All the rave reviews of fruits and vegetables lately have captured our attention. Many people have made significant changes in their diets to accommodate seven to nine serving of these healing superstars. Some have had difficulty fitting all these servings into their diets, and have cut back on primary protein sources to make room for them while trying to watch their weight. This may not be the best decision because recent research has shown that getting a higher percentage of calories from protein helps the body burn fat more efficiently. Complete proteins are especially important because they form the structure and integrity of every part of the body.
Diets high in protein promote weight loss and cardiovascular health
A recent study focused on the impact of diets high in protein on energy expenditure and satiety. Researchers studied the effects of diets on weight loss, body composition, cardiovascular risk, and blood sugar control.
They found that protein induced and promoted energy expenditure and promoted feelings of fullness and satisfaction that contributed to weight control. Their review of randomized controlled trials revealed that these studies have continued to show the comparable and even superior effects on weight loss of diets high in protein compared to lower protein diets. Preservation of lean body mass and improvement in cardiovascular risk factors was also noted.
The researchers concluded that diets in which protein is moderately increased and high carbohydrate foods are modestly decreased help control body weight, composition, and other associated metabolic parameters. This study is from the October, 2008 Current Opinions in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Obesity.
Protein is the primary nutrient that influences metabolism
According to the FDA, people need 50 grams of protein per day, based on a 2000 calorie diet. This would be a diet that provides 200 calories from protein, or ten percent. This amount is seen as providing a minimum to sustain body structure and DNA synthesis, but it ignores the amount of protein needed to preserve muscle during weight loss and exercise. When high quality protein is increased beyond this basic amount, it may benefit muscle function and health as well as facilitate weight loss through the burning of calories.
Protein is the single most important nutrient that influences metabolic rate and favorably influences weight loss. Protein improves immunity and antioxidant function, builds HDL cholesterol, and enhances insulin function. It facilitates the message to the body to feel satisfied. All these functions contribute to the ability of the body to reach and maintain its ideal weight.
“Protein is like 2 X 4s and plywood showing up at your liver’s jobsite”, according to health guru Byron Richards. “Metabolism is kicked into gear.” He notes that a higher protein breakfast can boost metabolic rate as much as 30 percent for as long as 12 hours.
Protein is critical for many bodily functions
Every cell in the human body contains protein. It is a major component of skin, muscles, organs, and glands. It is present in all body fluids with the exception of bile and urine. Protein helps the body repair cells and make new one. Without ample levels of protein, the body is unable to sustain and regenerate itself. Protein is especially important for growth and development during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy.
Byron’s formula for weight loss is 30 percent of calories from high quality protein, 30 percent from carbohydrates, and 40 percent from fat that includes a significant amount of saturated fat. This means that on a typical 2000 calorie diet, 600 of the calories would come from protein. He is a big fan of saturated fats because they produce energy and feelings of satiety, unlike the widely promoted vegetable oils which produce inflammation and cancer by deadening cellular energy. High quality protein should be eaten at each meal and can also be eaten as a snack.
This ratio should be maintained whether one’s calorie needs are more or less than the 2000 calories, which is really just an artificial standard. Anyone who engages in frequent strenuous exercise or has a large body frame will probably need a higher calorie diet while maintaining the 30 percent guideline for protein.
High quality protein does not have to be animal protein
Many Americans have been brought up to believe that getting high quality protein must involve eating large amounts of animals or dairy products. Yet there is a downside to eating animal protein. Kidney failure, osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, gout, and low energy are potential negative effects from eating a diet high in animal protein. The Mediterranean diet which has been shown to reduce mortality from all causes and promote health and longevity features small amounts of yogurt and cheese as the only animal protein eaten on a daily basis. Small servings of fish are eaten a few times a week, and land animal flesh is consumed as infrequently as once a month on this diet.
It is ironic that the traditional plant based diet consumed by people living in poorer countries supports their hard working lifestyle and leaves them relatively disease free. The myth that Americans must consume large amounts of animal protein is the result of pressure by the animal meat industry. The reliance on animal protein places a heavy burden on the body as well as on the environment and resources needed to produce such protein.
Unless animal protein is produced without the use of harmful substances like Paylean, hormones and antibiotics, it is unfit to eat because it is contaminated. The only meat and dairy products that should ever be eaten are those from producers who have made a commitment to produce high quality products that do not contain these harmful substances. These producers have shown that they care about and are responsive to the wishes of their customers. Products from these producers cost more because their cost of production is higher. However, since animal products should make up only a small part of protein intake, the additional cost becomes a minimal consideration.
Vegetable protein can be high quality, complete protein
Animal protein is not eaten and instantly made available as human protein. Animal protein must be broken down and reassembled before it can be used by people. Proteins are composed of amino acids, twelve of which are made by the human body. The other nine are called essential amino acids and must be obtained from food. Most animal products, such as meat and dairy, contain all the essential amino acids needed for reassembling into human protein. Because they have all the essential amino acids, they are referred to as complete proteins.
Many Americans seem to think that complete protein cannot be obtained from vegetable sources. The truth is that most proteins from vegetables also contain all nine essential amino acids, but one or two of them may be at low levels compared to the protein in animal foods. The amino acids found in vegetables are just as high quality as the amino acids found in animals products and can be used just as effectively by the human body.
Vegetarians once spent a lot of time planning meals to make sure that foods high in all the essential amino acids were represented, but the need to do all that has been refuted. Research revealed that proteins have a tendency to pool in the body and remain available for combining with other proteins for as long as two days. Many vegetarians now operate under the notion that plenty of all the essential amino acids can be gotten by eating a variety of vegetables or grains over a this two day period.
The superstars of vegetable protein are :
Soybeans (which should only be eaten fermented)
Blue green algae (spirulina, chlorella and others)
These five vegetarian sources are the only ones that offer complete protein and can stand alone as the main protein source in any meal.
Foods that offer high levels of incomplete protein include beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and many grains. Beans, lentils, and peas can be easily combined with brown rice or corn to create a delicious complete protein dish. Cheese added to legume or other vegetable dishes, or to grain dishes, creates a complete protein for non-vegetarians. Other combos that create complete protein include bean or lentil soup combined with a side of whole grain crackers, peanut or other nut butter on whole grain bread, whole grain pasta with peas or broccoli, hummus on pita bread, and veggie burgers on whole grain rolls.
If weight loss is the goal, go easy on the high carbohydrate foods that are easily broken down in the body, like pasta, potatoes, rice and bread. If you are not a vegetarian, stick with small amounts of animal products added to a diet that features non starchy vegetable protein. If you are a vegetarian and trying to shed some pounds, eat from the superstar complete protein vegetable list as often as possible.
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