Fat and carbohydrates go through their ups and downs: demonized one day, lionized another. Protein, however, is consistently lauded for its ability to help all kinds of people build muscle, repair tissue, and assisting in vital bodily functions like blood clotting and the immune response.
What exactly is protein and why is it so important?
Protein is one of the three key macronutrients alongside fats and carbohydrates. “It is particularly important because it does most of the work in our cells, and is required for the structure and function of our tissues, organs, and glands,” says Dr. Bill Cole, DC, a cellular health specialist and functional medicine expert. “Protein is vital for building, repairing, and oxygenating the body as well as playing a key role in making enzymes that digest our food. It’s also an important part of the production and regulation of our hormones.”
The basic building blocks of proteins are amino acids. “There are 22 different amino acids, nine of which are known as essential amino acids. This means they must be consumed in the food we eat because they can’t be manufactured by the body.”
How much protein do we actually need to avoid protein deficiency?
While it’s true that the body needs a constant supply of protein, there are particular times of growth—such as childhood, adolescence, pregnancy, and in older age (given the increased rate of muscle breakdown)—that may require extra. It’s important to keep in mind that protein needs depend primarily on individual variations like gender, weight, health, and activity level.
4 healthy protein sources
It’s also important to eat protein from a variety of sources to ensure you consume all amino acids. Marie Spano, MS, sports dietician and a consultant for Egg life Foods, highlights the following whole foods because they supply essential amino acids and a variety of micronutrients:
Tempeh has 18 grams of protein in a three-ounce serving. Made from soybeans, this fermented food is packed with plant-based protein. And thanks to the fermentation process, it’s a good source of beneficial bacteria too.
Greek yogurt contains anywhere from 12 to 18 grams per six-ounce cup. Greek yogurt is a great option because it’s largely casein, which is slower to digest and keeps you full for a longer period of time. Plus, it’s packed with bone building calcium and often beneficial bacteria—live and active cultures known as probiotics—as well.
There 17 grams of protein in a three-ounce serving of salmon. Salmon is not only loaded with protein but is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These omega-3 fatty acids support heart, eye, brain, and prenatal health.
Edamame beans are whole, immature soybeans, sometimes referred to as vegetable-type soybeans. They are green and differ in color from regular soybeans, which are typically light brown, tan or beige. Edamame beans are often sold while still encased in their pods, which are not meant to be eaten. You can also buy shelled edamame, without the pods. Well and Good Blog