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Protein Perspective

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Get the Right Protein Perspective

People who pay attention to nutrition news and trends inevitably hear about protein: Protein bars, shakes and powders, high-protein diets, counting protein grams, etc. But the fact is, most people who eat a healthy, varied and balanced diet have the wrong protein perspective - they do not need to worry about protein intake. A healthy eating plan provides more protein than required and less than the amount that can cause you trouble.

Protein Perspective

Protein's Thermic Effect

A diet high in protein with moderate or low carbohydrates speeds up your metabolism due to something referred to as the "thermic effect". Protein has the highest thermic effect of any food (nearly 30 percent). For example, if you eat 100 calories of chicken breast, 30 of those calories are burned off just to digest it! Therefore, the net caloric value is only 70 calories. Too much of any food will be stored as fat, but due to its high thermic effect, protein is less likely to be converted to fat than any other food type. When carbohydrates are reduced, the ratio of protein increases, and the thermic effect of the entire diet is higher.

Nutrition 101

Protein - a macronutrient found in everything from meat, eggs and milk to beans, nuts and even parsley is an important part of every cell in the body. Without it, there would be not only no health, but also no life. Protein is a key part of collagen in skin. It forms the oxygen-carrying hemoglobin in blood, the myosin that builds muscle, key hormones such as Adrenaline, insulin and growth hormone and many other substances.

Just as there are many types of fat, so too is there a wide range of proteins. In its latest updated report on daily nutrition, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), noted that proteins in both the diet and body are more complex and variable than carbohydrates and fat. Also, protein-rich food is more likely than processed foods to provide key vitamins and trace elements, according to the NAS Dietary Reference Intakes Report. These factors contribute to a misunderstood protein perspective.

Calculating Dietary Allowance

The NAS report offers a formula for calculating the recommended dietary allowance. If you wish to do the math, it works out to 0.37 grams of protein for every pound of body weight for adults 19 years and older. Pregnant women need more - 0.5 grams of protein for every pound, plus an extra 25 grams per day. For those opting for a simpler method, the report sets 56 grams of protein as the recommended daily intake for men and 46 grams for women. The catch is that these numbers are based on a 154-pound man and a 127-pound woman.

Before you start obsessing about counting protein grams, know this: Large nutrition surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that protein deficiency is rarely a problem in the United States. The exception: Some vegans, who eat no animal products.

What Are Some Good Sources of Protein?

The NAS report notes that protein from animal sources such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese and yogurt provide all nine indispensable amino acids and for this reason are referred to as "complete" proteins.

Just three ounces of lean beef or poultry contain about 25 grams of protein - about half the daily allowance. Three ounces of fish or one cup of soy beans provide 20 grams of protein; one cup of beans is 15 grams of protein. Drink a glass of skim milk and get eight grams, or eat an egg or an ounce of cheese to get six grams of protein.

Some dense, whole-grain breads have up to five grams of protein per slice; cereals, grains, nuts and vegetables contain about two grams per serving. Parsley has one of the highest protein-to-calorie counts of almost any food - although you will have to eat mounds of parsley to get a significant amount of protein. A cup has 21 calories and provides about two grams of protein.

While supplements do provide protein, they do not necessarily mirror the type found in food sources and may come with extra saturated fat and with added minerals such as iron that in a chemical form is more difficult to absorb. Many who try to avoid meat and dairy sources will turn to organic protein drinks.

When possible, it is best to get protein and other vitamins and minerals from food.

