By: By Tara DelloIacono Thies
Protein is the nutrient everyone’s been talking about. Can you believe that next to water protein is the most plentiful stuff in your body? Most of us associate protein with muscles but protein also supports our bones, brain cells, blood, skin, hair, and finger nails. Does that mean you should load up on an all-protein diet for shiny hair and luxurious nails? No, but you should eat enough protein to meet your body’s unique needs to do all that tissue building, rebuilding and maintenance.
Protein happens to be one of the most versatile nutrients and has many responsibilities — and some of its jobs may surprise you. It supplies valuable enzymes that help regulate our body’s functions. It acts as a “bus driver” transporting nutrients, oxygen, and waste throughout the body. It supplies collagen to connective tissue, skin, hair and finger nails. And, of course, one of its most well-known responsibilities is maintaining healthy muscles.
When you sit down to lunch with a tasty turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich you probably are not thinking, “wow, this turkey and cheese feels really good on my connective tissue!” The “fruits” of protein’s labor doesn’t often provide you with immediate satisfaction. There is, however, one noticeable sensation after eating a meal or snack that includes protein — satiety. Foods like chicken, beef, fish, beans or other high-protein foods slow the movement of that food from the stomach to the intestine. Too much physiology? Then think of it like this: slower digestion means you feel full for a longer period of time. Slower digestion can also lead to more control over your appetite which can help moderate blood sugars. Combining foods with carbohydrate and protein such as apples and peanut butter, dried fruit and nuts, cheese and crackers, or steak and potatoes can also help prevent a steep rise in blood sugar followed by a quick dive that can trigger hunger.
It is also important to remember that every nutrient plays a role in the body and eating too much or too little will eventually have consequences you will feel. Knowing how much protein you need each day will help ensure that you hit the “sweet spot” to feeling good. Here’s a guide for how much protein us ladies need each day based on your activity level:
|Spends most the day sitting||Weight in pounds x 0.4 = grams of protein/day|
Physically demanding job
& regularly active
|Weight in pounds x 0.6 = grams of protein/day|
|Competitive athlete||Weight in pounds x 0.75 = grams of protein/day|
|Doing some body building||Weight in pounds x 0.85 = grams of protein/day|
When choosing protein-rich foods, pay attention to what comes along with the protein. Vegetable sources of protein, such as beans, nuts, and whole grains, are excellent choices, and they offer fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. The best animal protein choices are fish, poultry, and lean cuts of grass-fed red meat. Even though most find it laughable, it is no joke when a dietitian tells you a healthy portion of red meat and poultry is about the size of the palm of your hand. We have become accustomed to much larger portions that we actually need. Animal protein does contain saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol so it is best to consume more moderate portions and alternate it with vegetable proteins. You can visit www.mypyramid.gov for suggestions on the leanest options. Two of of my personal favorites are organic pork loin and grass-fed top sirloin.
Variety in your protein palate is also a solution to reaping the rewards of various high-protein foods. Here are some characteristics of popular choices:
- Fish: contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids
- Poultry: boneless, skinless chicken breast contain little saturated fat
- Beans: contain more protein than any other vegetable and are high in fiber
- Nuts: one ounce of almonds gives you 6 grams of protein, nearly as much protein as one ounce of broiled rib eye steak
- Whole grains: whole grains contain the entire grain kernel which provides 3 grams of protein, plus fiber per slice of whole grain bread
These options are great, but what’s a gal to do if she needs an on-the-go protein snack? Throwing steak into your purse or gym bag for a quick snack is less than ideal and hardly appetizing! Make sure to have some portable snacks that are rich in protein on hand. I have a stash of Horizon organic milk boxes, bulk-bin trail mix, hard-boiled eggs, LUNA Protein bar, string cheese, and edamame for quick snacks.
Protein has certainly earned its reputation as a work horse for your body. Understanding what foods provide tasty and healthy sources of protein along with how much you need will give you a leg up when it comes to replenishing, recovering, and recharging your body each day.
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