Everywhere I go people are talking about proteins! They add it to their smoothies and eat it in granola bars…in fact Protein Bars are “a thing” particularly among sports enthusiasts and even those who are not getting enough exercise. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s powdered proteins were used in hospitals for people who were recovering from surgery, cancer or otherwise malnourished. Today it seems anyone can buy protein powder or products containing high protein at a health food store, your local grocery or drug store. In one form or another and without any knowledge of what they need it for or whether it will do any good nutritionally, people routinely consume added protein. Is this how healthy people should be getting protein in their diet today? Personally, I do not believe so and I want to bring us back to the beginning of the definition of a Protein and what is its purpose in our body and for our health.
Proteins are made up of smaller components called amino acids and are used in three categories in the body 1) essential 2) non-essential and 3) conditional. After water, proteins are the next largest component that makes up the human body. We use the amino acids in proteins like Legos for formation of body parts from the smallest cell structure to building muscle and pretty much everything in between such as organs, hair, skin, and tissues. You name it and amino acids will reconfigure themselves into the correct element for a healthy body.
When appropriate amounts of proteins enter the body through the natural form of whole food such as milk, eggs, fish, and beans, for example, rather than in dehydrated powder form we enhance our health in two ways:
1) The body engineers itself to receive and manufacture new components best through food
2) There may be micronutrients in food that work with the amino acids in the protein that researchers have not discovered yet which are essential for a healthy body and will be missed by using an isolated protein.
The best source of protein is consumed as food from animals and plants. Complete proteins from plant sources are available for those who choose a vegetarian or vegan diet and do not have to be eaten at the same meal if they are consumed during a day. It is also possible to eat a healthy diet from lean animal sources of protein such as fish, chicken, beef and pork if they are raised in a healthy organic environment.
Proteins are a source of energy for the body so if you are recovering from surgery, an illness or even just a poor diet there are metabolic mechanisms that will aid in repair to bring back to good health but you will need more than an average daily requirement for that to happen. The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), results from a scientific determination of what a healthy diet should consist of for men, women and children, suggests a healthy diet contain 10%-35% of total calories per day from protein. That is 46-56 grams of Protein/day for an average adult. Protein and carbohydrates offer 4cal/gram while Fats contain 9cal/gram and Alcohol contains 7cal/gram.
There are many places to go online and do your own research to put together a healthy diet. Public organizations such as ChooseMyPlate.gov/Daily FoodPlan or private organizations like myfitnesspal.com are a small example of some. A visit to a physician can help you determine your protein needs and it is always recommended to see your doctor before starting any weight loss or weight gain diet. A protein shake or a protein bar maybe useful occasionally on the run or to help with regular workouts but it is no substitute for a healthy and nutritious home cooked meal with family and friends.