While standing in line at the grocery store yesterday, a magazine cover caught my eye. The headline read: “My protein miracle”. A lady on the cover reported losing 238 pounds by taking advantage of the ‘new science of eating protein throughout the day’. Tongue in cheek, I took a photo of the cover and shared the groundbreaking news to my Facebook wall. After all, there’s nothing new about the science of eating protein.
Then it dawned on me, despite the science being around for many years, few people are aware of the benefits of eating protein at each meal, or simply are not doing it. In fact, the most common change people make to their diet when starting a nutrition program or fitness challenge at our studio, is adding protein to each meal. We grew up eating cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and protein for dinner; and often continue this way of eating. Also, the fear of dietary fat still lingers; many people swap eggs for puffed rice cereal and skim milk in an effort to lose weight.
Why eat protein?
Whether you want to lose weight, increase or maintain muscle mass, or feel more energetic throughout the day, protein can help. Protein takes more time and energy to digest than carbohydrates, meaning you stay full for longer, and burn more calories during the digestion of protein. People who eat protein tend to naturally eat less, simply because they are less hungry. Protein also helps to stabilize your blood sugar and insulin levels.
Protein can also help with your energy levels. When blood sugar spikes, for example after a high carbohydrate meal, the hormone insulin is released to shuttle the glucose (sugar) out of the blood stream, and into fat cells, muscle, and the liver. Protein helps to stabilize blood sugar, and therefore reduces the amount of insulin required after a meal. The result is less blood sugar being stored as body fat, and more stable energy levels throughout the day.
In addition, protein plays a role in almost every cellular function in the human body. It is necessary for building and repairing muscle, red blood cells, and hormones.
What are sources of protein?
Optimal sources of protein include beans, nuts, dairy (especially Greek yogurt and cottage cheese), chicken breast, eggs, egg whites, lean meat, and fish. Avoid processed meats such as hot dogs, packaged chicken, fish sticks, and deli meats, as they are very high in sodium and preservatives.
How much protein?
How much protein you consume will depend on a few different factors, including your age, sex, goals, eating preferences and activity level.
There are different ways to measure protein consumption: you can aim for a certain number of grams per day, or aim for a percentage of your calories to come from protein. Most sound nutrition programs recommend 20-30% of calories to come from protein. For example, if you consume 1500 calories per day, 30% protein is 112g per day.
Although it’s impossible to give exact measurements, you can start by ensuring you have one serving of protein at each meal, and at least some protein at each snack.
Below are examples of portion sizes. You can also use the palm of your hand as a guideline for portions.
• Lean meat (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, game, etc.)- 3 oz
• Salmon or other fish – 3 oz
• Canned tuna – 3 oz
• Shrimp/ shell fish – 3 oz
• Eggs – 2
• Egg whites – 1 cup
• Protein powder – 1 serving (scoop size will vary).
• Nut butter – 2 tbsp
• Nuts and seeds- raw, unsalted – 1/4 cup whole nuts
• Yogurt- plain, 2-5% fat – 1 cup
• Greek yogurt- plain, 2-5% fat – 3/4 cup
• Cottage cheese- 3/4 cup
• Ricotta cheese, – 1/2 cup
• Cheese- 1 oz
• Beans (kidney, chick peas, black beans, etc.)- 3/4 cup
• Lentils – 3/4 cup
• Tofu – 4 oz
• Veggie ground round – 3 oz
• *Not an exhaustive list
Though the miracle of protein may not be entirely new science, many people still do not eat protein regularly throughout the day. Include protein at each meal to enjoy protein nutrition food all day energy and a slimmer waistline!