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The Importance of Protein

Jeanne Reilly, MS, RD

Protein: We all know it’s important to help our muscles grow and stay strong. We may know it’s also needed for many other processes in our bodies, like making hormones, neurotransmitters, antibodies, or enzymes to name a just a few.

As a Registered Dietitian, some of the most common questions I get around protein are: What are the best sources of protein? Am I eating enough? Too much? How frequently should I be eating it? I’m a vegetarian – how can I get enough protein? Let’s clear up a few of these questions and set you on the path toward protein proficiency for good!


Try these protein-packed recipes!

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How much?

You may have heard that eating too much protein could harm your kidneys. Research has shown over and over that this is simply not true unless we have an existing kidney issue that requires a specialized diet. Instead of worrying about getting too much, most of us should be focused on getting more protein.

Protein keeps us feeling satisfied longer after we finish eating, and it helps main- tain our lean muscle mass (that calorie burning furnace we all love), a strong immune system, and a humming metabolism that can aid in weight loss and maintenance.

Current research supports eating a serving of lean, complete protein (more on “complete proteins” below!) with every meal and snack to help your body optimize all of these processes. For women, an appropriate serving of protein is about 20-30 grams per meal. For men, an appropriate serving is 40-60 grams. Aiming for the higher end of this range of protein intake is especially helpful for those of us looking to lose some extra weight or lead a more physically active lifestyle.

How Often?

The typical American diet is surprisingly low in protein and the vast majority of protein tends to be eaten at dinner. Our breakfasts and lunches are pretty high in carbohydrates and fats (pastries, cereal, bagels, sandwiches, etc.) with not much protein added to them, while our dinners are pretty rich in protein (meats, poultry, fish, etc.).

Imagine this scenario with hydration. What if you had a huge amount of water in the morning when you woke up, but then only a few little sips here and there the rest of the day? Your body would get rid of all the excess water it couldn’t use from the morning surge, but be left dehydrated the rest of the day. This same scenario plays out for protein!

Our bodies are continuously regenerating new cells, trying to recover from exer- cise, and performing other processes that require protein to work. The best way to make sure you’re supplying a steady source for all this work is to make sure you’re fitting in an appropriate amount of protein (20-30 grams for women; 40-60 grams for men) with each meal and snack throughout the day.

Best Sources of Protein:

The most important thing to look for when it comes to a protein source is making sure you’re getting all the essential amino acids – in other words, you want a complete source of protein. Amino acids are the building blocks that form protein. Our bodies can make some of these amino acids on their own – these are called non-essential amino acids. However, there are some amino acids we can only get from our diet – these are called essential amino acids. A complete protein offers all those essential amino acids our bodies need.

All animal proteins are complete proteins. However, for those of us who don’t consume animal proteins, or don’t consume much of them, we look to plant based sources of protein. Plants do offer protein, but they are mostly incomplete proteins – foods that do not provide all essential amino acids. Therefore, to get all the essential amino acids we need from plants, we have to eat a variety of plants that offer a variety of the essential amino acids. One very common way to do this is by combining beans/legumes with grains. These two plants paired together offer the full spectrum of essential amino acids. It takes a bit more effort to get all the protein nutrition we need from a more plant based diet, but it’s very possible!

How to Make it Happen!

Try beginning your meal planning with a protein source and adding other foods to it instead of leaving protein as an afterthought. Lucky for us, Flatout has made this easy for us by adding protein to a food that typically doesn’t offer much – whole wheat flatbread! They worked in a wonderful balance of protein from beans and wheat that provides 12 grams of complete, plant-based protein in just one flatbread! For the average woman, that’s roughly 50% of the amount of protein to aim for in a meal…and it’s coming from just the flatbread! When you fill or top that flatbread with just a bit more protein in the form of meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, or more beans, you’ll be on your way to a muscle and body process optimizing meal every single time you include a ProteinUP Carb Down flatbread.

They come in 3 flavors: Sea Salt & Crushed Black Pepper, Red Pepper Hummus, and Core 12 (original flavor). Look for them in the deli section at your local grocery store!

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References:
Phillips, Stuart M. “A Brief Review of Higher Dietary Protein Diets in Weight Loss: A Focus on Athletes.”
Sports Medicine 44.S2 (2014): 149-53. Web. <https://es-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/b56537be-36cb-4636-bbf2-a2122681bdcc.pdf>.
Carbone, J. W. et al. “Skeletal Muscle Responses to Negative Energy Balance: Effects of Dietary Protein.”
Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal 3.2 (2012): 119-26. Web. <http://advances.nutrition.org/content/3/2/119.full>.
Layman, D. K. et al. “A Reduced Ratio of Dietary Carbohydrate to Protein Improves Body Composition and Blood Lipid Profiles during Weight Loss in Adult Women.” Journal of Nutrition 133.2 (203): 411-17. Web. 15 June 2017. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12566476>.
Deutz, Nicolaas E., and Robert R. Wolfe. “Is There a Maximal Anabolic Response to Protein Intake with a Meal?” Clinical Nutrition 32.2 (2013): 309-13. Web. 15 June 2017. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3595342/>.