Proteins are an interesting nutrient. Many of the foods we eat contain this essential element, but the importance of protein to a healthy lifestyle is widely misunderstood. Hopefully, this information will provide you with some guidance.
What is a Protein?
Proteins are our body’s basic building blocks (think Lego!).
Just as carbohydrates are made up of individual sugars, proteins are made up of individual amino acids.
Different amino acids make different types of proteins, which have different functions in the body.
There are two groups of amino acids:
1) Non-essential: Body can make these amino acids itself
2) Essential: Body cannot make these amino acids itself, but require them from food
The focus is to attain and consume the essential amino acids from good food sources. These will provide you with all the building blocks for a healthy body.
What do Proteins do?
Proteins do everything!!!!
- Necessary for the structural components of our body (ie. skin, muscles, bones)
- Essential for enzyme formation (required for digestion of food)
- Turned into hormones which keep the body functioning
- Act like transporters (carry nutrients and other molecules throughout the body)
- Protect the body (keep immune system healthy)
- Provide energy
Hopefully, you can now understand the importance of adequate protein intake from high-quality sources.
All kinds of food contain proteins, but only 3 of the 4 food groups do:
- Grain Products
- Milk & Alternatives
- Meats & Alternatives
The key is to make good selections from each of these groups. For instance, select whole grain products (bread, pasta, rice, cereal) over white products. Select lean meats and fish over fatty meats (look for the marbling in the meat). Choose low-fat dairy products, such as yogurt and skim/1% milk, over ice cream and whole milk.
Protein is usually affiliated with fat, so not all sources of protein are appropriate.
Two main protein sources: Animals and Plants.
Best animal sources are chicken and fish. Choose leaner cuts if you want beef or pork).
Best plant sources are beans, nuts and grains.
Get a good mix of both sources of protein.
Previously, we had you think of your body as a real fancy car. This time, think of your body as a real fancy house.
If the proteins are the bricks that are used to build the house, would you select a high-quality brick or low-quality brick?
Good protein selections are like building your house with the highest-quality bricks available. Now you have somewhere to park your fancy car!
What are My Requirements?
Everybody has different protein requirements, depending on their activity levels and objectives.
The best method for ensuring that you meet your daily requirements is to achieve the recommended number of servings from each of the food groups in Canada’s Food Guide (see previous blog entry for a link to the online guide).
You don’t want to have an excessive protein intake, however, as it can be a detriment to your health, including weight gain, kidney damage, gas, bloating and cramps.
In summary, it is essential to consume protein in the right amounts from the right sources. Always ask yourself, “Is this the best choice for me?”. If it isn’t, find a better selection.
Luke Corey, PDt.
Complete Health and Nutrition