If you’ve ever looked at a fitness magazine or talked to a physical trainer, you’ll know that protein is pretty important stuff. On top of that, it’s also known to reduce muscle loss and has been recently shown to fight chronic pain. But, how important is it really and how much do you need in your diet?
Your beginner’s guide to protein
Proteins are the building blocks of life, made up of chains of amino acids. They are extremely important for human growth and development during all phases of life, from pregnancy to adolescence. Protein can also be found in every human cell in the body and is used to repair and create cells every day. It is also imperative as it is used to break down the food we eat, along with numerous other bodily functions.
When proteins are digested, amino acids are left over in a broken-down form. These can be used to create other needed proteins for a healthy body. This is especially important as the body cannot produce many kinds of amino acids and must rely on a health daily balance of the nine essential amino acids from the foods we eat.
A few big benefits of a protein-enriched diet include:
- Speedier recovery after exercise
- Reduces muscle loss
- Builds lean muscle
- Helps maintain a healthy weight
- Curbs hunger
- Can reduce many forms of chronic pain
Protein is, simply, critical. It could also have a drastic effect on pain. Making just a few simple changes in your diet can make a big difference. In fact, a study from the University of East Anglia found that consuming certain amino acids could lower blood pressure and reduce arterial stiffness. To add some perspective, the study states that it could be as beneficial as quitting smoking or getting more exercise. How can you argue with results like that?
So… just eat more meat?
While a lot of media attention has focused on simply eating more of it, it is more important than ever to make sure that a protein-rich diet is carefully crafted. Straight meat isn’t typically recommended.
Caution is advised when adding certain foods to your diet. Inflammation can contribute to numerous medical issues, such as cardiovascular disease and arthritis. This inflammation can have other deleterious effects as well. It is always smart to monitor your intake and make sure your diet is right for you. This is also true for those who have chronic conditions, like kidney disease.
Red meat heavy diets can actually cause greater inflammation, especially when compared with other sources of protein. Lean cuts of meat are much better for avoiding these issues (such as sirloin or tenderloin steak), as are poultry and fish. Vegetarian sources can also be a very effective alternative to meat altogether.
What should I be eating if I have chronic pain?
When eating protein, it is most certainly a matter of quality over quantity. Avoiding fatty and processed meat products will go a long way in in warding off other health risks, like an increased risk of diabetes, colorectal cancer, and joint pain. It can also be very beneficial from a weight-loss perspective as lean meat, poultry, and seafood can provide high amounts of protein and other vitamins and minerals without the added calories.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture constructed a quick reference table to help consumers get the most bang for the caloric intake buck. Here are a few high protein food groups to focus on.
It’s one of the most popular and for good reason. If eaten without the skin, a 100g chicken breast has 4.5g of fat, but also includes a whopping 33g of protein, far surpassing a standard cut of red meat in terms of protein versus fat.
This is also an excellent alternative to red meat and perfect for countering chronic pain as it provides many different nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids. These are known to reduce inflammation and help depressive symptoms. Just eight ounces a week can help reduce heart disease.
Some great seafood options in the United States that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, cod, sardines, and trout. These fish also have the added benefit of being low in mercury compared to other fish. Before buying any fish, make sure they’re sustainably-sourced according to Seafood Watch.
Nuts and seeds
Peanuts, walnuts, and almonds can also reduce the risk of heart disease as they can help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. They are also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and fiber: two substances that can also bolster heart health.
It’s important to note that seeds and nuts are high in calories so you should use them to replace other foods and limit your portions.
Beans and legumes
These are another excellent source of protein as they are high in minerals and fiber without the added saturated fat found in meat. This is another healthy choice that can improve blood cholesterol and have the added effect of making you feel full for longer.
These are rich in fiber and great for maintaining a healthy body weight. Another big plus for those in pain is that this food group is high in magnesium. This is a mineral that has been shown to fight muscle pain in other animals. With a food group that ranges from whole wheat bread to easy-to-cook quinoa, how can you not want to eat more?
Even though it is a dairy product and may not be advised for some patients, in smaller portions, (eight to sixteen ounces) it can make big strides in reducing stomach pain. How you ask? The bacteria that is present in yogurt, especially B. infantis and L. acidophilus, can reduce pain, bloating, and inflammation.
Make sure you eat the right kind of yogurt though. Only those containing probiotics have this effect, but it is well worth the search in your local grocery store.
Also look to your breakfast
The truth is that while we generally get enough protein, it is for the most part consumed for dinner. Without a proper distribution throughout the day, you are losing out on a variety of benefits that could make for a healthier and better self. In fact, less than a quarter of the average person’s protein is consumed at breakfast and that is only for those who actually eat it.
How to add more
There are some tips and tricks to get more protein into your mornings. Always make sure to pick foods that are high in protein, but do not also carry other medical risks. For instance, always try to avoid fatty meats and processed foods when looking for your add-ons.
To pack your morning with that extra-needed protein, try any of the following:
- Eggs are always a great way to bump up your protein. Throw a poached or hard-boiled egg in a tortilla, or use egg whites in a delicious omelet or scramble to cut out the cholesterol, but still get a good kick of the good stuff.
- Throwing nuts on anything can really liven up a meal. You can add nuts to your cereal, peanut butter to your toast, or bake up a whole plate of almond scones.
- Protein powder always supplies a huge boost of protein (duh!), but you can get creative with it and add it to oatmeal or a