Protein – A Little Goes A Long Way

ProteinBy Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

The word protein comes from the Greek word proteios, meaning “the first quality.”  Protein is one of the three types of macronutrients required by the human body as an essential energy source.  Adequate protein intake, along with fats and carbohydrates, is necessary for good health.  Proteins provide the framework for every cell in the body by combining with nucleic acids to form nucleoproteins, found in the nucleus of your cells.  A steady supply of proteins are needed to build and rebuild organs, tissues, muscles, antibodies, hormones and enzymes.  Proteins are vital for metabolism and are necessary for maintaining normal growth, muscle mass, and immune, heart and respiratory functions. 

Proteins are large biological compounds consisting of amino acids strung together in a single file chain.  When we consider how much dietary protein we need daily, we really need to think about which amino acids are required.  Of the 21 amino acids coded for by the DNA of our cells, the human body synthesizes only 12 of them.  The remaining 9 essential amino acids must be consumed through our diet.  (See article “What Are Amino Acids and Why Do We Need Them?“)  Basically, dietary amino acids are a non-negotiable requirement necessary to sustain the basic processes of life.  Our bodies have a  biological need for specific amino acids in specific proportions as the body has no way to store them. 

An individual’s daily protein requirement depends on several factors including:

  • Age – A growing child will require more protein than an adult in their golden years.
  • Gender – Men typically require more protein than women, except those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Weight –  A larger individual will require more protein than a smaller person.  Weight matters when determining protein requirements.
  • Muscular exertion – A person who does physical labor will require more protein than someone with a sedentary job.
  • Muscle mass – Heavily muscled persons, such as body builders, need more protein than a more lithe person, such as a dancer or runner.   
  • Health condition – People who are recovering from an illness or medical procedure may need more protein. 

Most adults in the United States get more than enough protein to meet their needs but could benefit from getting their protein from better food sources.  Protein sources are categorized by the number of essential amino acids they provide:

  • Complete proteins, also called high quality proteins, contain all of the essential amino acids.  Animal based foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products are considered complete protein sources and generally score highly on the amino acid profile.  However, these sources also tend to be higher in saturated fat.  Soybean products such as tofu and soy milk are complete proteins. 
  • Incomplete proteins are low in one or more of the essential amino acids.  Vegetable proteins, such as those found in nuts, seeds and legumes,  are typically incomplete, but they are also a perfectly good source of protein. 
  • Complementary proteins are two or more incomplete protein sources that, when combined, provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids.  Complementary vegetable proteins together make a single complete protein source.  For example,  a cheese sandwich on whole grain bread or rice eaten with beans will help to achieve the essential amino acid profile. 

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention recommends that 10 – 35% of our daily calories come from protein.  This translates to approximately 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men.  This can easily be accomplished with 2 – 3 servings of protein-rich foods per day.  Protein servings should be about the size and thickness of the palm of your hand or about 3 -4 ounces.  Protein needs can change with your activity levels and weight management goals.  To calculate your individual RDA of protein:

  • Divide your weight by 2.2 to convert from pounds to kilograms
  • Multiply the total number of kilos by .08
  • The result is your recommended total grams of protein per day

As always, balance is the key.  A varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean proteins is considered optimal. 

Protein Supplements:

New Zealand H.P. Whey Powder 92% by Vital Nutrients – This high protein whey powder is produced in New Zealand from cows that graze on pesticide-free natural grass pastures and is minimally processed to retain the utmost physiologic activity and benefit.  Available in natural,  raw cocoa, and natural vanilla flavors. 

VegaLite by Thorne Research –  VegaLite is a non-whey, vegetable-based protein powder that is low in sugar, calories, and fat.  VegaLite is ideal for vegans and vegetarians, dairy-sensitive individuals, and for anyone requiring additional protein in their daily diet.   Contains a pea and rice protein blend.  Available in vanilla and chocolate.

Rice Protein Concentrate by Biotics Research –  A natural flavored, hypoallergenic source of supplemental protein containing a full complement of amino acids. 

One response to “Protein – A Little Goes A Long Way

  1. One of the better articles on protein I have ever read!!

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