When it comes to healthy eating, there’s so much new vocabulary thrown around, from “gluten-free” to “cruciferous.” Thankfully, the fundamentals of nutrition—proteins, fats, carbohydrates—sound more familiar, thanks to sixth-grade science. These are macronutrients, which make up most of the food that we eat and which our bodies need in huge amounts to function. They also have varying reputations: carbs get a lot of unnecessary hate, fats are the subject of intense debate, and proteins manage to be the most well-loved of the three.
For this crash course, we’ll be zoning in on protein, including why it’s so important for your body and how to incorporate it into your diet.
SO WHY DOES PROTEIN MATTER, ANYWAY?
The #1 reason is that our organs are made of protein, and so are our bones, muscles, hair, and several other bodily structures. That’s why protein has been dubbed as *the building block of life. Even though we look pretty much the same from day to day, our tissues go through frequent rebuilding, repair, and maintenance, and this is going to stall if we don’t have the proper supply of protein. Aside from this, protein is also a multi-tasker, and it’s essential for many of the chemical reactions that keep our bodies running.
This explains why it’s a favorite of body-builders. The more protein you have stocked internally, the more raw material your body has for building muscle (but you’ll only bulk up by putting in the work!).
Health divas have yet another reason. Compared to carbs and fat, protein wins out for losing weight. Your body exerts a lot more effort when digesting protein, so it burns a higher number of calories. Another convenient effect is that protein makes you feel full and satisfied. Eggs and meat, which are loaded with protein, are way heavier on the stomach compared to doughnuts. You won’t be inclined to reach for another serving, so it’s really helpful for reigning in those calories!
YOUR DAILY DOSE
To a certain extent, the amount of protein that we have depends on what we eat. Protein is made up of 20 amino acids, and the human body can produce 11 of these on its own. The remaining 9, though, have to come from our diet—and we need to get every single one of them. No exceptions or compromises.
Because protein isn’t stored in the body and it’s consumed quickly, the best strategy is to consistently take protein in throughout the day. There should be some protein on your plate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and you can even squeeze it in during snacks.
We can’t generalize how much protein everyone needs to a single number because that depends on lots of factors, including your muscle mass, level of health, and age, but the average for females is around 46 grams per day, or 15 grams per meal. This is going to be higher for athletes and pregnant women, though. For a more exact calculation, you can whip out your calculator and try the officially approved formula of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of your body weight.
STOCKING YOUR KITCHEN
Thankfully, we don’t have to scavenge too hard for those 9 remaining amino acids. Some food contain all of them in one go, and we’re willing to bet you already have them in your pantry! We’ve listed several complete sources of protein, along with our recommendations for each:
- Meat (skinless chicken, lean beef, pork tenderloin)
- Seafood (salmon, sardines, shrimp)
- Dairy (skim milk, cheese, Greek yogurt)
- Eggs (ideally pasture-raised)
- Soy products (tofu, miso, soy milk)
- Quinoa, buckwheat, chia seeds
WE RECOMMEND: Moon Cheese Gouda, P295, Ella’s Kitchen Mango Yoghurt Greek, P180, WestSoy Original Soy Milk (32oz), P185, Green Silo Organic Quinoa (1kg), P650, The Superfood Grocer Chia Seeds (1/2lb.), P350
There are other protein sources that are incomplete in that they don’t contain all of the 9 amino acids, but you can diversify and combine them to get your daily serving of protein. Many of these are plant-based, so they’d come in handy for vegetarians, vegans, and anyone avoiding meat:
- Beans and legumes (peas, lentils, chickpeas)
- Nuts and seeds (almonds, flaxseeds, cashew nuts)
- Certain vegetables (broccoli, kale, asparagus)
WE RECOMMEND: Arrowhead Mills Organic Green Lentils (1lb.), P265, Manila Superfoods Raw Almonds (70g), P115, The Green Tummy Flaxseeds (140g), P150, BeNuTs! Whole Roasted Cashews, P150
Because this is the era of convenience, there’s a third way to obtain protein that’s fast and easy: protein powders, with whey as the most popular and soy as a plant-based alternative. Stir it into your drink, and you’re good to go. However, whole foods will always be the best go-to for protein, and protein powders are better meant for those who legitimately need a boost, such as vegetarians, teenagers, or workout newbies looking to build muscle.
WE RECOMMEND: Wheyl Nutrition Co. Just Naked White Whey Protein, P550
WHAT ABOUT HIGH-PROTEIN DIETS?
A high-protein diet—meaning around twice as much as your daily intake, or 100 grams per day on average—might sound like a good idea, given all the positive things we’ve been hearing about protein. After all, regimens such as the Paleo and Atkins Diet are compatible with high protein consumption.
High-protein diets can do wonders for body-builders, and they’re effective over the short term for losing weight. However, there are dangers to overdoing it. Although the science behind it is still vague (and nutritionists are divided on the issue), too much protein has been linked with increased cancer risk and heart disease, and it can supposedly trigger damage in people with weak kidneys.
As with everything else, moderation is key. To stay on the safe side, if you’d like to push it higher than the average, reach out to a nutritionist or doctor for a personalized plan. In general, though, protein is great to have on your plate, and it’s incredibly accessible, so getting in those 50g per day should be easy breezy! For added challenge, bring in the classic rules of healthy eating: choose lean meat instead of fatty, and aim for a balanced diet chock-full of organic and unprocessed food.
To discover more about healthy living, visit our Wellness Tab.
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