Macronutrients are the major nutrients required by the human body. There are three types of macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. In this article we will answer the questions:
What is protein?
Why do we need protein?
What is the best protein for weight loss or for all around healthy living?
Protein is a necessary part of our diet. Protein is part of every cell in the body. It makes up the building blocks for our hormones and neurotransmitters. It is needed for muscle health, growth and recovery. A diet lacking in protein will result in illness and breakdown of the body.
Protein breaks down through the process of digestion into amino acids. There are a total of 20 amino acids. 12 of the amino acids can be made from carbohydrates, fats and other acids in your body. The other 8 amino acids are known as essential amino acids and you MUST get them from the food you eat - your body can't make them.
Symptoms of a lack of protein and therefore a lack of essential amino acids can include:
- muscle loss
- hair loss
- depressed immune system
- low energy
- decreased bone strength
There are two categories of proteins. Complete proteins provide all 20 amino acids. When you eat a complete protein the body can absorb 85-99% of the protein. Examples of complete proteins are beef, poultry, fish, milk cheese and yogurt. Sources for vegetarians include soy, hemp, tempeh and seitah. Incomplete proteins lack a variety of amino acids. These are plant-based proteins. Combining incomplete proteins can give you all 20 amino acids. Unfortunately, not all of it is digestible so the body cannot absorb as much of this type of protein.
How much protein should I eat?
According to Jonathan Bailor of The Calorie Myth: How to Eat More, Exercise Less, Lose Weight, and Live Better, "It's important to aim for a minimum serving of about 30 grams of protein at least 3 times a day. When we eat 30 grams or more of protein it provides enough leucine to rebuild our muscle tissue. Without adequate levels of leucine we risk losing muscle tissue. 100 - 200 grams of protein a day is needed depending on your body's needs. A smaller sedentary person needs less protein than the person who is actively bodybuilding.
Best Protein for Weight Loss and Healthy Living
The following are high quality sources of complete protein:
- Grass-fed, organic beef - Grass-fed beef is cleaner, healthier and more flavorful than beef that is grain fed or grain finished.
- Pastured chickens - this meat is rich in essential fatty acids and is a great source of protein. This can include any type of pastured poultry or wild game.
- Pastured eggs - provides Vitamin D, Vitamin A, Omega-3, Vitamin E and Beta Carotene in higher levels than store-bought eggs.
- Wild salmon is rich in Omega-3 and is a nutritious source of fat and protein.
- Other seafood - protein in fish and shellfish is very easy to digest and the amino acids are more bioavailable (easier to absorb and use). Rich dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA.
For those that enjoy that sort of thing - reptiles and amphibians are good protein sources and provide vitamins and minerals.
- Greek yogurt - avoid yogurts with added sugars.
- Shellfish - clams, oysters, mussels, snails - rich in iron, zinc, selenium, iodine omega 3, proteins.
- Whey protein isolate - high protein concentration, good if you cannot get enough protein with whole foods.
- Liver (from grass-fed or pastured animals) - a rich source of protein that also provides vitamin A, copper, choline, and B vitamins.
So eat your protein and enjoy eating real food! Stay tuned for future articles on fats and carbohydrates.