Protein The Great!
What Is So Great About Protein?
How Much Protein Is Enough?
What About Protein Powders?
Why Can Eating Protein Aid Weight Loss?
How Does Protein Support Muscle Mass?
Protein Energizes Your Brain.
Look Inside And Find Out Why….
A recent study from Loma Linda University shows that vegetarians have more muscle mass and less body fat compared to meat eaters, even if calorie intake is equal.
The findings are part of the landmark Adventist Health Study 2, a long term investigation of disease rates among Seventh Day Adventists.
Since it takes protein to build muscle, this study dispels the myth that vegetarians can’t get adequate protein. (The Press-Enterprise, October 7, 2013)
Protein The Great!
Protein! Protein! Protein! As Much Protein As An Egg! – A Glass Of Milk! – A Steak!!! Leaps Over Tall Buildings In A Single Bound! Just put the Magic Word on the label and sell more stuff!!!
The truth is that protein is pretty special. In fact, it is worthy of the hype. However, in most cases, if the package says “as much protein as _____”, you are better off with the food in the blank.
For example, an egg has 6-8 grams of protein and a mere 70 calories while a glass of soy milk has 9 grams and 90 calories. So called “meal replacement” bars often carry well over 250 calories for the same or less protein. (Be sure to check.) If you eat eggs, eat a hard boiled egg instead. It’s filling and loaded with nutrients.
The aims of this issue are to give you a rudimentary understanding of the nutrient and its benefits as well as to support your efforts to make informed decisions when you shop. Bon Appe’tit!
Proteins are large complex molecules constructed of amino acids. Called the building blocks of life, they are found in every cell in our bodies, excepting those of bile and urine. Proteins are one of the three macronutrients.1
Unlike carbohydrates and fats (the other two), the body does not store protein but maintains a daily reservoir. Because there are no reserves, daily quality intake is important.
The richest protein sources are meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, soybeans, quinoa, and, although they don’t occur naturally, protein powders. Hemp seeds (-nuts, -hearts), spirulina, and nutritional yeast are also excellent sources though normally eaten in small amounts.
Dried beans (legumes such as lentils and pinto beans), nuts, and seeds are also good sources. Grains (except quinoa) and veggies contain lesser and varying amounts while fruits contain the least. (See list in “How Much Is Enough?”)
When digested, proteins break down into their individual amino acids. The subsequent amino acids are used for the maintenance and repair of existing cells and to make new ones. Specific uses include DNA, red blood cells, neurotransmitters, blood antibodies, and keratin in hair and nails. Actually, some are also used to make up digestive enzymes.
There are 22 different amino acids that join to make all types of protein. In fact, they form the building blocks for all living organisms.2 There are three designations: essential, nonessential, and conditional.
Nine amino acids are essential. Essential because they cannot be made by the body, not because they are more important. Thus, they must be supplied by food (or amino acid supplementation). The essential amino acids (EAAs) are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.3
A protein food is complete if it contains all nine EAAs. Incomplete proteins lack or are low in one or more of the EAAs. Peanuts are an example because they lack the EAA methionine. Incidentally, all plant-based proteins are incomplete except soy, hemp seeds, quinoa, nutritional yeast, and spirulina. (Quinoa is the only grain known to be a complete protein.)
The second designation is nonessential. This doesn’t mean they are not important but that the body makes them from other amino acids. These are alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, and selenocysteineb
Interestingly, the third designation is conditional or conditionally essential. These must also be supplied by diet; however, they are usually only essential during stress or illness. They are arginine, cysteine, glutamine, glycine, ornithine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.
Rare conditions exist surrounding the uptake and production of amino acids. One example is phenylketonuria (PKU). In this inherited condition, the person is born without the ability to properly break down phenylalanine (Phe), a very common EAA. If Phe levels get too high, brain damage can result, causing severe intellectual disability.5 At this time, there is no cure for this condition.
