I thought this article was helpful and contained some great tips on nutrition to help ward off cold & flu this season. It’s at Scholastic magazine and lists superfoods, including (my favorite) sweet potato, salmon, broccoli, milk, oatmeal, and more.
Archive for the ‘Article’ Category
Two weeks ago I posted on how to determine the right kind of food for you. I hope that you were able to keep your food diary and experiment and that you learned about what kinds of foods work best for you. Whether you learned that you need lots of protein or a lesser amount, here’s helpful information about why protein is important, how much to eat, and from which sources to get it.
Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the basic building blocks of the human body. These “building blocks” repair the body and largely control how you feel – both mentally and physically – on a daily basis.
For example, protein increases focus and energy by causing the body to produce dopamine and norepinephrine, two substances that make you feel more alert and full of energy.
Protein also causes the release of the hormone glucagon to regulate glucose (blood sugar) levels for proper brain function, which also regulates hunger and energy levels.
And because protein is more difficult to digest than carbohydrates and fats, its lasts longer in the body, suppressing hunger and satiating the appetite so you feel full after you eat and maintain that feeling for longer.
Understanding the importance of protein helps us to begin to understand how consuming inappropriate amounts of protein might lead to symptoms and problems that negatively affect us on a daily basis.
Symptoms and Problems Associated with Inappropriate Levels of Protein
The most common problems associated with a diet that is too low in protein are low energy, cravings for sweets and fats, constant hunger, and even emotional instability and depression.
Fatigue and emotional instability can be caused by inadequate consumption of protein because the muscles weaken and the immune system functions less effectively. This weakened state causes the body to work harder to perform basic bodily functions. This inefficiency leads to always being tired, feeling out of balance and unstable, and getting sick more easily. This state of low energy and general unhealthiness can lead to depression.
Cravings are another tell-tale sign of inadequate protein in the diet. For example, cravings for sweets plus fats can mean too little protein. Similarly, feeling hungry less than 2 hours after a meal is also a symptom of eating too little protein. Without adequate protein, your body is unable to maintain blood sugar levels, causing you to feel hungry no matter how much you eat.
It is clear that eating too little protein can cause serious problems, but too much of a good thing is not any better. To the contrary, eating too much protein can cause constipation and sugar cravings (as opposed to sugar plus fat cravings).
Consumption of too much meat, a primary source of protein, can cause sugar cravings because meat is high in protein and fats but has no carbohydrates. Sugar is the exact opposite: it is only carbohydrates. The craving for sugar is the body’s attempt to balance. But consuming lots of animal protein and sugar, neither of which contains water, can lead to constipation.
It should be clear to us now that eating the correct amount of protein is critical to our everyday health and success. But how do we know what is the proper amount of protein?
The Proper Amount of Protein on a Daily Basis
There appears to be disagreement in the health community regarding what is the proper amount of protein on a daily basis.
The USDA recommends only 50 grams of protein per day. Dr. Barry Sears, author of A Week in the Zone and the popular Zone Diet, disagrees and instead recommends a minimum of 75 grams per day for women and 100 grams per day for men, which should be part of a diet with a proportion of carbohydrates to fat to protein of 40%-30%-30%, respectively. Yet, the accepted nutritional standard ratio of carbohydrates to fats to protein is 65%-15%-20%, respectively.
It would be easy to throw our hands up in frustration at this point, stating, “well, I might as well eat whatever I want since everyone disagrees as to what is a healthy diet.” But if we look closely, we see that there is common ground: the correct daily amount of protein lies somewhere between 50-100 grams and 15-30% of our daily calories.
A range such as this is exactly as it should be. As Dr. Frank Lipman states in his book Total Renewal, everyone has a distinct genetic make-up called “biochemical individuality,” which means variations in our metabolism and biochemistry differentiate us. Because each person is different, no one diet or amount of protein is right for everyone.
In order to determine the proper amount of protein for your “biochemical individuality,” experiment with protein by increasing and decreasing the amount you consume for a week or two. Pay attention to the impact on your body, energy, mental state, hunger, and sustainability. Observe how your body responds to the food you eat and how you feel after you eat certain amounts of protein. Again, keep your food diary, making sure to track your protein even if you aren’t recording the other foods that you eat.
The Proper Portion of Protein per Meal is Approximately the Same for Everyone
While the proper amount of protein on a daily basis may vary widely, the “per portion” amount is approximately the same for everyone: 4 ounces of meat/6 ounces of fish for men, and 3 ounces of meat/4.5 ounces of fish for women, per meal. The body cannot utilize more protein than this at one time, unless you are very active (e.g. a serious athlete).
The easiest tool for determining the proper portion size is with you at all times: your hand. Dr. Barry Sears recommends eating a piece of lean animal protein no bigger and no thicker than the palm of your hand to constitute the proper portion size of protein.
Sources of Protein
Now that you know how much protein you should eat at each meal, let’s discuss the great variety of protein sources and the approximate number of grams of protein in each of those sources so you can begin experimenting and ultimately determine the daily amount of protein right for you.
There are two sources of protein: animals and plants, and each has its benefits and disadvantages.
