Protein Intake: Benefits and Considerations
Updated: Dec 1, 2021
By: Dr. Ann-Marie Regina, ND
What does it mean to eat enough protein? Getting enough protein in your diet can be challenging for some people. Your needs change based on your age, sex, health conditions, weight and how much you exercise. But the bottom line is, you need protein. Without it, life would not be sustainable. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as just having a protein shake or a peanut butter sandwich. All protein sources are not the same. What really matters when it comes to protein is the amino acid profile, so not just the total protein content. Of the 20 amino acids, 9 are essential meaning that your body cannot synthesize them. Therefore they must be consumed through food. The other 11 are non-essential amino acids can be made by the body. Animal based proteins will have all the amino acids needed for life. If you consume meat regularly the major concerns would be more related to quality, variety and amount of total protein intake. Plant based protein can be an important part of the overall protein in your diet, but they lack some key amino acids. This means that your diet must be able to provide the rest. In short, protein can get complicated.
Benefits of Protein
Function in the Body. Protein is used in the body to support the immune system in antibody production. Skeletal muscle is composed of protein and dietary intake of protein will maintain strength and prevent wasting. This is especially necessary in the elderly and paediatric population, but is beneficial for those looking to gain muscle mass from exercise. Protein is also used in the body to carry and make hormones, maintains cellular health, is a necessary building block for bone, cartilage, skin, blood and enzymes. So a deficiency in protein can negatively impact a wide range of processes in the body.
Essential Nutrients in Protein. Protein from meat also contains iron, B12 and vitamin D and other vitamins & minerals necessary for health. Deficiencies in any of the above can result in weakness, fatigue, depression and increase risk of other diseases. If you are on a vegetarian or vegan diet, testing these vitamins every 6 months is important to see if you need further dietary support and supplementation.
Protein for Weight Loss. Protein is also used in the body to maintain a healthy weight and lose excess weight. When you eat anything, your body actually uses energy and burns calories to break down your food. This is called the thermic effect of food. Your body burns more energy digesting protein than it does with carbohydrates and fats. However, increasing protein in the diet has a negligible effect on actual calories burned. But, increasing protein can result in weight loss in other ways.
Satiety. Protein keeps you feeling full, meaning that if you eat enough of it you shouldn't feel the need to snack or overeat. Overeating itself can be a sign that you may not be getting enough protein. When there is a lack of protein or amino acids in the diet, your body will tell you to eat to reach your protein goal. If you are vegetarian or vegan, it can be difficult to reach an adequate amount of necessary protein, resulting in the potential to overeat carbohydrates or other foods to attempt to satisfy your needs. Unfortunately, you may not reach those goals even with overeating. Remember, protein intake is really about the amino acids.
Your Health Conditions. Part of the job of the kidneys are to filter and reabsorb protein. If you have damaged kidneys, your protein intake should be monitored. A high protein diet can accelerate kidney damage. If you have healthy kidneys, no need to worry. Having your kidney parameters tested yearly is recommended and more frequently if you have diagnosed kidney disease. Liver diseases will also result in difficulty digesting protein and filtering their by-products like ammonia. If you have liver disease make sure you speak with a naturopathic doctor or other medical professional about how much protein you should be having.
Acidity. Chronic consumption of acidic foods such as red meat, coffee and carbonated drinks can result in changes to body pH. Short term the kidneys work to neutralize the acidity. But long term your bones release calcium and other important building blocks for bone health to neutralize the acidity created. This can lead to osteopenia and osteoporosis in the future which increases risks of fractures and breaks.
Quality. The quality of the protein you consume is critical achieving a healthy lifestyle. Processed meats are high in salt and nitrates which are carcinogenic and pro-inflammatory and should be avoided. Favouring organic, antibiotic free, grass fed and hormone free meats are preferable as they are less likely to disrupt the natural processes of your body. Again, not every protein source is the same. The protein you get from homemade chicken legs will be different than the chicken you get from Mcdonalds.
Variety & Balance. Eating a variety of protein sources will ensure that you are having all the amino acids and nutrients needed for health. It will also decrease risk of developing food sensitivities. Rotating your protein sources between fish, poultry, dairy, beans paired with complex carbohydrates, nuts & seeds, other plant based sources and red meat will keep you satisfied and healthy. Ideally, at least one of your protein sources will be from an animal product each day. But if you are vegetarian or vegan it is still possible to get all your amino acids, it will just be more challenging. Remember, a healthy diet contains a balance of vegetables, fruits and carbohydrates as well as protein.
Your Protein Needs
Individual protein needs are based on your weight, exercise level, sex and health concerns. Your protein intake will also vary depending on goals such as maintaining muscle mass, gaining muscle mass or losing fat. In order to calculate and meet your specific protein requirements, it is important to seek help from your naturopathic doctor. Naturopathic doctors have the ability to incorporate your health concerns with your goals and provide you with the tools to succeed. You don't have to guess when it comes to your health care. If you are unsure about what your body needs, seek the help you deserve. Dr. Ann-Marie Regina, ND focuses on optimizing digestion and providing individualized nutritional counselling. She works with patients to make healthy lifestyle choices that are specific to them. Dr. Ann-Marie is now offering 30 minute nutritional consults focused solely on creating sustainable and effective dietary adjustments that address your concerns. During the nutritional counselling visits, Dr. Ann-Marie will assess your nutrition & diet with an assessment tool, review weekly food diary and provide meal plans if necessary. The assessment will also take your health concerns, activity level, hormones, food intolerances, age and sex into consideration. Most importantly, nutritional consults provide the support and education that will allow you to establish an eating regime that works for you that you can maintain long term.
To address your digestive concerns, please book an appointment online with Dr. Ann-Marie Regina, ND or to schedule a complimentary 15 minute "meet and greet."