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Meat, Milk or Millet? Choosing the Best Proteins

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[caption id="attachment_55" align="alignright" width="300"]SONY DSC Choose good quality sources of protein.[/caption] Have you tried the high protein diet, the high carb diet, perhaps even the high fat diet? Or perhaps a mixture of them all, grouped into different plans such as Atkins, Paleo, Zone, or others? One thing they all have is protein. We need it to live, and stay healthy. But how much we need, and what kind….can lead to confusion. Experts say we should eat more protein for a lean body, and many of the popular diets are based on high protein, and low carbs. Yet other studies show that too much red meat may increase the risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. So how much protein do you really need, and what kind is best for you?

Meat, Milk or Millet? Choosing the best proteins for health and energy

Protein is essential for good health. Every part of our body is composed of protein, from neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers of our brains, to our bones, blood, hair and nails. If you were to remove all the water and fat from a human body, 75% of what’s left is protein. Protein is made up of chains of amino acids. There are 22 amino acids that combine to form different proteins. Nine of the 22 amino acids are called essential, because our bodies can’t make them, so we need to get them from our diet. Why do we need protein? Protein is a nutrient that builds and maintains lean muscle mass, strengthens your immune system, repairs damaged cells and tissues, and manufactures hormones. It provides long-lasting energy, without the insulin surge that promotes fat storage. Protein keeps us lean and slender throughout our lives, because it takes our bodies more energy to digest protein than to digest sugars and fats, which provide quick energy. As we age, many of us experience loss of muscle mass, called muscle wasting or sarcopenia. Consuming enough protein is crucial at this stage of life. How much protein do we need? The amount of protein you need depends on your age, body type, weight, activity level, and health condition. Growing children, and pregnant and nursing women need more protein than adults on a daily basis. In general, health experts recommend that adults eat 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. This would be about 47 g for a 59 kg (130 lb.) woman, or 66 g for an 82 kg (180 lb.) man. An easy way to tell if you’re getting enough protein is by your energy level. If you feel tired and dragged out, try adding more protein to each meal, and even to your snacks. For example, a hard-boiled egg or a handful of nuts can perk up your energy in an afternoon slump. What kinds of proteins are best? There’s no perfect answer to this question. Part of choosing the right proteins is to experiment with what gives you the most energy, what you digest well, and your personal preferences. Some people do well on a vegetarian or vegan diet, while others need some animal protein to feel their best. Here are some good sources of protein to consider.

Animal sources

Meat and poultry Organic, hormone, and antibiotic-free animals provide an excellent source of protein. Red meat has become less beloved because of the cruel conditions under which animals are now raised on commercial farms. Bison is a new option if you like red meat, because it’s raised naturally on pasture grasses, without growth hormones or antibiotics. Lamb is another excellent option to eat in moderation. Fish and shellfish Cold water oily fish like salmon, sardines, tuna and halibut are recommended by almost all health experts because they give us the Omega-3s that are lacking in most of our diets. Avoid farmed fish, which are fed hormones and antibiotics. Canned salmon is a good and inexpensive option if fresh, wild fish isn’t available. Eggs Don’t overlook this excellent source of protein. Contrary to media reports, the yolk is the healthiest part of the egg. Egg yolks have the good fats your brain and thyroid need, and are an excellent source of vitamins A, and the B vitamin choline, which is the precursor to acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter that is found to be deficient in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Dairy products If you can digest them, milk, yogurt and cheese are good sources of protein. Many people are lactose intolerant, but can digest a fermented dairy product such as kefir. However, the milk on your supermarket shelf is likely to have antibiotics, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics, so choose organic dairy products.

Plant sources

Nuts and seeds Nuts and seeds are very concentrated sources of protein but they contain phytic acid, which makes them difficult to digest. Phytic acid is considered an “anti-nutrient” and an enzyme inhibitor, because it binds with other minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc. When we eat raw seeds and nuts, it prevents us from being able to absorb those minerals. Many nutritionists suggest eating nuts and seeds only in small quantities, and soaking them for 8-12 hours to make them easier to digest. Beans Beans also contain phytic acid which makes them harder to digest. They are basically a carbohydrate combined with some protein. To minimize the gas-producing effect of beans, soak them for at least 8 hours and then cook them in water for about 45 minutes. Eat beans with vegetables to digest them better, rather than the traditional method of eating them with rice. Ancient grains Amaranth, buckwheat, millet and quinoa may not yet be on your pantry shelf, but they are worth considering. Called the new “superfoods” these age-old staples are considered some of the most nutritionally complete foods. They are high in proteins and gluten free. Amaranth has three times the calcium of milk, so it’s excellent in preventing osteoporosis, and provides eight essential amino acids, including lysine and methionine. Millet is nearly 15 percent protein, and rich in B-complex vitamins, and magnesium, iron, phosphorus, and potassium. Buckwheat is rich in these vitamins and minerals as well, and contains all 8 essential amino acids. Quinoa is one of the most complete foods in nature because it contains a balanced set of essential amino acids. It’s also rich in enzymes, vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants. Hemp A whopping 33 percent of the hemp nut is protein, making this centuries-old crop a good source of protein, as well as Omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Sprinkle hemp seeds over cereal, yogurt or salads. Or add hemp powder, oil, or “milk” to smoothies. Pea proteins This newer form of protein offers an impressive 28 grams of protein in a 2-tablespoon powder, which you can add to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt or rice pudding.  

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