or foods) can still gain muscle at the same rate as body builders who supplement their diets with lots of protein supplements and meat.

The problem with a very high-protein diet is that it can place a lot of strain the kidneys and liver. These diets can also prompt excessive loss of the mineral calcium, which can increase your risk of osteoporosis.


Avoid Processed Animal Products

Avoid 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. The World Health Organisation has classified processed meats including ham, bacon, salami and frankfurters as a Group 1 carcinogen (known to cause cancer) which means that there’s strong evidence that processed meats cause cancer. Eating processed meat increases your risk of bowel and stomach cancer.


Fish Is Outstanding Protein

It is unfortunate for those living far away from Australia & New Zealand, in that their fish stocks are often sourced from over-fished, or contaminated waters. We are still lucky living down-under close to Antarctica with our relatively low polluted ocean, sadly though, seafood and fish, whether from the ocean, lakes and streams, or farm-raised, are all showing signs of such contamination in many parts of the world now. The world I grew up in as a child in the 1960s is vastly different today.  I don’t recommend people eat farmed salmon for many reasons. Eat red salmon and wild caught salmon for this reason, otherwise try to consume ocean caught fish. Other good sources of fish protein is sardines and anchovies. There is talk about “micro-plastics are in seafood”, but I’d rather take my chances with eating freshly caught fish than commercially raised animal protein any day. Just look at that nice five pound snapper I caught at the beach. Best fish ever.


Unfermented Soy Products –

Soy is a healthy food when consumed in a fermented form like tempeh or miso, but some may wish to avoid soy products for various reasons. 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 especially 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 many makes it out to be. Harvard Health believe that natural soy products like tofu or edamame could replace red meat and other animal sources of protein higher in saturated fat.

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 all their life (like me) with no health concerns, in fact, I know of many people 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 maybe another guy’s poison, it’s not good to promote that “all meat is poison”. I have eaten tofu for over 40 years and am in excellent health, and I always feel better for eating tofu than a meal containing cow’s meat. Ultimately, it is YOU who decides what is right, don’t let Google convince you that all soy is toxic to health and that it “wrecks your hormones”, according some online sources.


Nuts And Seeds Are High Protein

Small 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 favourite 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 yet again.


 

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