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NUTRITION: Pick up protein throughout your day

When I started my career 40 years ago, the villain in managing weight was total fat. But that was proved wrong and, as a nation, we just got fatter. Next, carbohydrates were considered bad, and low-carbohydrate diets emerged. Now we've switched t...

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Bonnie Brost

 

When I started my career 40 years ago, the villain in managing weight was total fat. But that was proved wrong and, as a nation, we just got fatter. Next, carbohydrates were considered bad, and low-carbohydrate diets emerged. Now we've switched to seeking the "best" diet. Protein is king, and high-protein diets are the craze.

Protein, fats and carbohydrates are called macronutrients because of their large molecules. They're often measured in grams. Vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients are micronutrients and measured in milligrams or micrograms. All of these nutrients - macro and micro - play important roles.

Today, protein is hailed as the most important member of the weight management team. But, as with any team, it's a challenge to win if an important player is missing. You wouldn't have a very good baseball team without a pitcher or catcher.

Protein is an important component of every cell in our body. Hair and nails are made of protein. Our body uses protein to build and repair tissues. Protein also is needed to make enzymes, hormones and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.

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We cannot store protein as protein in our body. If protein is not needed, within a few hours of eating it's converted to fat or glycogen (carbohydrates) for storage. So, it's important to eat some protein every day and throughout the day to meet our bodies' needs.

The average American should eat 15-20 percent of his or her calories in protein. This equates to 40 to 260 grams, depending upon your calorie needs and what percentage of protein you need. For example, a sedentary person needs less protein than an athlete.

Keep track of the protein you eat throughout the day. The goal is to have at least 15-20 percent of your calories as protein at each meal and most snacks. A 500-calorie meal needs 18-25 grams of protein. A 200-calorie snack should have 7-10 grams. Need something quick: Nuts have a perfect percentage of protein for a snack.

Most Americans don't get an adequate amount of protein in the morning, which may cause lower performance, hunger and poor eating habits throughout the day. Breakfast should contain 15 to 40 grams of protein, depending upon your calorie intake. Boost protein with Greek yogurt, two eggs or a high-protein specialty cereal such as Kashi Go Lean. These options provide about 15 grams of protein with some milk on the side.

Research has shown eating more protein leads to feelings of fullness. While protein may help dieters feel fuller, it is by no means a magic bullet. Feelings of hunger and fullness are not the only factors that influence consumption. We often eat for other reasons.

Higher protein diets have been found to be more effective than lower-protein diets for preserving muscle mass and preventing your metabolism from slowing down during weight loss. Preserving muscle mass is very important as we age since our ability to synthesis protein slows down. We need to make sure we get adequate protein at every meal to maintain muscle strength.

While a high-protein diet has benefits, it also has drawbacks. The quality of protein is more important than the quantity. Eating large quantities of processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausages and deli meats, has been linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer. However, research shows eating lots of vegetable protein such as nuts, soy, beans and lentils as well as lean proteins from fish and poultry decreases the risk of these diseases.

Some people on high-protein diets shun carbohydrates, but when we strip away fruits, vegetables and whole grains that have carbs, we create huge nutrient holes in our diet. We become deficient in the micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. This puts us at risk of not having our electrolytes in balance and can affect our heart rates, blood sugars and how we process our foods. Weight loss with a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet may be successful for about six months, but usually doesn't work for long-term success.

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As I've watched weight-loss plans over the last four decades, I've seen how we've gained some insight into protein and realized that focusing on just one macronutrient without considering the big picture doesn't lead to a long-term positive result. It's important to choose quality protein, quality carbohydrates and good fats and then spread them throughout the day so we're fueling our bodies with the high-octane calories we need to sustain us.

Here are some helpful charts to post on your refrigerator to help you pick more protein.

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Related Topics: HEALTHNUTRITIONFOOD
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