The Fundamentals of Good Nutrition - Part 2
Balancing your macronutrient intake with the needs of your body type and physical goals is the first big step towards achieving a healthful balance with your nutrition. There are three main macronutrients that contribute to our daily calorie goal, as discussed in part 1: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. In general, when considering where your calories come from, proteins come first with fats a close second, and carbohydrates round out the diet. Before continuing, there might be some questions about how do you determine how much protein, fats, carbohydrates, or calories in general are in a given food. Food labels are required to provide a Nutrition Facts Table that contains this information. Keep in mind the serving size, or use a food scale if you’re new to learning portion sizes. My favourite tool for tracking foods and calories is the website and app called myfitnesspal. It also has a very comprehensive database for looking up nutrient information for foods. Now, on with the protein.
How much protein do I need?
Proteins are important for building the structures of our bodies that help to maintain strength and vitality as we age. Along with practicing good nutrition, physical activity is another important component of health and we cannot properly recover and improve our health adequately without consuming enough protein. Proteins are digested and broken down into amino acids, which your body can then reconfigure into whatever body tissue it is trying to repair or build, like muscles. There are essential and non-essential amino acids that we get from proteins. Essential amino acids are called that, because humans can’t make them in our body; we have to get them from our diet. Non-essential amino acids can be made in the body. As we will see when talking about protein quality, one important factor in quality is considering whether a food or supplement contains all essential amino acids.
While individual differences do affect how much protein you’ll need on a daily basis, consuming 1 g per pound of body weight in protein is a great starting point in assigning a healthy portion of your daily calories to high quality foods. If you’re less into being precise with the math this amount of protein pretty well equates to a serving of protein the size of the palm of your hand for females and two palms for males at each meal. This visual way of looking at it also nicely scales with your body size. For practicing good nutrition and for general health and longevity, this is a perfect way to look at protein. If you have particular goals for building muscle or strength I would suggest starting out by measuring the actual number for a while to make sure that you are eating enough to help with your recovery.
As was mentioned in the beginning of the article, protein should come first when considering how you build your meals and overall diet. Mainly because it makes it easier to plug in values for fats and carbs after that. Protein doesn’t need to be much higher than one gram per pound of bodyweight, but it shouldn’t be significantly lower than that either, if you’re trying to be physically active. 1 gram of protein equates to 4 calories, so keep that in mind when making up your meal plan.
Proteins are linked to food allergies and intolerances.
The protein sources can and should be varied regularly to help reduce your chances of developing any intolerances to proteins that you eat too often. Simply put, don’t eat the same thing all the time, especially proteins, and try to include more variety in your diet. I will talk about this more in future articles.
Does protein harm your kidneys?
This is a fallacy that scientists who study protein often have to re-address as it is a common nutrition myth that cycles through media attention. There’s no evidence to support any such claims, particularly when protein is consumed as part of a balanced diet. Diets set around 1 g per pound of bodyweight for protein pose no risk, while providing adequate protein to support muscle mass for strength, health and longevity. Before processing and eliminating protein ever becomes a burden on your organs, like kidneys, other factors would affect your health first, like excessive weight gain from the surplus of calories you would be consuming.
Remember that the motto for good nutrition practices is “you are what you eat.” Protein quality is important to consider, because we need to make sure that we are getting enough of the essential amino acids we need to rebuild tissues. The other consideration to make with the quality of your food sources is what type of conditions the plant or animal source is raised and grown in. Contaminants in foods like pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones in conventionally raised animals and produce are substances that your body has to process in addition to the nutrients in your food. This is an additional stressor on your body that can impact your overall health if you already live a stressful life. Eating organic and minimally processed foods as much as possible is the best practice if you want to be a healthy as possible.
Sources of Protein
A common way to remember what foods are considered high in protein that people like to use is anything that has a face or has eyes is a high protein food. I include it, because many people find it helpful, but I personally don't like that mnemonic because it leaves out vegetarian and vegan options for high protein food. You also get the arguments like "well potatoes have eyes too."
The traditional category we think of with high protein foods. Meats, poultry, fish and seafood all are high in protein.
One of the benefits to consuming animal proteins is that they all contain the full spectrum of essential amino acids that we need to build and repair muscle and tissues.
There are also variety of supplemental choices based on animal proteins like collagen proteins, beef protein isolates, and egg proteins. These are more often unflavored and work great for boosting the protein in recipes.
Dairy and Whey Protein
Dairy products are also excellent sources of protein, because dairy and the whey protein that comes from dairy has very high bioavailability, meaning it is digested and absorbed very well for your body to make use of, assuming you don't have any lactose intolerance or dairy allergies.
Whey protein is the most popular type of protein powder, Because of its quality, how well it mixes for shakes and smoothies, and taste.
There are different types of whey protein supplements available, the difference primarily being how much of the dairy fat and sugars lactose have been removed.
My personal preference is whey protein isolate, as it mixes really well and is generally okay for people who have mild lactose intolerance because most of the lactose is removed. I like to choose whey protein sources from New Zealand due to the fact that all dairy cows must be grass-fed and hormone and antibiotics use is also much more strictly regulated. I also prefer products that are naturally sweetened with stevia. In Canada, Kaizen and Interactive Nutrition have great whey protein isolate products that also taste really, really good.
Concentrates and Blends
Whey protein concentrate is less expensive than isolates but contains a bit more fat and lactose making it a little less easily digested. I generally suggest avoiding these for anyone who is lactose intolerant. Blends of whey and other proteins can slow the digestion of the protein drink, which is beneficial for keeping hunger at bay if you're looking for a meal replacement shake. Quest Nutrition makes a really great protein blend that works awesome for tiding over hunger when you don't have time or want for a solid food meal.
Vegan and Vegetarian Sources of Protein
For vegetarian and vegan options good protein sources include beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, some grains like rice and quinoa, soy products, and hemp products. While most plant-based sources of protein need to be combined in order for a meal to contain all essential amino acids, there are some complete protein sources like pea protein, quinoa, and hemp. This is why foods like rice and beans are combined in dishes for many cultures. Keep that in mind when structuring vegetarian and vegan meals and use a reference that lists vegetarian food combinations for complete amino acid profiles. This is also why most vegetarian protein powders contain a blend of different plant-based protein sources.
As I was saying with rotation of protein sources, sometimes you need to switch out the whey protein that's great tasting and drink a different type of protein for a while to give your body some variety. Plant-based protein works great for this, but to be totally honest, I haven't found a plant-based protein that I like taste-wise as much as my favourite whey protein isolates. With that being said, there are some cool companies out there coming out with great organic-sourced plant proteins that also combine your greens like spirulina and chlorella, so you can easily make sure you get your servings of veggies even when snacking on a chocolate protein shake!
As we build on the fundamentals of good nutrition, next time we will look at the role fats play in the diet and why you don't want to shy away from fats for optimizing health.