The body is a protein making machine. Protein is essential to good health. Proteins are part of every tissue, cell and organ in our bodies and we cannot function without them. Protein helps us grow, assists our immune defense system, heals wounds, and makes up collagen the connective tissue that gives your body its shape.
Proteins are made up of a tangled chain of amino acids with peptide bonds forming in between. Many different shapes of proteins enable them to perform different tasks in the body.
Protein Roles and Functions in the Body:
Enzymes.- All enzymes are proteins and they act as catalysts to chemical reactions in the body. Examples include lactase, which breaks down the lactose in milk and pepsin, which breaks down proteins in meat, eggs, seeds and dairy.
Proteins like actin and myosin are responsible for movement in muscles.
Acid-base balance.- Proteins act as buffers to maintain the normal acid and base concentration in the body fluids.
Transport .- Carrier proteins move molecules from one place to another around the body; like hemoglobin, which transports oxygen to tissues and cells.
Structure.- Some proteins are fibrous and stringy and provide support. For example, keratin (found in nails, hair, and skin cells), collagen (main component of connective tissue), and elastin (provides skin and organs with the ability to stretch and recoil, thus keeping their shape).
Antibodies.- Proteins also form antibodies as a response to a foreign substance entering the body such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc., and the antibody binds with the antigen, inactivating it. Proteins are an integral part of our immune system.
Fluid Balance.- Proteins help regulate the quantity of fluids in compartments of the body to maintain your fluid balance. They alo control the composition of the body’s fluids. When you eat protein, you can use the energy in the protein to make ATP. ATP is a high energy molecule that stores the energy you need to do nearly anything you do.
When the protein you eat is digested into amino acids, they are then absorbed into the bloodstream. Your cells burn the amino acids producing carbon dioxide, water and other wastes, while releasing energy in the process. The cells store the released energy by using it to make ATP.
The process of making ATP- regardless of whether the energy to make it comes from carbohydrate, protein or fat – ultimately requires protein. Similar to to many of the chemical reactions in the body, ATP synthesis uses enzymes and as noted above, an enzyme is a functional protein that helps chemical reactions take place faster than they otherwise would.
Protein is found in the following foods:
- Meats, poultry, and fish
- Legumes (dry beans and peas)
- Nuts and seeds
- Milk and milk products
- Grains, some vegetables, and some fruits (provide only small amounts of protein relative to other sources
Did you know that Spirulina; a type of green algae, contains the highest concentration of protein by weight. It is also a complete protein consisting of over 60% protein.
Spirulina; a type of green algae, contains the highest concentration of protein by weight. It is also a complete protein consisting of over 60% protein.Click To Tweet
Below is a list of the grams of protein in common food sources. Note that spirulina sits at 64 grams, but is reflective of a 1 cup serving which is not an amount i suggest you ever consume in one sitting, because the taste is not very pleasant.
|Tuna (fillet)||33||4 oz|
|Chicken||32||¾ cup diced|
|Lean flank steak||31||4 oz|
|Wild Salmon fillet||19||4 oz|
|Greek Yogurt||15||6 oz|
|Cottage Cheese||15||½ cup|
|Pumpkin seeds||8||¼ cup|
|Peanut butter||8||2 tbsp|
|Egg, large||6||1 whole|
Most adults in North America get more than enough protein to meet their needs. It is rare for someone who is healthy and eating a varied diet to not get enough protein.
Can you have too much protein?
Yes, consuming too much protein and too little carbohydrates for extended periods, as recommended in many weight loss diets, can cause a buildup of ketones. Ketosis inducing diets cause your kidneys to work too hard in order to flush the ketones from your body which can cause you lose a significant amount of water and put you at risk of dehydration; especially if you are engaging in heavy exercise. This type of water loss often shows up on the scale as weight loss, but along with losing water you lose muscle mass and bone calcium. When ketone bodies are at high levels, the normal acid-balance of the boy can be disturbed causing a more acidic environment. A Ketosis inducing diet can make you feel weak and dizzy, and give you bad bread.
When starting a new diet, it can be beneficial to drastically reduce the amount of carbohydrates consumed, but for most it is not sustainable long term. Nutrition textbooks recommend 10-14 days as the maximum one should engage in a low carb, high protein diet.
I’ve had clients who before working with me they were on high protein diets and they felt very constipated; of course they also gained all the weight back after starting to eat carbs again.