1 Vitamins and minerals, needed in much smaller amounts, are the micronutrients.
2 The 22nd amino acid is pyrrolysine, found only in certain microorganisms.
3 Most of the 21 amino acids are available as supplements in isolated form. There are many uses for them. One example is the use of lysine to treat or keep herpes infections at bay.
4 Selenocysteine is called the “21st amino acid”.
5 Today, all babies born in U.S. hospitals are screened for PKU. About one in 15,000 test positive.
How Much Is Enough?
Of course, the answer is “It depends”. Protein recommendations have undergone considerable revision over the last 20 years. Today, they are based on age, health, and activity level. The general recommendation among official sites is that 10–35% of daily calories should come from protein.
However, it seems easier to use the total amount of protein grams as one’s daily objective. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, a daily intake of about 0.36 grams per pound of body weight is enough for nearly 97.5 percent of healthy men and women. This means a 150 pound person would need about 54 grams of protein daily.
For those involved in intense training (endurance athletes or power lifters), the recommendation is 0.6-0.9 grams per pound. Pregnant women need additional protein, about 70 grams daily. It is generally agreed that the average American diet contains more than enough protein. Given that a 3 ounce piece of meat has 21 grams of protein, this conclusion is certainly true for most meat eaters.
There is no standard for safe protein intake but ingesting more than 2g/kg body weight leads to increased levels of nitrogenous substances, increased kidney activity, and changes in liver function. Besides the caloric cost, the downside of overeating protein includes taxing the body to maintain its proper alkaline balance. If you eat a lot of protein, compensate by eating a lot of alkaline foods, such as dark green leafy vegetables. Here are examples of grams of protein in common protein foods:
Animal Proteins (always complete)
1 egg, 6 grams
1 cup (8 oz) milk, 8 grams
8-ounce plain yogurt, 12 grams
8-ounce Greek yogurt, 23 grams
3-ounce steak, 24 grams
3-ounce fish, 15 grams
Complete Plant Proteins
1 cup cooked soybeans, 29 grams
1 soy vegan “burger” patty, 19 grams
1 cup quinoa, 8 grams
1/4 cup hemp seeds, 16 grams
1T nutritional yeast, 3 grams
1T spirulina, 6 grams
Incomplete Plant Proteins
1 cup cooked lentils, 16.4 grams
1 cup cooked pinto beans, 11.6 grams
1 ounce raw almonds (27), 6 grams
As you see, lentils, along with soy and hemp seeds, are among the most dense protein sources in the vegetable world.6 (Interestingly, sprouted lentils do contain all the essential amino acids.)
It is obvious from the list that meeting protein needs isn’t difficult. Plus, many ordinary foods that aren’t protein stars add to your daily protein/amino acid reservoir.
How Much Is Enough?
6 Research for this section showed significant variations in protein counts. The sites www.fatsecret.com and www.wikipedia.com were the most consistent with protein contents of products I use regularly.
Only five percent of Americans claim to be vegetarians.8 Of that small number, a mere 2 percent say they are vegans.9 “How do you get any/enough protein?”
For the vegetarian, getting enough protein is child’s play. What about the vegan? Again, not that difficult. Soy, hemp seeds, quinoa, nutritional yeast, and spirulina only sound like one’s diet might be restricted. Incomplete proteins are easily completed by each other.
Looking again at the peanut, which lacks the EAA methionine but is high in the EAA lysine. Wholewheat contains methionine and lacks lysine. Thus, a peanut butter sandwich delivers complete protein. Drink a glass of veggie milk with that (soy, hemp, almond, or grain). Voila! 16-20 grams of protein.
Grains and legumes (rice and beans) are the classic complementary proteins. Additionally, seeds, nuts, veggies and fruit all contain protein to complement your amino acid intake. Neat, huh? Further, the EAAs don’t have to be eaten at the same time for your body to receive complete protein. Just eat all nine on the same day. They go to the protein/amino acid reservoir and your body draws from them as needed.
