Do you catch yourself saying “eat your protein”?  As a mom, cook and trainer I look to protein first when it comes to meal planning, snacking, sandwich making or when someone is starving and standing in front of the fridge.

Should you be focused on it?  Does it make a difference how much you eat?  Absolutely and here is why.

We have all heard about the protein diets where you cut out all your carbs and lose a ton of weight.  We also hear about how one should have protein in their diet if they want to get stronger and build bigger muscles.  I have also preached that combining a protein with a carbohydrate creates a balance and an even stream of energy.  For the most part these are all relatively true statements.  However, lets clarify and illuminate what you really need to know about protein once and for all.

Lets take the protein diet weight loss phenomenon.  The outcome is correct for the most part.  You do lose weight, but at what cost.

There is some evidence that these high-protein diets induce potentially great weight loss and on average, high-protein diets showed a 4 1/2 lbs  greater loss than what was achieved on other types of diets within six months.  However, after six months they begin to lose effectiveness, obviously  because people can’t adhere to the diet long term, or because they get used to the diet and the body becomes acclimated.   I am sure at some point all of us have experienced this result from yoyo eating. Which essentially means on again off again dieting.   So in the long term the high-protein diets tend to lose their ability to maintain the weight loss.  Precisely why I don’t like the word diet and never suggest doing them.  In fact, Richard Simmons and I had a conversation once and he explained his reason for the distaste of this word.  The first three letters are DIE.  Need I say more?

I do understand  the excitement from the quick fat loss when eating only protein as this is clearly  the closest we’ve become  to the magic weight loss pill, unfortunately not long lasting.  Nevertheless, we still need to eat protein in the correct way and how we accomplish this is key.

So what is so good about protein? Protein is an important component of every cell in our body. Hair and nails are mostly made of protein. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. You also use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.  Why wouldn’t you want to eat protein at any given moment, especially if you have the weight loss carrot dangling in front of your nose.  Additionally,  since unlike fat and carbohydrates, the body does not store protein, and therefore has no reservoir to draw on when it needs a new supply.

So you may assume the solution is to eat protein all day long, hence high-protein diets…. not so fast.

The truth is, we need less total protein than you might think. But we could all benefit from getting more protein from better food sources, balanced with other foods and evenly distributed throughout the day.

For families each member may have a different need.

-Teenage boys and active men can get all the protein they need from 3 daily servings for a total of 7 ounces.

-For children age 2 to 6, most women, and some older people, the government recommends 2 daily servings for a total of 5 ounces.

This adds up to the grams listed below.

-Infants approximately 10 grams a day.
-Young kids approximately 35 grams a day.
-Teenage boys approximately 52 grams a day.
-Teenage girls approximately 46 grams a day.
-Adult men approximately  56 grams a day.
-Adult women approximately  46 grams a day.

Finding where you fit in is key and a great tool for your family to understand.  Have kids add up their protein intake from what they are eating during the day.  Most foods are labeled and easy to read the protein content. For instance, my kids love Rockin Refuel Chocolate milk.  Each serving has 20 grams of protein and it is 2/1 carb protein ratio.  Numbers that my teens understand and can tally during the day.   A simple guideline  for a 3 oz. piece of chicken of beef is equal to the size of a deck of cards.  This is a fun visual that teaches portion control.  Especially when common statements float around like,  more is always better, get big get strong get energized EAT PROTEIN.  Here are a few more tips.

So how do I eat it?

Protein from animal sources, such as meat and milk, is called complete, because it contains all nine of the essential amino acids. Most vegetable protein is considered incomplete because it lacks one or more of the essential amino acids. This can be an issue for someone who doesn’t eat meat or milk products. But people who are vegetarian can still get all their essential amino acids by eating a wide variety of protein-rich vegetable foods.

For instance, you can’t get all the amino acids you need from peanuts alone, but if you have peanut butter on a piece of whole-grain bread you’re set. Likewise, black beans won’t give you everything you need, but combined with rice will do the trick. The good news is that you don’t have to eat all the essential amino acids in every meal. As long as you have a variety of protein sources throughout the day, your body will hook up what it needs from each meal. The body is so amazing.

Milk contains high-quality protein and essential amino acids that may be particularly beneficial in building and maintaining muscle mass when combined with exercise. Several recent studies suggest low-fat milk after exercise can help increase lean muscle.  I also highly recommend drinking milk that is organic and free of hormones.

A new study released in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that children who drink flavored milk like Rockin Refuel which is also lactose free or plain milk consume more nutrients and have a lower or comparable body mass index (BMI – a measure of body fatness) than children who don’t drink milk.

Fish is an excellent source of protein, since the oils contained in fish help protect against heart disease.

Eggs are also abundant in protein, although they also contain dietary cholesterol, which can raise the risk of heart disease in people with elevated blood cholesterol levels. We end up eating a lot of egg whites in my house.  Especially when doing Sunday Set-Up™, boiling eggs is a regular routine so you have a good high protein snack at any time during the week.

Plants such as beans and nuts are a particularly wise choice of protein, since so many Americans fall short on fiber. Both beans and nuts are rich in fiber and plant-based phytochemicals that may help lower heart disease and cancer risk.

If you’re watching your weight, try including a source of protein combined with a high complex carbohydrate like brown rice or quinoa with every meal.  You will feel fuller longer, which helps when the munchies hit.

The bottom line is that protein is super important in how we eat, but don’t let it be the one and only food group that you eat. So be “pro” active when it comes to your better eating plan and make good choices.

Live Better,