Protein is critically important to many of the body’s core functions. Let’s make sure you’re getting enough of it – not only in your diet, but in every single meal.
As humans we need 3 sources of calories or energy that our bodies can’t produce by themselves: Protein, carbohydrates, and fat. These are called macronutrients. And, from my experience as a Naturopathic Doctor and Clinical Nutritionist for over 23 years, I see that the best health comes from balancing these 3 macronutrients in every meal. Just as a point of reference, 1 gram of protein provides 4 calories for our bodies, 1 gram of carbs also provides 4 calories, and 1 gram of fat provides 9 calories for our system.
Why Is Protein So Important?
The basic structure of protein is a chain of biochemical ‘building blocks’ called amino acids. Our bodies use those amino acids to build and repair muscles and bones and to make hormones and enzymes. You also need protein in your diet to help your body repair cells and make new ones. It’s also important for growth and development in children, teens, and pregnant women. Furthermore, it’s a critical part of the processes that fuel your energy and carry oxygen throughout your body in your blood, and it helps make antibodies that fight off infections and illnesses. So, it is a very important part of a healthy diet.
The protein we eat gets broken into amino acids during our digestion process and there are 9 essential amino acids that our bodies can’t produce: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. These amino acids are not synthesized by mammals and are therefore dietarily essential or indispensable nutrients, meaning we must get them from food or another source.
We can get those nine essential amino acids from either animal-based or plant-based protein.
Our bodies use these amino acids for building muscle every day, especially if we’re working out and we want our muscles to grow, our bodies need even more of these amino acids. We also use amino acids in the liver for detoxification and we need amino acids for making neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, etc.
If we’re not getting enough amino acids in our diet, we’re going to be making it harder for our body to maintain adequate neurotransmitters and to maintain adequate detoxification.
Are You Getting Enough Protein?
The thing I find is that so often people are way more likely to get plenty of carbs and now we’re even learning to get fat in our meals but still many people are not getting enough protein. It is so much easier to get access to carbs. For example, if you’re hungry and eat a snack it will likely have more carbs than anything. Chips, crackers, even fruit are all sources of carbs and have little or no protein in them.
Remember, our bodies like balance and so we are going to be feeling so much better if we get sources of all 3 macronutrients in every meal. We want to have all 3 macronutrients in every meal in intervals of 3 to 4 hours through the day. We want to have space in between meals so our bodies can digest and absorb these nutrients.
So, you can get protein from animal sources like eggs, milk, chicken, beef, turkey, and fish. I normally see that eating too much eggs or dairy causes inflammation, especially in people with leaky gut so I recommend to have them in moderation. I also recommend when choosing meat like chicken or beef that it is organic, free range, grass fed and free of hormones.
There is also plant based protein like nuts, seeds, legumes, soy and certain grains like quinoa. The thing with plant-based sources is that the quantity you have to eat to reach the minimum requirement is large and they often come tied with high carbs so you risk overfeeding your gut bacteria and having digestive issues.
Now you could also get a plant-based protein powder like pea for example. If you’re interested in this product, you can find it here. There is also hemp seed, flaxseed and watermelon seed powders available. These plant-based powders are a good way to reach your body’s minimum protein requirement if you don’t eat meat.
How Much Protein Should You Eat?
The amount you need depends on a number of factors, including your weight, age, goals, and activity level. As a general rule, we need around 1 gram per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams per pound of body weight per day. This is the minimum requirement for a sedentary person. However, if you do intense workouts, have a physically demanding job, or both, you may need more, maybe even twice as much.
If you’re wondering how many grams you’re eating you can do a google search and type for example, how many grams of protein in 4 ounces of chicken and it will immediately show up for you (in this case it’s around 31 grams of protein). If your food comes in a package, you can look on the label and see how much is in there.
My recommendation is to get at least 20 grams of protein per meal or each time you eat. At the same time, I recommend keeping the carbs under 20 grams in each meal.
The thing is there’s not one perfect number you really have to know your body and your activity level and start to fine tune it and play with it until you find the spot where you feel the best.
There are also other factors to consider like health-related issues. If you have kidney issues for example you may need to moderate your intake because as your body uses protein, the protein breaks down into waste that your kidneys must remove from the blood.
Good Nutrition: Consistency And Balance Are Key
It’s important to give your body consistent signals. Our bodies do best when they can predict what is going to happen regarding food during the day. If we shift things around all the time like not eating for long periods of time and then eating too much all at once, then our metabolism and digestion can be overwhelmed.
If we can’t digest everything that we eat especially the carbs and fibers, we end up overfeeding our gut bacteria and then we end up with bloating and gas and burping and bacterial overgrowth or yeast overgrowth.
I see this a lot where people want to eat more of healthy stuff – more vegetables and more seeds and more nuts and they put it all in their shake or bowl – but our digestive system is only capable of absorbing a certain amount of nutrients each time we eat (especially if you have leaky gut), so the rest ends up just overfeeding our gut bacteria.
It’s the same with protein. You don’t want to eat 100 grams in one meal because it would be too much to digest, and your body will not be able to benefit from it. What you want to do is space your intake evenly through the day in 3 or 4 small meals and combine it with some healthy carbs based on your blood sugar levels and insulin function and some healthy fats like olive oil, nuts and avocados.
What happens is when we have an adequate protein intake it really helps balance our blood sugar levels. If we have a meal with just carbs then our blood sugar is going up and down like a rollercoaster. Protein not only helps smooth out all of your metabolism, but it also helps prevent reflux as it signals to the esophageal sphincter to close so you’re much less likely to have reflux happening.
It also helps you feel more satiated and satisfied. If you’re only having carbs in a meal then it’s just going to be a temporary blood sugar spike, but if you have protein in there and healthy fats now your brain is getting the signals that you ate and you’re resetting your hunger and fullness signals which is way better for your leptin levels and longevity overall.
So, this is why it’s so important to have an adequate protein intake. I recommend that when you cook you leave some leftovers in the fridge ready to eat so it’s easy to add protein in a meal that doesn’t have it.
For those of you who might be interested in learning more about how to eat in the way that I’m describing or would like to decrease the inflammatory foods and detox your body and really start feeling good then I definitely encourage you to check out my New 14-Day Detox Program.
This program includes two protein shakes per day with 18 grams of protein, and two meals per day with a meal plan that I created based on making sure you get at least 20 grams of protein in each meal. I also teach you how to eat mindfully and how to detox gently but effectively without feeling worse. This can all be done without pushing yourself too hard and stressing you out, and while carrying on with your daily activities and routine.
If you want to learn more about my approach on how you can start taking better care of yourself and apply my SelfC.A.R.E. protocol so that you can get back to feeling your best, you may want to start by reading my book Master Your Stress Reset Your Health.
In my book, I also share the quiz I developed to help you identify how stress has affected you specifically by knowing your Stress Type. You can also take this Stress Type Quiz online.
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