Excessive protein intake for the sake of losing weight can put you at risk for many health conditions including: heart disease, osteoporosis, strike, kidney stones, and elevated levels of ammonium in the female reproductive tract which can lead to fertility problems.
Balance and a healthy ratio is the key, as a general rule keeping protein intake around 30% of total calories if you are very physically active, and 20-25% if you are sedentary.
Research shows that people who eat a low protein diet- less than 15% of total calories, end up consuming 12% more energy over the course of a day, compared to those who maintain a 15-25% protein ratio.
You can always have too much or too little of anything, and each extreme can have health implications. Always pay attention to your body and how you feel.
The amount of protein that is adequate for you at this moment will depend on your health condition, past diet, activity level, age, weight, lifestyle, etc. Trying to manipulate your weight by forcing you to eat more protein, is not a sustainable or wise strategy, and can have serious negative consequences.
A General recommendations based only on age
According to the Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine.
|Adult Women||Protein grams/day|
|Age 19-30||46 gr|
|Age 31-50||46 gr|
|Age 51-70||46 gr|
|Pregnant and lactating women 18-50||71 gr|
As you can see, you don’t need that much protein. You can use this number as a baseline, or as the minimum of protein to get on any given day.
Other Guidelines based on physical activity
Sedentary: weight in pounds X .4
Active: weight in pounds X .6
Competitive athlete: weight in pounds X .75
Light body-builder: weight in pounds X .85
ALL ABOUT PROTEIN POWDERS
Are they good? Bad? Do they help with weight loss? Which is the best kind? Is whey good for you? Does it have to be organic?
Not all protein powders are created equal and it is important to note that not all protein powders are as “healthy” as they seem to be. Unfortunately many protein powders are loaded with unhealthy ingredients such as artificial colors, fructose, soy, hydrolyzed protein, and artificial sweeteners.
Let’s start with Whey Protein :
What is Whey? Basically it is the liquid leftover from the production of cheese.
Take cow’s milk protein; roughly 20% is whey, and the rest is casein, which is a major type of protein found in milk (more on casein below). When cheese is made, casein coagulates into curd and settles to the bottom, while why remains in liquid form. When this liquid is drained off, dried and processed, you end up with whey protein powder.
Allergies to Whey
People who are allergic or have a sensitivity to milk products will also likely have a reaction to whey. Common immune response reactions to milk products include inflammatory symptoms such as vomiting, skin rash, hives, bloating, stomach pain and diarrhea.
Some of these symptoms are a result of the proteins and some are the results of lactose. It is important to note that often whey isolate is better tolerated for those who have a lactose sensitivity as it contains very little lactose.
Animal protein that comes from animals raised in conventional factory farms can be toxic and inflammation promoting. The animals are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, and are fed genetically modified, pesticide sprayed grains. This combination causes toxic bio-accumulation within the animal tissue and animal byproducts, which is then passed on to you when you consume it.
If you suffer from chronic aches, pain, and inflammation, consider removing protein powders altogether and see if things change. Often protein powders can be the culprit.
ALTERNATIVE TO WHEY
Collagen Protein Powder is personally the only one animal protein powder that I use and recommend in moderate amounts. It contains high amounts of Glycine, an amino-acid that helps nourish the intestinal wall and prevent leaky gut.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It’s what helps give your skin strength and elasticity. When it comes to joints and tendons is like the glue that keeps everything together.
It is easily digestible and absorbable. There are a few different brands in the market. My personal favorite is Vital Proteins Collagen Protein because it dissolves completely without changing the texture of your smoothie, and it also has no flavor.
Other foods containing collagen are animal proteins like beef, chicken, fish and egg shell membranes. Bone broth is a great source of collagen.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A PROTEIN POWDER:
Let me just say this first; from a holistic nutrition perspective, protein powders are not ideal for good nutrition and are best avoided altogether, because they are all heavily processed. However, certain kinds of protein powders are a decent option in certain cases; for example; someone who is having severe digestive issues and can’t digest foods in their whole form, or someone who lives a hectic life and frying an egg or a piece of meat is not always an option for a meal on the go.
Nothing is cut and dry, but the key is to choose the best quality possible if you decide to consume protein powders and to not make them a staple in the diet.
A protein powder with natural ingredients rather than products that are sweetened with chemicals and made with ingredients you can’t pronounce.
