Everyone Needs Protein; But Not All Protein is the Same

Most people know protein simply as one of the main food groups like fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, etc.. We’re told how important protein is, but we don’t always understand just how ubiquitous it is in all living creatures. In reality, protein is just as important for us as water and even oxygen. But not all protein is created equal, and some of us might need more in our diets than others. There are so many different supplements and powders on the market and so many different people in the media telling you what you should and shouldn’t be eating—so what’s the truth about protein?

First off, proteins are literally the building blocks of life. Our very DNA is all about instructions to make protein. All the tissues in your body are made of protein, including your hair, nails, ligaments, tendons, and the lens of your eye. Even tiny living things like viruses and bacteria are made of protein.

While proteins are the building blocks of life, amino acids are the building blocks of a protein. When you eat a protein-rich food like chicken, for example, your body will break down that poultry protein into its individual amino acids, then reconstruct those amino acids into a new protein for the body’s own purposes.

Most people need about 15-20% of their calories to come from protein. If you’re an athlete, trying to lose weight, in older age, suffering from stress/adrenal exhaustion, or recovering from illness, you’ll want about 30-35%. I think the best rule is to listen to your body—if you’re craving protein, then you should eat some! Your body is pretty good at knowing what it needs, and protein is typically not something to skimp on. Protein, in addition to carbs and fats can be used for energy; protein and fats can be used for repair; but only protein can be used for growth. If you aren’t getting enough protein through your food, then your body will start to break down tissues to get the protein it needs. Therefore it is vital that we eat protein-rich foods on a regular basis. But we also need to choose ones that are easily digested, ones that are easily broken down by our bodies, and ones that don’t come with a bunch of toxins.

Which brings me to my next point: not all protein is created equal. There are many different kinds of protein that come from many different sources. Some proteins are highly processed or can cause an allergic reaction in the body because they are hard to process. Unfortunately, there are a lot of different sources of protein (plant, animal, etc.) on the market right now that fall into this category. That’s why I want to take this newsletter to help you understand which proteins are best for the human body.

Let’s take a look at each of the main types of protein and see how they compare to each other:

ANIMAL PROTEIN:

Poultry Protein: this includes chicken and turkey. Poultry tends to be very high in protein and is also relatively low-calorie. Our bodies are good at breaking down poultry protein, so we say it is very “bioavailable.” Buy it organic to avoid added hormones, antibiotics, etc.

Meat protein: basically, beef. This is a complete protein and non-allergenic for the most part, so it has a much smaller potential to upset your stomach then, say, milk protein. Just make sure you buy grass-fed, hormone-free, antibiotic-free beef.

Fish protein: fish is very high protein and also very bioavailable, not to mention super low-calorie and full of healthy fats. But the problem with fish is, if you buy it wild-caught, its full of mercury, and if you buy it farmed, its full of antibiotics and dioxin.

Pork protein: a great choice, like beef or chicken and, contrary to popular belief, not significantly unhealthy. However, free-range pork is remarkably rare.

Egg protein: Eggs are a fantastic source of protein, and not to mention nutrient-dense. I consider them a super food. However, they do have a high sulfur content, which can lead to gas with a foul odor.

MILK PROTEIN:

Milk protein: while milk does have a lot of protein, the worldwide presence of lactose intolerance makes it a bad choice for a lot of people. Even if you’re not outright lactose intolerance, it’s still very possible that you’ll suffer some form of stomach upset, like bloating, gas, etc. from drinking milk.

Whey: Whey protein seems to be the fad right now, especially for body builders and athletes. But I strongly advise against this type of protein. Whey was once considered nothing more than a waste product of the cheese industry. Today, it is highly processed and sold to the unassuming public as a protein powder. It’s highly allergenic (with side effects like gas, constipation, and general digestive upset) and almost always of terrible quality.

PLANT PROTEIN:

Soy protein: Please do not eat this type of protein. Soy protein was once considered a waste product of the soy oil industry and used almost exclusively as cattle food. Today, it is one of the most genetically modified crops in the world. It is very high in allergens, causing excess gas, and is disruptive to the body’s hormones—especially estrogen. Soy protein is also hard for our bodies to absorb and utilize, meaning it has a very low bioavailability. Next time you’re at the grocery store buying a protein bar, make sure to check the label for soy.

Beans: beans are not a great choice. While they do contain protein, they are also full of starch, which pushes your glucose level. As a strong proponent of the Paleo diet, I would advise you to eat fewer beans and other starchy foods in general.

Hemp seed protein: this kind of protein, unlike soy, is very bioavailable. It is easily digested and absorbed and great for immune system building. Some even consider Hemp seeds to be a super food.

Chlorella: a great source of protein, if you can tolerate it (about 30% of the world cannot). Its one of the most bioavailable sources of protein out there and not to mention one of nature’s detoxifiers. However, it’s not cheap.

My recommended protein sources are animal-based protein (so long as it comes from grass-fed cows, pigs, and sheep!) and plant-based protein, specifically hemp seed and chlorella. Next time you’re at the store, skip the Whey protein powder and instead try to incorporate more chicken, beef, or pork into your diet. If you feel like you have to have a powder, I really like the Great Lakes Gelatin Collagen Hydrolysate—it contains 90% protein and comes from all grass-fed animals. Eggs are another great protein source and are a complete food in general. But if you don’t tolerate dairy well or are a vegan, then opt for a plant-based protein like Chlorella.

