The Power of Protein12.20.12
Eating more protein seems to be a goal of many Americans these days with the popularity of the Paleo diet along with the revelation of some alarming statistics of our sugar consumption. We all need protein in our diets daily, but we also need to make sure we’re not eating so much that it limits the consumption of other nutritious foods that help support protein’s main function in the body: to build and maintain tissues, enzymes and other vital components of our bodies. Registered Dietitian Andrea Vintro of Nutrition Logic in Portland, Oregon gives Cotton Candy five reasons our bodies need protein.
Provides a healthy immune system. Our first line of defense against getting sick is comprised of our tissues exposed to the outside world – our skin, nasal passages and the lining of our gut to name a few. Because these tissues have a high rate of turnover (amazingly, you get a whole new lining of your intestines in seven days) enough protein is required to maintain its integrity. Specialized white blood cells also require adequate dietary protein to make antibodies that fight off viruses, bacteria and other body invaders.
Maintains a healthy weight. Over decades, we have seen protein go in and out of style with weight loss recommendations. Although the jury is still not out, many recent trials support evidence that a higher protein, lower carbohydrate diet may help some people lose weight more quickly than a low-fat diet. Protein is the most satiating nutrient and helps preserve lean muscle mass with loss of body weight when energy balance is negative.
Promotes intestinal health. Sufficient protein intake is required to maintain the high turnover of intestinal cells. With protein deficiency, one of the first symptoms is diarrhea – an indicator that the lining of the gut is in poor health. Specific amino acids also have important roles in intestinal health, although required in smaller quantities (amino acids are the individual units of protein). For example, glutamine is an important fuel for cells lining the intestine, and argentine participates in gut permeability, both maintaining optimal gut function. Sulpher amino acids such as cysteine and methionine also help regulate the mucosal response to foreign invaders.
Maximizes recovery after exercise. Training for a marathon? Trying to improve your speed, game or strength? Protein needs to be a part of your plan. Adding ten to 20 grams of protein to your post-exercise carbohydrate meal within 30 minutes after exercise maximizes your body’s recovery so you can train harder the next time. Within this time frame, your metabolism is primed to use protein to rebuild damaged tissue and build more muscle.
Improves the strength of your hair and nails. Protein is the basic scaffolding of hair and nails. If you don’t get enough, (along with enough fluids and some vitamins) these tissues can become brittle, dry, and may even grow slower.
Remember, it is the combination of nutrients in whole foods that our bodies like best. Foods high in protein such as fatty fish, nuts, and seeds are also high in Vitamins A and E, and omega-3 fats – important for heart health and reducing inflammation. Plant foods high in protein include all legumes such as black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, lentils and soy products. These are also excellent sources of fiber, minerals and B vitamins. Lean meats and poultry are high in iron, and dairy products contain balanced minerals important in maintaining a healthy blood pressure.
Written by: Andrea Q Vintro, MS, RD, CSSD, LD