Have you ever wondered why sometimes you are hungry an hour after eating a meal and sometimes you aren’t? Well I have, and you know what the difference is?….PROTEIN! Science tells us that eating high quality protein will improve satiety, help manage weight loss, and even assist in preventing chronic diseases!
We have all heard conflicting opinions about protein. Some diet trends encourage increased protein consumption while others believe that we don’t need a lot. It’s not uncommon to hear a nutritionist say, “My way is the only way!” However, nutrition is not so black and white. We’re all different and we need to see what works best for our bodies and lifestyles.
That said, I do believe a certain amount of protein is key. Protein is a powerhouse nutrient and needs to be part of our diet at some level. In addition to controlling appetite, it helps keep our metabolism revved up, builds stronger bones, keeps our blood sugar in check, and helps build, maintain and repair muscles.
So… Should we be concerned about how much protein we’re getting? YES! Too little protein can cause sugar and sweet cravings, fatigue, feeling weak, anemia, and change in hair color and texture of skin (ugh). But too much protein can cause low energy, constipation, dehydration, weight gain, lethargy, halitosis, and give us that tight, stiff feeling in our joints (double ugh!).
So how much protein is enough?
Next to water, protein is the most abundant substance in our bodies. It is a part of every cell, tissue, and organ. The amount of protein we need depends of course on our activity level, body weight, gender, and health and fitness goals. For example, the more active we are, the more protein we need. And the older we are, the more protein we need.
I advocate for 20-30% of our total calories coming from protein. The best way to get protein is from animal sources like eggs, poultry, fish and grass-fed beef. Vegans and vegetarians may find meeting their protein quota a bit more challenging, but there are plenty of plant-based high protein foods such as quinoa, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Hemp and chia are also excellent sources of protein.
To get the optimal amount of protein, a moderate amount at every meal should be consumed. For the average adult, this translates to approximately 20-30 grams of protein at each meal. You should also include a couple of smaller protein-packed snacks in between meals, such as nuts and seeds.
I know you’re asking yourself: what the heck does 20-30 grams of protein look like?
Here are some examples of foods with approximately 30 grams of protein:
- 4 oz. of grilled chicken, wild salmon or grass-fed beef (about the size of an iPhone J)
- 1 cup of Greek yogurt with almonds and hemp seeds
- ¾ block of tofu or 6 ounces of tempeh
- 1 cup of kidney beans or lentils with ½ cup quinoa
Of course, if you‘re on the run and don't have time for a balanced meal, then a protein shake is a great alternative. Just be careful with all the stuff you’re adding in!
If you’re looking for protein bars, stay away from those glorified candy bars masquerading as protein bars! Make sure your bars have around 20 grams of protein and less then 10 grams of sugar. As I always tell my clients, READ INGREDIENTS!! And look out for items you can’t pronounce, fake sugars, and bars with multiple “natural sweeteners”.
Whether it’s chicken or fish, quinoa or tempeh, I promise: you will see the benefits!
What’s your favorite protein?
Let me know how you are doing. I would love to hear from you!