Protein 101: Its Importance, Differences, and Sources

protein 101 quality types facts

When it comes to the importance of carbs and fat, things can get a bit controversial but one thing everyone can agree on is that protein is important. They’re essential building blocks of life that keep your body functioning as it should. Unfortunately, eating an adequate amount each day can be tricky. In fact, new studies show that more than 1 in 3 adults over the age of 50 aren’t getting the amount of protein they need, and it’s showing up in their overall health and wellness. Fortunately, it’s a problem that can easily be fixed simply by eating more high-quality protein foods and that’s what this article will help you to do.

What is Protein?

Protein is an essential macronutrient that is found in every one of the trillions of cells in the body. It’s in your bones, skin, hair, muscles and every other part and tissue, and is made up of amino acids which the body can make either from scratch or by modifying others. However, the nine amino acids that are known as the essential amino acids must come from food sources. These are:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

Why is Protein Essential for Health?

Proteins are the building blocks of life. They account for approximately 15% of your weight and are essential to your health, as they produce the enzymes needed to power many chemical reactions in the body, including the haemoglobin that transports oxygen in your blood.

Now, there are approximately 10,000 different proteins that make you what you are. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to grow or heal and the body wouldn’t be able to function properly.

You need protein in your diet to maintain overall health and wellness, as they help your body repair and make new cells, so your body can:

  • Build muscles, cartilage, skin, hair, nails, etc.
  • Repair tissue.
  • Provide the body with the nutrients it needs to function properly by increasing the supply of red blood cells, which contain a protein compound that carries oxygen throughout the body
  • Aid digestion, as approximately half of the dietary protein you get each day goes towards making enzymes, which help digest food, and create new cells and body chemicals.
  • Regulate hormones, especially during transformational phases in life when the development of cells is important, such as during puberty, menopause, etc.

But that’s not all…

Science-Backed Benefits of Eating More Protein

So, we all know we need protein to maintain overall health and wellness but what are the science-backed benefits that you can look forward to from increasing your protein intake?

Here are some science-backed benefits you can expect to experience by increasing your protein intake:

  • Reduced appetite, hunger and cravings
  • Increase muscle mass and strength
  • Better bone health
  • Increased metabolism and fat burning
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Help with maintaining weight loss
  • Speedy recovery after exercise or post-injury
  • Reduced risk of several diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer

Dietary Guidelines for Protein

To ensure you are getting the proper amount of protein in your diet, here are the dietary guidelines for Americans:

  • Children under 4: 13 grams
  • Children ages 4 to 8: 19 grams
  • Children ages 9 to 13: 34 grams
  • Women and girls ages 14 and over: 46 grams
  • Boys ages 14 to 18: 52 grams
  • Men ages 19 and over: 56 grams

Signs You Aren’t Getting Enough Protein

Most people eat enough protein to avoid a deficiency, which is approximately 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (or 0.4 grams of protein for each pound of body weight). However, many people would benefit from increasing their protein intake, especially those over the age of 50 as studies have found that 33% of people don’t get enough in their diet. This can show up in many ways, such as:

Loss of muscle mass

With protein playing an important role in the building of muscle mass, when you aren’t getting enough protein, you will start to lose muscles. This is often the first sign of insufficient amounts of protein in the diet, as your muscles are made up of mostly protein.

Problems with your skin, hair and nails

Your skin, hair, and nails are largely made of protein, so their health can be a strong indicator of the amount of protein you’re getting. Typically, when you aren’t getting enough protein, you will start to see some redness show up on your skin, your hair will start to thin out or fade in color, or your nails become brittle.

Larger appetite and increased eating (calorie intake)

Protein is needed to keep you feeling fuller for longer, which helps to prevent cravings and overeating. So, when you aren’t getting enough protein in your diet, the opposite occurs and you may have a larger appetite and in turn, eat more which increases your calorie intake.

Fatty liver

Fatty liver is a condition where fat accumulates in the liver cells and when left untreated, it can lead to potentially life-threatening problems, including fatty liver disease, liver scarring, inflammation and liver failure.

Increased risk of bone fractures

Protein is imperative for maintaining the strength and density of your bones and when you aren’t consuming enough protein, your bones become weaker which increases your risk of bone fractures or osteoporosis. Ouch!

Risk of infections

Your immune system takes the brunt when you aren’t consuming adequate amounts of protein and an impaired immune system makes it difficult for your body to fight off infections. As a result, you’re at a higher risk of developing infections and the severity of said infections is also likely to be more severe.

Stunted growth (in children)

For children who don’t eat enough protein, stunted growth may be the result as the body isn’t getting enough protein to build bone mass and muscle.

If you are experiencing a protein deficiency, many of these symptoms will become chronic or worsen, and additional health problems may occur. Therefore, it’s incredibly important to take the proper steps to increase your protein intake and to seek medical assistance as needed. 

High Quality Protein vs. Low Quality Protein

Protein can come from two sources: animal foods and plant foods. Animal foods are often recognized as being “high-quality proteins”, as they contain all of the essential amino acids needed (and mentioned previously). This makes it easier for the body to get what it needs to digest and utilize the protein to the best of its capabilities. Now, that’s not to say that plant-based protein is bad. In fact, they are often deemed as the healthier version than their “high-quality” animal counterparts because they have more nutrients but fewer calories.

Examples of animal proteins include fish, dairy products, red meat, chicken, etc.

Examples of plant proteins include tofu, lentils, peanuts, almonds, quinoa, chickpeas, etc.

Foods to Eat to Increase Protein Intake

There are many different foods that contain protein, including seafood, beans, milk, soy, cheese, yogurt, almonds, oats, broccoli, tuna, lentils, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, all types of fish, peanut butter, peanuts, and so on and so forth. However, when trying to increase your protein intake, it can be easier to simply focus on getting the best high-quality, high-protein foods in your diet, such as:

  1. Skinless chicken (27 grams protein per 3-ounce serving)
  2. Lean beef (22 grams protein per 3-ounce serving)
  3. Salmon (19 grams protein per 3-ounce serving)
  4. Lentils (18 grams protein per 1 cup cooked lentils)
  5. Cottage Cheese (12 grams protein per ½ cup serving)
  6. Peanut Butter (7 grams protein per 2 tablespoons)
  7. Eggs (6 grams protein per 1 large egg)
  8. Pasta (6 grams protein per 1 cup cooked pasta)

Tips For Increasing Protein Intake

While adding more high-protein foods into your diet can be a surefire way to increase your protein intake, there are some tricks of the trade that make that process even easier. Here are some of the best ways for increasing protein intake:

  • Switch out regular yogurt for Greek yogurt
  • Choose eggs over cereal for breakfast
  • Add nuts and seeds to your salads or veggies
  • Use lean meat instead of lunch meats
  • Snack on cheese instead of junk food
  • Add lentils to your soups
  • Enjoy hummus instead of dips
  • Enjoy your oatmeal with some nut butter
  • Eat cottage cheese instead of ricotta cheese
  • Start using flavorless protein powders in your shakes
  • Make some chia pudding to snack on
  • Snack on hardboiled eggs
  • Top with some peas
  • Add beans to anything and everything
  • Choose quinoa over rice
  • Start cooking with nut butters

There’s no other way to say it: your body needs protein in order to survive. It is a key part of any diet, with the average person needing approximately 7 grams of protein every day for every 20 pounds of body weight. Adding more high-quality protein in your diet can also improve your overall health and wellness while also reducing your risk of serious diseases and illnesses. 

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