Last, what about the old Paleo argument, “But our ancestors were meat eaters”?
From a recent blog post on Scientific American, “If you want to return to your ancestral diet …, you might reasonably eat what our ancestors [ate] during the largest periods of the evolution of our guts: fruits, nuts, and vegetables—especially fungus-covered tropical leaves.”10 And, incidentally, some ancestors did get a lot of protein from meat – the meat of insects!
7 “Vegematics” is the name Gurumantra Khalsa (our publisher and my husband) lovingly gives himself and all other vegetarians.
8 Vegetarians are people who don’t eat meat though they may consume eggs, dairy, or even fish. (These are ovo-lacto vegetarians, lacto-vegetarians, and pescatarians). Vegans don’t eat any animal products, not even honey.
9 Stats from a Gallup Survey completed July, 2012. The poll also found that vegans consider themselves a breed apart, not stricter vegetarians. If this is a topic that interests you, read
“Why Are There So Few Vegetarians?” at www.psychologytoday.com/blog/.
10 Post submitted by Rob Dunn, PhD, science writer and a biologist at North Carolina State University. His essay appears as “Our Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians”.
Called “The Fashionable Convenience Food”, protein powders have been around for decades. Until recently, they were used mainly by athletes and gym rats to build and maintain muscle mass as well as to enhance training, performance and exercise recovery.
Protein also helps regulate appetite, playing a part in managing weight. (See “FYI” on back, High Protein Diets.) The fashionable, convenience adjectives are a reflection of how savvy people are getting protein into their diets easily. The subsequent rise in sales has made protein powder trendy.
Another point in favor of the powders is that they are available for all types dietary preferences, including gluten-free. Only purists who eschew all processed foods reject their use.
A brief description of protein powders follows.
The Whey To Go:
Whey protein, made from milk, is both an isolated substance and a major ingredient in many protein shake mixes. Used in smoothies as a meal replacement, whey protein can also be drunk before and after workouts to support exercise. This is because whey protein digests very quickly. Further, whey really packs a protein punch. According to the American Council on Exercise, whey and eggs are the protein sources the body uses most efficiently.
There are several objections to whey protein. If you are lactose intolerant, even low lactose whey powders may set you off. Further, unless your whey powder is labeled organic, “no GMOs”, or is imported from a country that doesn’t feed cows genetically modified corn or soy, then, the whey powder is likely contaminated. You can always check with the manufacturer. (See Nutrition News, “CSI: Health Crimes – GMOs”.) Allergic reactions include digestive upset, gas, skin rashes, nausea, cramping, and diarrhea.
• No Whey: There are currently a number of vegan protein powders on the market. Protein sources include soy, hemp, rice, and peas. Soy and hemp are complete proteins in and of themselves while rice and peas have additional amino acids added to make them complete proteins.
Soy is on the major allergens list and has recently come under attack because of its phytoestrogen content.11 Thus, it isn’t suitable for children or men. Further, over 90 percent of the soy crop in the US is GMO (genetically modified) and has been engineered to contain the herbicide Round-Up. Because the one human trial on Round-Up Ready Soy showed that the GM soy DNA is not broken down during digestion and remains in the intestinal tract, we recommend that you choose only organic or non-GMO soy products of any kind. With those caveats, otherwise we love soy and use meat analogs, like soyrizo.
Hemp protein is the new non-whey to go. It is delicious and easy to digest. Depending on your choice of product, hemp protein can match both whey and soy scoop for scoop in protein content. Hemp seed, the source for the protein powder, is a natural fiber provider. When some of the fiber is removed, the protein content of the remaining powder increases.
This iteration is another inroad for the versatile hemp plant, which, along with the coconut, is becoming a big, healthy, sustainable contributor to our food sources and other needs.
