You’ve probably heard about protein. It’s a fundamental part of every diet, and protein products are sold around the globe. Walk into a local supermarket and you’ll find hundreds of foods, powders, drinks and more designed to help add protein into your diet. In fact, there are so many products on the market that the truth about protein can get muddled. That’s why it’s important to understand this organic compound, how it benefits your body and which foods are rich in high-quality protein.
What Is Protein?
There’s a reason people pay so much attention to protein: It’s an essential component of every cell in the human body. Protein consists of amino acids that are linked in long chains. The sequence in which the amino acids are arranged determines the job of that protein. Some roles of protein include repairing cells, creating new cells, protecting the body from bacteria and promoting proper development.
The body uses protein to make hormones, enzymes and a variety of other chemicals. Protein can build and repair tissues and is therefore an indispensable building block of muscles, bones, skin, blood and cartilage. People who lack enough protein may lose muscle mass, experience weakened lungs or heart, or struggle with growth and development issues. In fact, protein is so essential that a severe deficiency could lead to early death.
How Much Protein Is Necessary?
Your body needs protein; but now you may be thinking it’s time to pack the pantry with protein-rich foods. However, we require less protein than many people think. An average active man or teenage boy requires seven ounces of protein or three daily servings. Children between the ages of two and six, as well as most women and older people, should consume five ounces, or two daily servings of protein. Older children, active women, moderately active men, and teenage girls should consume six ounces, or two servings per day. Experts recommend dividing protein consumption equally among meals whenever possible.
Benefits of Protein
Consuming the recommended amount of protein per day can provide a number of benefits for the body. The following are just some of the many advantages of protein:
- Superior muscle development
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes
- Properly functioning immune system
- Superior respiratory and heart health
- Quicker recovery after exercise
Protein can also help individuals reach their weight loss goals by reducing belly fat, hunger and total calorie intake. Protein-rich foods make you feel fuller longer and provide the energy needed for exercise. The building block has even been shown to improve mood and decrease depression, anxiety and stress.
Is All Protein Good Protein?
It is often assumed that consuming any type of protein is better than consuming none at all. However, there is a major difference between low-quality and high-quality protein. Processed meats may contain protein, but they are packed with sodium, which can cause a variety of health problems including high blood pressure, increased risk of cancer and more.
The following are several foods rich in high-quality protein:
- Milk, cheese and other dairy products: Most milks, cheeses and yogurts are rich in high-quality protein. However, processed cheeses and dairy products with added sugar should be avoided.
- Poultry: Chicken and turkey are good sources of high-quality protein. Remove the skin to reduce fat and avoid poultry products that contain antibiotics.
- Beans: Peas and beans are excellent sources of protein and fiber, and they can be added to nearly any meal.
- Soy products and tofu: Soy products and tofu are good alternatives to red meat. Even more, these foods tend to be more affordable and are high in protein.
- Seeds and nuts: Similar to beans and peas, seeds and nuts are rich in fiber and protein. They are a healthier option over other processed snacks.
How to Consume More Protein
For most people in the U.S., the average daily protein requirement is relatively easy to meet. However, it’s essential that the protein consumed is high-quality and not processed or loaded with sodium and sugar. A good way to increase your daily protein intake is to choose seeds and nuts instead of chips or cookies when snacking. Similarly, reducing consumption of processed carbohydrates — such as pizza and pastries — and replacing them with beans, peas, chicken or fish could contribute to a diet rich in high-quality protein.
A well-balanced diet consisting of whole foods can typically provide all of the protein that a healthy person needs. However, teenagers who exercise often, older adults with small appetites and those converting to a vegan diet may benefit from protein supplements. Discuss the possibility with your physician, as some ingredients may not react well with certain prescription medications. Additionally, look for supplements that are not packed with added sugar and carbs.
Myths About Protein
The abundance of information available regarding protein has caused a number of common myths to arise. It’s important to remember that not all proteins are the same; some are better for you than others. Additionally, the human body can only absorb between 25 and 30 grams of protein per meal. Protein-packing a diet does not necessarily benefit the body and could lead to overeating and weight gain.
Protein is complicated. It provides countless advantages to the body, but it shouldn’t be consumed in excess. Get a sufficient amount of high-quality protein per day and you’ll likely experience increased energy, decreased hunger and an overall healthier body and mind.
Author bio: Dr. Myur S. Srikanth is a board-certified bariatric and cosmetic surgeon at the Center for Weight Loss Surgery. He has been performing bariatric surgery exclusively since 2000 and has performed over 4,000 weight loss surgeries. Dr. Srikanth performs nearly every operation that is currently available to treat obesity.