It’s no secret that as a society, we view simple carbs as “bad” and protein as “good”. While foods should not be categorized as “good vs. bad”, protein does have several qualities that render it a supremely important nutrient. But how many of us really understand the role of protein? What is it doing for our bodies and how does it help with weight loss and the promotion of overall health?
At the very root of the word PROTEIN is the Greek word proteos which means “primary” or “first place”. Protein is an important (if not THE MOST important) macronutrient (i.e. a food required in large amounts in the body) at the top of the list for weight loss and metabolic health and maintenance. Unlike the other two common macronutrients, fat and carbs, our bodies do not store protein and do not have a backup of reserves to draw from when we need to replace the supply. Therefore, we need to keep up the consumption of protein for the following reasons:
• It is required for the growth and maintenance of tissues.
• It allows key chemical reactions to take place within the body (e.g. digestion, energy production, blood clotting, muscle contraction).
• Proteins & peptides make up several of your body’s hormones and transmit information between your cells, tissues and organs.
• It provides different parts of your body with structure, strength and elasticity.
• It helps to maintain your body’s proper pH values.
• It helps to maintain proper fluid balance between your blood and surrounding tissues.
• It is required to form antibodies and immune cells that protect your body from disease-causing bacteria and viruses.
Some proteins transport nutrients throughout the body, while others store them.
Protein can serve as a source of energy in situations of fasting, exhaustive exercise or inadequate calorie intake.
How Does Protein Affect Weight?
Your protein consumption can also affect your ability to lose weight naturally and healthily. It helps to promote satiety, “boost metabolism” via a greater calorie burn, and regulate hormones. A higher intake of protein to replace carbs and fat will increase your levels of satiety hormones and reduce hunger hormones. Eating protein can increase the number of calories you burn and moderate your appetite because it keeps you feeling full longer than fat and carbs. This ultimately leads to a reduced number of calories consumed overall. Protein also helps to preserve lean muscle mass, especially when in a caloric deficit, and a greater amount of lean muscle mass can help with weight management in the long-term.
How Much Protein Should I Consume?
The right amount of protein for you depends on many factors, such as health, activity level, age, muscle mass, health and weight goals. The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) recommend a minimum of 0.8g/kg, however, most individuals require greater amounts than this minimum (unless contraindicated for medical reasons). To determine your protein needs, speak with a registered dietitian and a healthcare professional to decide what works best for you, your goals and your body!
What Should I Eat to Increase Protein Intake?
Meats, fish, eggs and dairy are the best sources of protein. Some plants such as quinoa, legumes and nuts can also provide adequate protein as well.
• Meat: Chicken, turkey, lean beef, pork
• Fish: Salmon, sardines, haddock, trout
• Dairy: Milk, yogurt, cheese
• Legumes: Kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils
• Supplements such as whey protein powder is not generally necessary unless you struggle to reach your protein intake goals. If needed, this can be a good option.