Brown rice protein powder is tasty, easy to digest, gluten-free, and highly non-allergenic. Although it is not a new form of protein powder, it is currently enjoying an understandable renaissance. Rice is so easy on the digestive system that it is recommended as a first food for babies.
In the past, this form of protein has been criticized because rice is not a complete protein. However, the correct amino acids are added to make it complete. It is not GMO and doesn’t contain phytoestrogens or growth hormones. Only water and natural enzymes are used to process it.
In an 8-week study of college athletes, rice protein showed itself equal to whey. In Nutrition Journal (June 2013), athletes made significant gains in muscle and strength when they ingested 48 grams daily of either rice or whey protein. The authors concluded that the protein source wasn’t as important as the inclusion of the branch-chain EAA leucine. Both proteins provided the 2-3 gram threshold of leucine needed to maximize muscle growth. (See “FYI”, Athletes & Aging.)
Pea protein powder is new to the market, and comes recommended by both the popular docs: Oz and Mercola. Pea protein has a neutral taste and is used in dairy alternatives such as cheeses and yogurt. It is extracted from yellow peas, Pisum sativum, and its incomplete amino acid profile is reinforced to make it a complete protein.
Pea protein powder makes the same claims made by rice. Its advantage is that a serving is 15 grams of protein and that of rice, 11 grams. Peas and rice are perfect complementary proteins (legumes and grains again). A combination of the two powders is also available. The synergistic effect yields 17 grams of protein per serving, a gram more than most whey proteins.
Siri Says: Throughout this issue, you see underlined blue words. These indicate hyperlinks. When you subscribe online, one click on the underline takes you to the web and further information about the underlined topic.
11 Together, milk (the source of whey protein) and soy are two of eight foods accounting for 90% of all food allergies.
FYI: Protein Tidbits
High Protein Diets –
The connection between weight loss and protein likely accounts for the nutrient’s trendiness. In fact, a 2005 Swedish study by Bryngelsson and Asp showed that elevating protein is a more effective weight loss strategy than limiting carbs.
But what about the safety of high protein/low carbohydrate diets? In a nutshell, Frank Hu, MD, PhD, at WebMD, comments that high protein diets “appear to be safe and effective for about six months”. 12 After that time, they begin to fail, either because people cease to adhere to the diet or because their bodies adapt and their weight plateaus.
Barry Sears, PhD, (Zone Diet) showed that eating protein with the correct carb ratio is safer, helps curb hunger, keeps us alert (“in the zone”), and supports weight loss. He also revealed the inflammatory nature of high protein diets and the importance of fish oil supplements to curb inflammation.
FYI: Protein Tidbits
Brain Food –
Researchers at the University of Cambridge recently discovered that protein, not sugar, energizes us.
Scientists determined that tiny brain cells called orexin are involved in the stimulation of food intake. Amino acids stimulate orexin cells more than any other nutrient, negating the effects of glucose (blood sugar) which normally blocks orexin action. Dr. Denis Burdakov led the study, saying, “Sleep patterns, health, and body weight are intertwined.”13 Orexin activity also seems to explain the Zone phenomenon.
FYI: Protein Tidbits
Athletes, Aging, & Muscles –
Elite athletes report that they experience declines in performance, showing some muscle loss in their 30s and 40s.
At about 50, for all of us, muscle mass loss averages 1-2 percent per year. By the early 60s, this loss can begin to affect physical ability and by our 70s, we’ve lost an estimated 10-40 percent of our strength.
But, protein preserves muscle. A recent position paper from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises older people to eat 25-30 grams of protein with each meal.
Branched chain amino acids are particularly important to the muscle building process. The three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine and valine. You can supplement them with muscle-building formulas from your natural products store. Strength training with weights is highly recommended, a no brainer.
FYI: Protein Tidbits
12 Hu is assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University School of Public Health in Boston.
13 From the Department of Pharmacology and Institute of Metabolic Science at Cambridge