Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Are "Protein-Packed" Foods Healthier For You?

health, protein, food, weight loss, diet, nutrition

It seems that every food manufacturer has jumped on the protein bandwagon. Just take a stroll through your grocery store and you will see countless products sporting the "Now with more protein!" or "Plus protein!" look.

Why all this hype about protein? 

Well, I'm sure we can thank the Adkins diet for bringing protein to the forefront of weight loss strategies back in 1958. And they were certainly going in the right direction, but they fell short by emphasizing such a drastic limitation of carbs.

The one aspect they did get right was the fact that protein is great for weight loss! Studies have shown time and time again that protein can help you feel fuller and reduce cravings. And the media has certainly done a great job of drilling this into our heads...

Since the spotlight is constantly being put on protein for its ability to help loose weight, let's look at some interesting statistics. (It'll be quick and painless, I promise!)

American is one of the most overweight countries in the world, with over 1/3 of the population being overweight or obese according to the CDC. Now let's examine the average protein intake of a typical American. According to the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, here are the top protein-consuming countries in the world.

1. Iceland - average 133g protein/ person/ day
2. Greece - average 118g protein/ person/ day
3. US - average 114g protein/person/  day
4. France - average 113g protein/ person/ day
5. Denmark - average 111g protein/ person/ day

The US breaks the tops 5 and lands at #3 with 114g per person per day. And this is the average consumption of protein, with some eating more and some eating less.

So, how is one of the top protein-consuming countries still one of the most overweight?!

Is there such thing as TOO much?

In the realm of food, the answer to that question is YES! I don't care how wonderful or "super" a food is, there is always such thing as too much. Even vitamins and minerals can become toxic in your body if you eat too much of them (most likely in supplement form.)

The same holds true for protein.

So, how much protein DO we need. It is recommended to have 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight. So, a women who weighs 130lb would only need about 50g of protein a day! Surprising, right?!

This calculation holds true for both men and women. The ONLY people who need to be eating more protein that this are serious athletes (like pro or Olympic status), the elderly, or burned victims. PERIOD.

The Danger of Eating Too Much Protein

Too much protein can mean too many calories, which can lead to excess weight. Let's look at that 140lb women who only needs to eat 50g of protein. If she's actually eating that 114g of protein average, she could be eating almost 250 extra calories per day! Might not sound like much, but this can add up almost 50 extra pounds a year!

Another danger of eating too much protein is using and abusing your kidneys. Your kidneys filter the excess nitrogen, a main component of protein, out of your blood. When you are eating too much protein, your kidneys are forcing your kidneys to work overtime! This can lead to kidney problems down the road and, in extreme cases, even kidney failure. And once your kidneys start to go, it's bad news bears...

All this extra protein can also cause issues if most of your protein is coming from animal products. High amounts of animals proteins (such as beef, chicken, milk, and cheese) can lead to increased cholesterol and saturated fat consumption. This can increase your likelihood of developing heart disease down the road (also one of the top killers in the US, especially for women!)

Living Happily Ever After With Protein

The purpose of this post is not to scare you away from protein or make it be seen as the bad guy. Because it certainly isn't! The purpose is, in fact, just the opposite! To help you and protein reestablish your relationship and live happily ever after! And here is how!

First step, make sure your protein selections are NATURAL protein sources, such as nut butters, meat, fish, and other whole foods! When you start buying into these products that are now adding protein to get in on this hype (i.e. cereals, granola bars, crackers, pasta, water, ect), you are most likely getting a boost of added sugar and chemicals as well. Which is not healthy no matter which way you spin it.

Also, try to live by a "food first" mentality. This means to keep supplements, like protein powder, at a minimum. Even if you stick to a demanding workout schedule, try to get your protein through whole foods. If you think you "need more protein than is possible to obtain from food," than check out this article from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Here is a list of the best go-to protein sources:
-Lean Meats (chicken, turkey, fish, sirloin, tenderloin, lamb)
-Plain Yogurt
-Oats (gluten-free for me :) )

The take home message here is that, unless you are vegan or vegetarian, you are probably getting your fair share of protein without having to turn to these protein-fortified snacks. So next time, you won't fall for those glamorized protein proclamations food companies are shoving in your face!

Instead of turning to a protein bar or protein-fortified food, try one of these combinations for a great healthy snack:
-Nut butter with apple slices
-Smoothie with frozen berries, spinach, and low-fat yogurt
-Avocado tuna salad with crackers
-Handful of nuts and veggie sticks
-Hummus with pita bread and peppers

What is your favorite natural protein source?!

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