Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Protein Power

I apologize for the lack of posts lately. I have been out of town for family reasons.

I have been thinking lately about the different categories on nutrition labels, all the things we should be making sure our body has and be keeping out of our bodies. Today I want to talk about PROTEINS.

The Center for Disease Control explains that

"Proteins are part of every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies. These body proteins are constantly being broken down and replaced. The protein in the foods we eat is digested into amino acids that are later used to replace these proteins in our bodies.

Protein is found in the following foods:
  • meats, poultry, and fish
  • legumes (dry beans and peas)
  • tofu
  • eggs
  • nuts and seeds
  • milk and milk products
  • grains, some vegetables, and some fruits (provide only small amounts of protein relative to other sources)

As we mentioned, most adults in the United States get more than enough protein to meet their needs. It's rare for someone who is healthy and eating a varied diet to not get enough protein."

CHECK! So we probably don't have to worry about getting ENOUGH protein. The thing we DO need to think about, however, is how to ensure we are getting the right KINDS of proteins. There are roughly 20 AMINO ACIDS that are found in various types of proteins. ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS are those that are essential for our bodies to function at their optimal level; however, they are also THOSE AMINO ACIDS THAT OUR BODIES DON'T PRODUCE ON THEIR OWN.

Proteins are often referred to as COMPLETE or INCOMPLETE. Have you ever heard someone say that rice and beans together make a complete protein and wondered WHAT IN THE WORLD THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT? I have. Hence the interest in this topic. Well, complete and incomplete refer back to the ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS found in the proteins of certain foods/food combinations. Again, I refer to the Center for Disease Control for the simplest explanation of what each of these labels identifies.

"In the diet, protein sources are labeled according to how many of the essential amino acids they provide:

  • A complete protein source is one that provides all of the essential amino acids. You may also hear these sources called high quality proteins. Animal-based foods; for example, meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, and cheese are considered complete protein sources.
photo of various foods
  • An incomplete protein source is one that is low in one or more of the essential amino acids. Complementary proteins are two or more incomplete protein sources that together provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids.
photo of various foods

For example, rice contains low amounts of certain essential amino acids; however, these same essential amino acids are found in greater amounts in dry beans. Similarly, dry beans contain lower amounts of other essential amino acids that can be found in larger amounts in rice. Together, these two foods can provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids the body needs."

Pretty cool, eh? I think they understand this VERY WELL in South America because RICE AND BEANS are a pretty common meal there, as is the rice/chicken combination.

Like I said before, most people DO ACTUALLY GET ENOUGH PROTEIN in their diets every day. However, your food choices may be causing you to get TOO MUCH FAT from your proteins FOR WHAT YOUR BODY NEEDS AND CAN USE on a daily basis.

Here are some ideas for MAKING WISER PROTEIN CHOICES to decrease the amount of fat while maintaining the amount of protein in your diet:

1) As we discussed earlier, choose low- or non-fat dairy products. This includes milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, etc. The lower-fat options do not affect the amount of protein, calcium, etc. that you can get from these products.

2) Always choose lean cuts of meat. Your best options are poultry and fish. Though beef is high in protein, it is also high in fat. It is difficult to cut out fat from even the leanest cuts of meat. So you need to choose from the chicken/turkey/fish categories more often than you do the beef category. Whatever you choose, ALWAYS remove the skin! It's straight fat, and you don't need it. Also, look for preparation ideas that involve baking or roasting or BBQ-ing rather than frying.

3) BEANS, BEANS THE MAGICAL CHOICE -- because they don't have the fat that meat does! Men may balk at this suggestion, but try to substitute beans for meat in some of your favorite recipes. Or, if you can't stand the idea of substituting beans entirely, cut the meat amount in half and insert beans.

When I was growing up, my mom used to make Sloppy Joes with pinto beans and hamburger. I was shocked to leave home and find that Sloppy Joes were made with JUST MEAT almost everywhere else. For me, other Sloppy Joes tasted AWFUL!!!! I just thought the world was really missing out on tasting my mom's Sloppy Joes. A few years ago, I asked her to make "her" Sloppy Joes. She just used meat! I was like, "No, Mom, YOUR Sloppy Joes, the ones with beans in them." She laughed and said, "I only put beans in them because we were too poor to afford meat!" Who knew? To this day, most of my siblings prefer the meat/bean combination. And it is SOOOO much better for you, anyway!


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