In The Zone Diet, Dr. Barry Sears advocates lean protein in the form of skinless chicken, turkey, lean cuts of beef, fish, eggs and egg whites, and low-fat dairy (unless you have a diary intolerance). Joshua Rosenthal of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and author of Integrative Nutrition, adds that all such sources should be organic and recommends that you “vary your protein routine.” So, if you are going to consume animal protein, branch out and try duck, pheasant, buffalo, and lamb.
While animal-sourced food is high in protein, it has its disadvantages. For example, meat is often full of saturated fat which can increase cholesterol, cause heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure. Because animal protein has no fiber or water in it, it is difficult to digest and spends a long time in the digestive system, which can lead to cancers of the intestines and colon. Meat can also be problematic because, unless it is organic, it likely contains hormones and antibiotics, which are toxic to the human body.
Many people completely forget that plants are a source of protein. Beans and nuts are legitimate sources of protein. Soybeans and soy products also provide a hearty source of protein. Even whole grains and vegetables contain some protein.
All legumes are very high in protein on the plant-food scale. Legumes include all beans and peanuts. (Peanuts are not nuts; they are legumes.) While beans are a great source of protein, many people have a hard time digesting them. You can help remedy this problem by soaking the dry uncooked beans overnight in water, draining them, and cooking them longer than the recommended cooking time. This process starts breaking down the beans. When you eat beans, be sure to chew very well, another process in the break down that is digestion.
Of all legumes, the soybean is the highest in protein and is sometimes referred to as the “vegetable cow” because its proportion of amino acids is close to that of animal products and is thus considered to be a “complete protein” like meat. Unfortunately, soy is the second most common food allergen behind wheat, and can be difficult to digest, except for edamame. (Edamame is the young whole soybean and is relatively easy for the body to digest and assimilate.) Try soy for yourself and see if it is a good choice for your body.
Because the protein found in plants is less “useable” by the body, it is beneficial to consume “complementary proteins.” AnneMarie Colbin explains in her book Food and Healing that complementary proteins provide a higher amount of useable protein than merely eating the two sources of protein separately. For example, wheat with 30 grams of protein and beans with 70 grams of protein, when combined, makes 133 grams of useable protein, not the 100 grams if eaten separately. Common examples of complementary proteins are rice-and-beans, lentil-and-barley, cous-cous-and-chick-peas, and fava-beans-and-millet. The traditional proportion is one part beans to two parts grain. These are great sources of protein if you are vegetarian or are trying to cut back on your consumption of animal protein.
Nuts are also a good plant-source of protein. Nuts, including walnuts, almonds, cashews, and pistachios, contain good fats in addition to protein, but because they are rather high in fat, they are also high in calories, so you may want to limit your consumption of nuts if you are watching your weight.
Another easy source of protein is isolated protein powder. It is primarily available as soy and whey. Either is good (unless you have an allergy to milk products; if so, you should avoid whey). They both have a long shelf life and can be added to many foods that would not otherwise contain much protein. For example, shakes and smoothies, soups, oatmeal, stew, flour to make pancakes, muffins and cookies, and cake mixes.
In order to calculate how much protein you are eating each day, follow this guideline:
- 4 oz. meat or 6 oz. fish (again, use the palm of your hand to determine this portion size) = approximately 30 g protein
- 3 oz. meat or 4.5 oz. fish = approximately 20 g protein
- 3.5 oz. hard cheese = 21-26 g protein
- 3.5 oz. cooked red beans = 7-8 g protein
- 3.5 oz. milk = 3.5 g protein
- 3.5 oz. cooked brown rice = 2.5 g protein
So start experimenting with your protein. Vary the amount of protein. Vary the kind of protein. Analyze your diet, and make changes if needed. It just might change your life!
Atkins, Robert C., M.D., Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution: The Amazing No Hunger Weight-Loss Plan That Has Helped Millions Lose Weight and Keep It Off; Avon Books, 1992.
Colbin, AnneMarie, Food and Healing: How what you eat determines your health, your well-being, and the quality of your life, Ballantine Books, 1986.
Lipman, Frank, M.D., Total Renewal: 7 Steps to Resilience, Vitality, & Long-Term Health; Penguin, 2003.
Rosenthal, Joshua, Integrative Nutrition: Feed Your Hunger for Health & Happiness; Integrative Nutrition Publishing, 2008.
Sears, Barry, Ph. D., A Week in the Zone; Harper Torch, 2000.
I shared my article, “How to Stay Energized in Spite of Your Hectic Schedule,” back in 2009 but I recently revisited it and would like to share it with you again, in case you have forgotten the simple tips or if you didn’t see it before. It was written for an audience of attorneys but applies to everyone. It discusses four simple tips for staying energized: 1) drink more water; 2) limit your sugar intake; 3) take a daily multi-vitamin; and 4) get regular exercise.
The original article was written for Law Practice Magazine and I interviewed 11 coaches and two of their clients to learn all about what they do, how they can help, how much they cost, and how to find the right one.
Both articles are a little off-topic for this blog, but if you are interested in increasing your happiness in your career so that your job is one of your healthy lifestyle choices, then a professional development coach may be exactly what you need. I hope you enjoy the articles!