Will protein help me lose weight? … Should I eat it at every meal? … Could too much damage my kidneys?
- Protein is 1 of 3 main macronutrients that makes up all food. The other 2 are fats and carbohydrates.
- Protein is made up of amino acids.
- Amino acids are the building blocks for most things in our bodies. They are very similar to Legos in the fact that they can be broken down and re-assembled in different ways.
- Unlike extra fat, which we can easily store in our bodies, we don’t store very much extra amino acids. Protein is always getting used, recycled, and sometimes excreted.
- If we don’t consume enough protein in our diet, our body will start to steal it from other parts of our bodies, such as our muscles.
- So we have to always be replenishing our bodies with protein.
We need protein.
Protein is so important that we will die or become seriously ill without it.
All your enzymes; all your blood transporters; all your cells’ structures; 100% of your hair and fingernails; a large percentage of your muscle, bone, and internal organs; and multiple hormones are made up of mostly protein. Protein enables most of our bodies’ functions.
Put simply, you are basically a pile of protein.
How much protein do we need?
- How much total energy (i.e. calories) we eat or need
- Our carbohydrate intake
- When we eat the protein
- Our biological sex
- How active we are
- What activities we do
Protein in food is made up of many different building blocks – or amino acids.
Many people focus on Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for total protein, but they don’t think about how much of each amino acid they might need.
If your diet isn’t varied enough, you may be eating enough total protein, but not enough of a specific essential amino acid.
Every day, you need these amounts of essential amino acids:
- 14 mg/kg of histidine
- 19 mg/kg of isoleucine
- 42 mg/kg of leucine
- 38 mg/kg of lysine
- 19 mg/kg of methionine + cysteine
- 33 mg/kg of phenylalanine + tyrosine
- 20 mg/kg of threonine
- 5 mg/kg of tryptophan
- 24 mg/kg of valine
How do you manage this?
Just eat a wide variety of protein-rich foods and let nature do the rest.
People assume that a “high protein” means “low carbohydrate”. You can eat more protein without major changes to your diet.
The average protein consumed for most adults is about 15% of calories coming from protein.
One study suggests that up to 35% of total calories from protein is OK for healthy adults.
Will eating a high-protein diet hurt me?
The most common concerns of eating more protein are:
- kidney damage
- liver damage
- heart disease
If you are healthy, and your organs are healthy, there are no “real” studies that prove that eating more protein will harm you, In fact, increasing protein intake as you age helps to prevent osteoporosis.
The quality of the protein you consume matters
There are big differences in the chemical makeup of any given protein source, and the nutritional value of that protein.
The higher the protein’s quality, the more easily it can provide your body the amino acids it needs.
The 2 factors that make a protein high or low quality are:
- How easily is it digested
- How much do you digest — and absorb and use?
- Amino acid composition:
- The amino acids is it made of
A high-quality protein has a good ratio of essential amino acids, and allows our body to use them in an efficient manner.
Amino acid composition is more important than digestibility.
As long as you eat a mix of different protein sources, you’ll get all the amino acids you need.
But remember, many plant-based protein sources are less protein-dense than animal sources. So if you choose not to eat animal products, you’ll have to work a little harder to get the additional protein you need from a wide variety of plant sources to make up the difference in your protein needs.