- No artificial sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame)
- No added sugars, sweetened naturally
- From grass fed cows not treated with pesticides or hormones
- Cold processed to preserve the molecular structure
- Whey protein concentrate, not protein isolates unless lactose intolerant
- Highly digestible- look for medium chain fatty acids, and not long chain
- Added enzymes to help with digestion and absorption
- Free of Soy
The type of whey with the properties mentioned above contains beneficial properties such as lactoferrins, glutathione, & immunoglobulins which help enhance immune function.
Vital Proteins has a great option for whey! I haven’t tried their newest flavor chocolate, coconut but I’d likely will.
photo from vitalproteins.com
Careful with denatured proteins!
Denatured protein or whey hydrolyzed protein. Denaturing is any change in the structure of the source material, through processing, that takes it away from it’s natural state. Generally denatured proteins function differently than unaltered ones. In some cases, altering these proteins can improve functionality and in other cases, it can damage functionality- depending on how you are looking at it. The said ‘benefit’ of hydrolyzed protein is that it is absorbed at an accelerated rate and, as a direct result, a far greater amount of protein is assimilated.
On the downside however, hydrolyzed whey protein is denatured and possesses no biological activity ( no effects on living tissue) , so while denatured whey proteins are considered a ‘good source’ of high quality, easily digestible protein, it does not possess any immune boosting qualities, and is highly heat processed.
Undenatured whey protein on the other hand, uses the process of cold filtration which tends to preserve the molecular structure throughout the entire manufacturing process.
Whey Isolate Vs Concentrate
Has a higher protein content and is lower in carbs, lactose and fat. It is typically more expensive due to additional manufacturing process. High quality isolate is over 90% protein and contains roughly 0.5% of lactose and milk fat.
Isolate is generally better for people who are lactose intolerant, as it contains little or no lactose.
The amount of protein in whey concentrate is roughly about 70-80%. The rest of the product consists of lactose, fat, minerals, and moisture. Concentrate is generally less processed than isolates.
Isolates are void of valuable immune -boosting protein lactoglobulins and lactoferrins.
Casein makes up to 80% of total milk protein. Casein is acknowledged for its superior amino acid profile, slow digestion and mixture of peptides. Casein is slowly digested, which means it won’t rush those amino acids off to your muscles faster after a workout. It will, however, supply a steady flow that may help stave off muscle breakdown during a workout. Even better, if you must use a casein protein, use it outside of the pre and post workout window.
Potential issues with casein:
Respiratory Problems. Casein is thick, coarse and can be used to create glue. It can also be a very mucus forming substance causing the human respiratory system to become clogged and irritated. This is one of the more common complaints from people who consume a lot of casein containing milk products- excessive mucus in the throat.
Allergies and Illness
When the respiratory system becomes clogged and irritated, your body is more susceptible to asthma, hay fever, bronchitis, sinusitis, colds runny noses, and ear infections.
Vegetarian Protein Powders
The best vegetarian proteins are derived from brown rice, peas & hemp.
Brown rice protein is considered the most hypoallergenic protein which is particularly significant for individuals with chronic food allergies and *leaky gut syndrome*.
Leaky gut results from damage to the intestinal lining, making it less able to protect the internal environment as well as to filter needed nutrients and other biological substances. Consequently, bacteria, their toxins, incompletely digested proteins and fats, & waste may “leak” out of the intestines into the bloodstream triggering an autoimmune reaction.
This can lead to gastrointestinal problemas such as abdominal bloating, excessive gas and cramps, fatigue, food sensitivities, joint pain, skin rashes, and autoimmunity.
When mixed with a high quality pea or hemp protein, brown rice protein forms a complete protein source with all essential and branched-chain amino acids.
One of the very few plant based complete protein sources. Hemp is a great source of sulfur containing amino acids; which are necessary for cellular detoxification and productions of enzymes.
It is also rich in branched chain amino acids that are needed for muscle growth and repair. Your protein powder should also contain medium chain triglycerides from sources such as coconut oil to improve bioavailability and aid in digestion. Just like whey protein, vegetarian proteins should never contain artificial flavorings sugars, or preservatives of any kind.
Around 65% of the total protein content of hemp seed comes from the globular protein edestin which is easily digested, absorbed, and utilized by the body. Interestingly, it closely resembles the globulin found in human blood plasma, which is critical to maintaining a healthy immune system. It also offers a balanced ratio of omega 3 and 6.
Hemp seed is a great superfood, but as a protein supplement is not as potent as the others. Ground hemp seed is only about 30% protein, and concentrated hemp seed is around 50% protein. Hemp is a great addition to a blended mixture of protein.
