What is Protein and Why do You Need it?

Growing Naturals - What is Protein and Why Do You Need it?Protein, protein, protein. You’ve probably heard this term quite a few times by now or seen it increasingly promoted in food products at your grocery store. Why is this nutrient so important to consume?

There’s good reason for this trending word: Protein is an essential part in one’s diet and throughout the life cycle.

All protein is made up of 20 amino acids. Nine of these amino acids are considered essential because the body can’t make them, and they have to be consumed through your diet–from protein sources. You can get protein from both animal- and plant-based sources like poultry, meat, seafood, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains.

Though most animal sources are rich in protein (unlike most plant-based sources), animal sources also contain saturated fat and cholesterol (which plant-based sources don’t contain). Whole food plant-based proteins like beans and whole grains don’t contain as much protein (so you have to eat more volume), but they contain other incredibly beneficial nutrients like fiber, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, etc. This is why it’s best for most people to get protein from both sources.  On the flip side, plant-based protein powders like Growing Naturals rice and pea proteins, offer the convenience of being high in protein and low volume.

As the building blocks of all cells, dietary protein is especially important to consume during growth periods like childhood and pregnancy (because your body needs more of it during these times) but it’s also very important after the age of 30 to help preserve muscle mass.  After age 30, you can lose 3%-8% of muscle mass each decade.  This condition, also known as “sarcopenia,” occurs primarily due to lack of physical activity, strength training or insufficient intake of dietary protein.  If muscle loss continues, it can lead to loss of strength, stability, energy and slowed metabolism, which often results in weight gain.

What Protein Does in Your Body

Other major functions of protein in the body include:
  • Building valuable enzymes (compounds) that regulate daily bodily functions (like digestion, providing energy, regulating your sleep/wake cycle, regulating blood sugar)
  • Transporting nutrients, oxygen, and waste throughout the body
  • Creating the structure and flexing ability of muscles
  • Providing collagen to connective tissues of the body and to the tissues of the skin, hair, and nails

Other Ways Protein Impacts Your Health

On top of this, research has indicated that protein consumption plays a positive role in weight management and blood sugar control:
  • Consuming protein as part of a meal will help to keep you full for longer–longer than fat and carbs alone.  This means you will probably eat less frequently, and consume less calories throughout the day, which can help to manage your weight.  On the other hand, studies have shown that eating a high-protein snack before a meal will help you to consume less calories in the following meal.
  • When consumed as part of a meal with carbohydrates (sugars), protein will help to offset any spikes in blood sugar which would normally be caused by carbs/sugar alone.  By keeping blood sugar regulated, you avoid sudden peaks and drops in energy, which can lead to fatigue or tiredness, which can be confused for hunger and lead to overeating.
  • Eating a high protein diet can help to preserve muscle mass (and thus metabolism) during low calorie (weight loss) dieting.  Muscle loss is common for many during weight loss diets (since many people just focus on eating less food). What happens is that when the body is suddenly restricted on calories/energy, it may start to break down some muscle mass and convert it into energy.  This can in turn lead to a slowed metabolism. High protein diets ensure that this effect is blunted.

Not many people lack enough protein in their diet, especially not if you consume meat/poultry regularly.  However, if you are vegan, follow a plant-based lifestyle, or have many dietary restrictions, it may become more challenging to consume enough protein.  This also goes for people with very high protein needs, like athletes or sports enthusiasts following a plant-based diet.   Check out our protein calculator to find out how much protein YOU specifically need on a daily basis.

Protein powders like Growing Naturals’ rice and pea protein are a convenient way to add protein to your diet considering their versatility.  They’re also low in fat, calories and cholesterol free compared to most animal-based proteins. And did you know there’s tons of ways to use them other than just smoothies and shakes?

Ultimately, you should make sure you’re getting enough protein in your each day to support and maybe even enhance your health.

 

By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian
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