10 Tips for Choosing Protein

  1. Vary your protein food choices. Eat a variety of foods from the protein foods group each week. Experiment with main dishes made with beans or peas, nuts, soy, and seafood.
  2. Eat seafood in place of meat or poultry twice a week. Select a variety of seafood - include some that are higher in oils and low in mercury, such as salmon, trout, and herring.
  3. Make meat and poultry lean or low fat. Choose lean or low-fat cuts of meat like round or sirloin and ground beef that is at least 90 percent lean. Trim or drain fat from meat and remove poultry skin.
  4. Have an egg. One egg a day, on average, doesn't increase risk for heart disease, so make eggs part of your weekly choices. Only the egg yolk contains cholesterol and saturated fat, so have as many egg whites as you want.
  5. Eat plant protein foods more often. Try beans and peas (kidney, pinto, black, or white beans; split peas; chickpeas; hummus), soy products (tofu, tempeh, veggie burgers), nuts, and seeds. They are naturally low in saturated fat and high in fiber.
  6. Nuts and Seeds. Choose unsalted nuts or seeds as a snack, on salads, or in main dishes to replace meat or poultry. Nuts and seeds are a concentrated source of calories, so eat small portions to keep calories in check.
  7. Keep it tasty and healthy. Try grilling, broiling, roasting, or baking as these cooking methods don't add extra fat. Some lean meats need slow, moist cooking to be tender. Try a slow cooker for them. Avoid breading meat or poultry, which adds calories.
  8. Make a healthy sandwich. Choose turkey, roast beef, canned tuna or salmon, or peanut butter for sandwiches. Many deli meats, such as regular bologna or salami, are high in fat and sodium – make them occasional treats only.
  9. Think small when it comes to meat portions. Get the flavor you crave but in a smaller portion. Make or order a smaller burger or a “petite” size steak.
  10. Check the sodium. Check the Nutrition Facts label to limit sodium. Salt is added to many canned foods – including beans and meats. Many processed meats such as ham, sausage, and hot dogs are high in sodium. Some fresh chicken, turkey, and pork are brined in a salt solution for flavor and tenderness.

Chia Protein Muffins Recipe

These are great for those of you who enjoy a protein, power-packed, hearty muffin. Pop them into your a lunch box or wrap one up and tuck into your bag for a mid morning pick-up snack.

Protein Muffins 1 cup cooked black or white beans
1/3 cup milled chia
1/3 cup natural cocoa powder
1/2 cup raw or regular sugar
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded carrot (use about 2 medium size carrots)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup virgin coconut oil, liquefied
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with muffin papers, or lightly grease a muffin tin.

Puree the beans in a food processor or a high-power blender, such as a Vitamix or Blendtec. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the chia, cocoa, sugar, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.

In a separate bowl, combine the pureed beans, carrot, egg, coconut oil, and vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients to the bean mixture, stirring gently until ingredients are combined. Fill each muffin cup 2/3 full of batter.

Bake on the middle rack until a toothpick inserted in the muffins comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes, checking often for doneness so as to not overcook. Cool in the tins for 5 minutes before removing.

Protein Bites

This powerful treat is just sweet enough to satisfy your cravings, but not so sweet that it will send you on a roller coaster ride of sugar highs and lows. Concentrated with protein, fiber, and B complex vitamins, a Protein Bite is the perfect snack to have, right before heading out for a run or to the gym.

1 cup nut butter (almond, cashew, sunflower seed, sesame paste, etc.)
1/4 cup pitted dates
1/4 cup natural cacao powder (can use regular unsweetened cocoa or carob powder if you'd like)
3 tablespoons chia seeds
1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Optional 1 tablespoon spirulina
Optional coating: 2 tablespoons chia seeds, chopped nuts, desiccated coconut, cacao nibs, chopped goji berries, etc.

Place all the ingredients in a food processor or high power blender and pulse until the mixture is smooth. Do not over process. You do not want to liquefy the mixture.

Form the mixture into balls the size of a walnut. If desired, roll in chia seed, chopped nuts, desiccated coconut, cacao nibs, or anything else that appeals to you. Store in the freezer. Makes 8 to 10 protein bites.

Milled Chia

Milled chia is nothing more than chia seeds that have been ground into meal so it can be used as a flour-like ingredient in baked goods.

To make your own milled chia, take as much chia as you’d like and grind it in a clean coffee mill, food processor, or high-speed blender. Process the seed until it resembles sand in texture. You want a coarse flour. It keeps well, so go ahead and make extra so that you'll have milled chia handy for all your recipes.