Tip: Blend a couple tablespoons of hulled hemp seeds with any smoothie recipe for added protein from a whole food source.
Pumpkin Protein Powder
Pumpkin seeds and the powder from pumpkin seeds contains 18 amino acids with particularly high amounts of tryptophan. Tryptophan is the amino acid that your body uses to make the feel good and relaxation neurotransmitter serotonin. Pumpkin seeds also contain high amounts of zinc, which can help the brain convert tryptophan into serotonin. Serotonin levels are typically low in people who cannot stay asleep and wake throughout the night. Great for an evening smoothie snack.
Pairing the powder with bananas, and apple, or another health carbohydrate in a smoothie helps the tryptophan to get into the brain in higher amounts.
Peas are a member of the legume family, which includes many well known and commonly used sources of vegetable protein such as beans, lentils and chickpeas. Along with brown rice protein, pea proteins have been shown to produce the least allergic reactions.
For sports specifically, pea protein contains an ideal combination of essential amino acids related to performance:
- Arginine, which promotes muscle metabolism and a healthy heart
- Lysine, which helps balance nitrogen levels in muscles
- Glutamine, which helps restore nitrogen balance after a heavy workout.
- Leucine, Isoleucine and valine ( known as branched-chain amino acids) which help maintain tissues during exercise.
Brown Rice Protein
While brown rice is mostly composed of carbohydrate, it does contain a small amount of protein; which is extracted to create brown rice protein. However, keep in mind that it’s plant-based, so it’s not a complete protein. To make it a complete protein, it must be paired with other plant-based protein like hemp or pea powder to get a complete amino-acid profile
Brown rice protein is hypoallergenic and easily digested, making it an excellent alternative for anyone with a sensitive stomach or allergies to soy and dairy. Brown rice protein is a low glycemic index food which helps to balance out the effect carbohydrates have on blood sugar and insulin.
Times when a quick protein shake can come in handy:
One scenario when a shake comes in handy is when you have to rush out the door for work in the morning, and don’t have time to cook up a decent breakfast. In this case make sure to add in a couple servings of fruit, some greens, and healthy fat such as flax seeds, chia seeds, or hemp seeds along with our scoop of protein.
The post workout window is a small window of time to take in nutrients ater a workout for the biggest benefit. For this, protein shakes are very handy to take along to the gym. Protein supplementation post-workout has been shown to be beneficial, particularly in helping individuals recover after a tough session and potentially increase muscle and strength gain. However, this is a debatable subject.
The other issue is that some people have a tough time taking in whole food directly after a workout. I personally lose my appetite after a heavy workout. In those cases, a protein shake would be a fitting and helpful substitution.
Ultimately whole food sources are always your best bet for getting vital nutrients, so build a diet with a base of solid food and use protein powder as a supplement when it’s healthy and convenient.
Common Issues with Protein Supplements:
As discussed above, protein powders can be highly processed and are often heated to the point that the protein is denatured. The result can be higher levels of acidity and toxicity in the body.
Because protein powders are often filled with preservatives, genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), allergens, soy, and other synthetic toxins like artificial sweeteners; read labels, do your research, and choose your brand wisely.
Keep in mind that the protein powders are considered a supplement, and are not regulated by the FDA, that might not mean much, given that some FDA approved products are not necessarily beneficial or human health, but www.consumerreports.org conducted an investigation in 2010 which revealed that several popular highly processed protein powders like Myoplex, MuscleMilk, Designer Whey and GNC brand all contained dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals like: arsenic, cadmium, and lead.
Unfortunately a lot of Companies producing supplements do not do so having human health as their priority. Profit is their priority and a lot of them will sell anything that can make money. So, choose wisely making your health the priority.
All in all, try to consume whole foods as the base of your diet and if using protein powders choose the best quality you can find, and consume in moderation.
Dangers of High Protein Diets
I’d like to end this guide with an abstract from Dr. Morse’s book on Detoxification.
“Proteins, and non-fuel substances that are used by the body as building materials, as immune factors, as catalysts or carriers, etc.
Just as the body must convert a carbohydrate into simple sugars, before it can be utilized, all proteins must first be broken down into amino-acids before the body can use them to build and repair itself.
A big mistake made by people wanting to lose weight is making the body burn protein for fuel. When the body is deprived of sugars, it will go to stored fat, but also will break down its own tissues for energy. This leads to muscle, liver, pancreatic and kidney damage”.