Everyone has different tastes, schedules, health conditions, and budgets, and some of these proteins will appeal more to some than others. Remember that it’s okay to follow your cravings, as long as you make smart choices.

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.

Part Two: How To Include Carbs Into Your Diet.

First off, I hope everyone had a great thanksgiving. While you all know I endorse a Paleo lifestyle, I will admit that I myself ate my fair share of carbs last Thursday—and lived to tell the tale. Hopefully my last newsletter helped you to understand important role carbohydrates play in both physical and mental health. But an informed decision to include this macronutrient into your balanced diet is only the first step. Now, the questions you're probably asking are: which carbs are the healthiest? How can I incorporate them into my diet with maximum results? And finally, how do I know what exactly what my carb-intake should be? This last question is perhaps the most important, as a lot of people tend to mentally misconstrue how much of a certain food group they are ingesting. Do you know what are the recommended daily allotments of carbohydrates for someone of your age and weight? Have you ever kept track of the grams or percentage of calories you are receiving from carbs? 

As I explained in part-1 of this 2-part series on carbohydrates, something as basic as carb-intake can have an effect on health conditions from depression and lethargy to digestive upset and athletic performance. Keeping a balanced diet is undeniably one of our most valuable roots to good health. So, I have written the following newsletter to expose just which carbohydrate-containing foods offer the most benefits, like increased energy, healthier sleep patterns, etc., and I have included an easy process to help you calculate your own individual, optimum carb-intake based on health conditions, exercise level, age, weight and other factors, so that you can all get the most health benefits out of your diet.

If you’ve been shying away from carbohydrates until now, I’m guessing that’s because you think they make you gain weight. And that’s true—in some cases. If you generally eat very low amounts of carbs but binge on pizza or bread every once in a while, you will probably find that these slip-ups do add on some pounds. Don’t blame carbohydrates as a whole though; blame the refined and processed carbs that constitute America’s favorite junk foods. Carbs must be incorporated into a diet strategically and thoughtfully in order to avoid the harmful side effects that can result from ingesting certain refined carbs, like sugar and white flour. Following are some charts of diet-friendly foods and the amount of carbs (in grams) they contain. If you want to know more about which carb-containing foods to keep and which to toss, take a look at the November newsletter (click here). 

The moral of the story is that, when you’re choosing which carbohydrates to eat, please choose carefully; i.e. go for fruit, not chips. 

Knowing which carbs to eat is only half the work though. The next step is figuring out how much of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates—something that will ultimately be a result of personal factors and preferences. The following information is meant to help you customize your own diet in a way that can have you feeling your best; it just takes a little diligence and patience.

Step 1 is to assess what percentage of carbs will work best with your life-style and weight goals. First, look at any diseases or health conditions you may be suffering from. For example, if you have diabetes or small intestinal bacteria overgrowth, you are going to want to start off in the low-carb category. If you have adrenal fatigue, are breastfeeding, or are a moderate to heavy exerciser, you’ll probably want to start at a moderate carb level. There are many other conditions that can affect how well your body receives carbs, so please be sure to assess your overall health when deciding what amount of carbs might work best for you. If you have multiple conditions that require opposite amounts of carbs, you should consider working personally with a practitioner. 

If you don’t have a condition that places you in a particular spot on the carb-intake spectrum, the best place to start is with a moderate carb diet. I suggest keeping a food diary in order to keep track of any symptom regression/improvement. Ultimately, the best indicator of carb-intake is how you feel, e.g. good, bloated, weak, etc.. Based on this diary, you can experiment by increasing and decreasing your carb percentage until you find a level that benefits you the most.

Step 2 is to figure out how many calories you should be eating each day from carbohydrates. If you know what your daily calorie-intake should be, simply multiply it by your target-percentage of carbohydrates. The following chart details what percentages constitute which carb-levels (low, moderate, high), as well as which populations would benefit most from each level:

 If you are unsure how many calories you should be consuming each day, you may want to search the web for an online calorie calculator. Otherwise, 2000 is a reasonable number to start with. So if you want 20% of your calories to come from carbs, multiply .20 x 2000 = 400. This is the number of calories you should be getting each day from carbohydrates. If you don’t feel like counting calories you can divide this number by 4 to figure out how many grams of carbohydrates you should be eating each day. 400 / 4 = 100g of carbs a day. Based on the first few charts, we see this goal can be met by eating a banana and an apple between meals, ½ a head of romaine lettuce in a salad for lunch, and a sweet potato with dinner, for example. 

If this process sounds a little too mathematical to you, you can also use the basic rule of thirds, which requires your plate to be 1/3 protein, 1/3 starch, and 1/3 low-carb vegetables and tubers. Following this rule will put you somewhere near the moderate-carb level.

I would like to stress that the diet calculation process as a whole is somewhat imprecise and for most, it will take some experimenting. Start in a moderate position unless you have one of the aforementioned health conditions, see how you feel, and adjust your carb-intake from there. My final advice is to please give each stage of your experimenting a fair amount time for your body to acclimate. If you eat only 10%-15% of calories from carbohydrates and you start feeling sluggish, have a harder time shedding that last pound or two of fat, or aren’t sleeping as well, you might need to consider slightly raising your carb-level. If you’re eating 30% or more of calories from carbs and you notice weight gain or digestive upset, you should consider a moderate or low-carb diet.

Remember: patience is key. There’s no miracle diet or one-size-fits-all approach. But, if you do give your diet the time and attention it deserves, the results should be well worth it.

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.