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Nov. 16, 2010
The Pros of Protein - A Helpful Guide to Protein Intake
Protein has been the nutrient everyone seems to want for some time now. Can you believe that next to water, protein is the most plentiful stuff in your body.

Most of us associate protein with muscles, but protein also supports our bones, brain cells, blood, skin, hair and finger nails. Does that mean you should load up on an all-protein diet for shiny hair and luxurious nails? No, but you should eat enough protein to meet your body’s unique needs to do all that tissue building, rebuilding and maintenance.

Builders Bars

Horizon organic milk boxes, bulk-bin trail mix, CLIF SHOT Roks, hard-boiled eggs, CLIF Builder’s Bars, string cheese and edamame can be great on-the-go protein snacks.

Protein happens to be one of your most versatile nutrients with many responsibilities. Some of protein’s jobs may surprise you. It supplies valuable enzymes that help regulate bodily functions. It acts as a “bus driver” transporting nutrients, oxygen, and waste throughout the body. It supplies collagen to connective tissue, skin, hair and finger nails. One of its most well-known responsibilities is maintaining our healthy muscles.

Of course, when you sit down to lunch with a tasty turkey and Swiss sandwich, you're not thinking “Wow, this turkey and cheese feels really good on my connective tissue!” The “fruits” of protein’s versatility don’t often provide you with immediate satisfaction.

There is however one noticeable sensation after eating a meal or snack that includes protein and that is one of satiety. Foods like chicken, beef, fish, beans or other high protein foods slow the movement of food from the stomach to the intestine.

Too much physiology? Then think of it like this: slower digestion means you feel full for a longer period of time. Slower digestion equals more control of your appetite and more moderate blood sugars. Combining foods with carbohydrate and protein such as apples and peanut butter, dried fruit and nuts, cheese and crackers, or steak and potatoes can help prevent a steep rise in blood sugar followed by a quick dive that can trigger hunger.

It is important to remember every nutrient plays a role in the body and eating too much or too little will eventually have consequences you will feel. Knowing about how much protein you need each day will help you ensure that you hit the “sweet spot” to feeling good.

Here’s a guide for how much protein you need each day:

Clif Bar Protein Chart

When choosing protein-rich foods pay attention to what comes along with the protein. Vegetable sources of protein, such as beans, nuts, and whole grains, are excellent choices, and they offer fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. The best animal protein choices are fish, poultry, and lean cuts of grass-fed red meat.

Even though most find it laughable, it is no joke when a dietitian tells you a healthy portion of red meat and poultry is about the size of the palm of your hand. We have become accustomed to much larger portions than we actually need.

Animal protein does contain saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol so it is best to consume more moderate portions and alternate it with vegetable proteins. You can visit for suggestions on the leanest options. Two of of my personal favorites are organic pork loin and grass-fed top sirloin.

Variety in your protein palate is also a solution to reaping the rewards of various high-protein foods. Here are some characteristics of popular choices:

• Fish: contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids
• Poultry: boneless, skinless chicken breast contains little saturated fat
• Beans: contain more protein than any other vegetable and are high in fiber
• Nuts: one ounce of almonds gives you 6 grams of protein, nearly as much protein as one ounce of broiled rib eye steak
• Whole grains: whole grains contain the entire grain kernel which provides 3 grams of protein, plus fiber per slice

Of course, all these options are great until you want food with protein as a snack on-the-go. Throwing steak into your purse or gym bag for a quick snack is less than ideal and hardly appetizing.

Have some go-to portable snacks that are rich in protein on hand. I have a stash of Horizon organic milk boxes, bulk-bin trail mix, CLIF SHOT Roks, hard-boiled eggs, CLIF Builder’s Bars, string cheese, and edamame for quick snacks.

Protein has certainly earned its reputation as a work horse for your body. Understanding what foods provide tasty and healthy sources of protein along with how much you need will give you a leg up when it comes to replenishing, recovering, and recharging your body each day.
Posted by:
Tara, the RD
Food Matters

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