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Protein is an essential component in the growth, repair, and maintenance of all your body tissues. But not only is it necessary for life but it might also be beneficial in helping us with weight management it might even be helpful when trying to take off a few extra pounds.

Let’s look at the Power of Protein:

Protein is absolutely necessary for us to survive.  It is required not only for growth and repair but also for making enzymes.  Enzymes are responsible to get stuff happening and happening at the right time and at the right speed.  They are essential to all life processes.

Protein also is required for hormones.  These are powerful little chemical messengers that move around through your bloodstream to specific specialized cells.  Once there, they can create a wide range of responses within your body.

Protein is also responsible for helping to maintain the body’s fluid and electrolyte balance.

Protein provides a source of energy.

And Protein works with the immune system to help your body fight off disease.

These are the many powers of protein!

But your body can only carry out the many tasks listed above when we supply it with adequate amounts of dietary protein by consuming a variety of foods.  These can include meat, fish, and poultry, as well as soy and milk.  Each one of these protein types supplies the body with amino acids.

Amino Acids are the bricks that the body uses when it is making proteins.  With a steady supply of building blocks, the body can manufacture its own essential proteins.

The Problem: Not All Protein Is Created Equal

Every time we eat protein it can provide us with 20 different amino acids.  Eleven of these amino acids are “nonessential.” This just means the body can make these amino acids for itself. But that leaves nine other amino acids.  These are the “essential” ones because your body can’t make them on its own. Not all protein has all 20 amino acids.

Another problem that can be seen when talking about protein consumption is that unlike the carbohydrates and fats that we eat, the amino acids do not get stored in the body. So we have to provide our bodies with a constant, steady supply of building materials (amino acids) from the protein-rich foods we eat.

So we need to eat protein every day and we need to make sure it has all the required amino acids our body needs so it can perform all those powerful tasks we need it to do.

So what should we eat?  What is the best source of dietary protein? Is there a difference between fish, red meat and white meat?  And what about vegetable sources like soy?

These are great questions, because the quality of protein that we eat can determine how well children grow and develop into adults.  And it also effects how well adults will maintain their health and all that goes with living a healthy life.

High-quality proteins provide enough of all the essential amino acids needed to support the body’s work, and lower-quality proteins don’t. The quality of a protein can be determined by its digestibility and its amino acid composition.

Protein digestibility just means how much of the amino acids available actually get absorbed into your body.  And amino acid composition refers to how many of the 20 and especially the 9 required amino acids are found in the protein we chose to eat.

Some high quality proteins are those from animals like meat, fish, chicken, and dairy. Plant based protein from Soy protein is also considered a high quality protein. Most other plant based sources such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains are considered low quality because they don’t have all the essential amino acids our body requires.

Besides being required for so many essential daily functions in our body, protein has other health benefits.

However, research suggests that the intake of high-quality protein as part of a healthy diet may also have positive effects on other aspects of our lives.  These include weight management and muscle retention as we get older.  Studies have also shown protein may play a role in the prevention of certain diseases such as heart disease, certain types of cancer, and osteoporosis.

It has been shown that weight management and achieving a healthy weight can add years to your life and quality to those years.  Through these studies, scientists now believe that high quality dietary protein may play an important role in weight management.

It has been shown that diets high in protein can promote higher weight loss compared to lower protein diets. Part or all of this could be due to the fact that proteins satisfy your body’s needs and reduce cravings.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition did a study not too long ago where researchers studied the effects of increasing dietary protein while maintaining carbohydrate levels.  Participants were initially given a diet lower in protein for the first 2 weeks.  For the next 2 weeks, the carbs were kept the same but the fat was cut and the protein increased.  Calorie levels were kept the same.  And finally in the last 12 weeks, the participants were allowed to eat as much as they wanted as long as they kept the same percentages of carbohydrates, proteins and fats that were used in the high protein diet.

Even though the participants were allowed to eat as much as they wanted, the average calorie intact went down by over 400 calories per day.  The group lost an average of almost 11 pounds and more than 8 of those were body fat pounds.

Ok, so you should be convinced you need protein and you need the high quality stuff, but how much do we need and what’s the best kind?

That’s a tough question because we are all different.  But most people need right around 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of body weight.  A kilogram is 2.2 pounds so a 110 pound person is 50 kilos and would need about 50 grams of protein.  If they are a growing child or a pregnant woman the amount could go up.  People who are working out and “bulking up” can also require a little more and research shows older adults can benefits from getting a little extra protein.  An accepted range is 0.8 to 1.3 grams for every 2.2 pounds of body weight.

It doesn’t take a whole lot to get this and if you eat a well rounded diet you should be fine.  Be careful though, a cup of coffee for breakfast or chips and a coke for lunch do not count as a well rounded diet.

You should also be careful in what comes along with the protein you consume. An 8 ounce porterhouse steak is a great source of a high quality protein.  It can get you around 50 grams of it. The problem is you also consume around 40 grams of fat and a good chunk of that is saturated fat which can raise cholesterol and increase the risk for heart disease.  So this might not be a good source for everyday.

A cup of cooked lentils, on the other hand, has almost 20 grams of proteins (good high quality stuff) but it has less than 1 gram of fat.  For many of us it may not be quite as tasty but if we can start to make at least a few of our meals using these alternative sources we can still enjoy life and enjoy it even more because we are energetic and healthy.

Vegetable sources of protein, including soy protein beverage mixes, are also an excellent choice especially for those looking for a meal replacement because of time or calorie intake. Many of these protein shakes also provide healthful amounts of other essential nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

If you are a real meat and potatoes kind a guy than your best animal protein choices are fish and chicken. If you just gotta have your red meat, such as beef, pork, or lamb, try to stick with the leanest cuts, cut down to moderate portion sizes, and try to make it only an occasional part of your diet instead of every day.

With just a little work, protein has the power to achieve a healthier life.

It’s definitely something to think about!