From building Superman-worthy muscles to promoting rapid weight loss, protein has been cast as the superhero-nutrient in the world of health and fitness.
Although there is value supporting these claims, protein is a nutrient that requires a deeper understanding to avoid the misleading statements bestowed upon it.
Protein is a macronutrient and contributes an average of four calories per gram, which is the same amount as carbohydrates. Macronutrients contribute energy known as calories. Along with protein, fat and carbohydrates are also classified as macronutrients. Protein consists of chains of amino acids. There are nine amino acids that are considered to be essential because the human body is incapable of producing them. These essential amino acids must therefore, be consumed in the diet. Additionally, certain proteins are responsible for causing allergic reactions in some individuals. An allergic reaction occurs when a protein ingested from food stimulates the immune system to release antibodies to protect against the “threat”. Antibodies then spark a chain of events that resulting in allergy-related symptoms.
Protein is among the more commonly recognized nutrients, however, its functions extend far beyond amassing muscle. This nutrient is found in every cell of the body, including those in bones, hair, and organs; this makes it fundamental in maintaining our tissues. It also helps to repair daily damage our tissues endure after performing daily activities. Without proper protein intake, these tissues can be compromised and some reactions cannot be completed. Protein is also fundamental in the transport of oxygen throughout the body. Due to the numerous jobs performed with amino acids, it is important to monitor your dietary intake of this nutrient.
Protein can be found in meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs and dairy products. Animal-based products contain a great amount of protein because it is found throughout animal cells. Animal products are known as complete sources of protein because they contain the nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot make along with non-essential amino acids.
For many years, protein has been the scapegoat for all individuals shying away from a vegetarian diet, however, well-planned vegetarian diets can achieve healthy levels of consumption. Vegetarian sources of include seeds, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and vegetables. Since most plant protein sources are incomplete, a mix of these foods must be consumed to achieve the proper intake of the nine essential amino acids. Consuming complementary sources is recommended for vegetarian diets to ensure essential amino acids are consumed daily. Complementary sources contain both essential and non-essential amino acids, making a vegetarian diet healthful and protein-rich when a variety of protein-rich plants are consumed.
This popular nutrient has also captured headlines as the nutrient to increase in healthy dietary patterns. Popular diets, such as the Atkins and Paleo diets emphasize high-protein intake which is believed to promote weight loss, build muscle and improve overall health. While there is some research supporting protein’s role in stimulating satiety, muscle building, and overall health, additional considerations need to be made. An excessive intake of any macronutrient will promote the storage of that nutrient as fat, even muscle-building protein. Additionally, increasing the intake of one macronutrient often offsets the intake of the other two macronutrients, meaning the diet may be lacking essential nutrients. Due to a lack of conclusive evidence supporting high-protein diets, careful thought should be taken before adopting this eating pattern.
Although this is not a nutrient of concern for most Americans, it is important to provide customers with a variety of protein-containing options. For vegetarian diners, offer several plant-based foods such as soy, beans, and nuts. For carnivores, encourage a healthy nutrient consumption by offering reasonable serving sizes of meat, poultry and seafood dishes. Protein-based dishes will also capture the eye of the trendy dieters who follow high-protein diets. A balanced menu can help provide healthful options for clients.
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