Protein is essential to the body, down to the cellular level. Did you know that your nails and hair are made mostly of protein? The body uses protein to build and repair muscle tissue, cartilage, skin, even the blood.
Protein is a “macronutrient.” This means it is a substance that the body needs in large amounts. Unlike fat and carbohydrates, the human body does not “store” protein, so it has to be provided to the body through the foods we eat.
It’s important to get enough protein, but not too much. Believe it or not, excess protein can actually raise blood sugar! By eating too much protein, you can trigger the body to release glucose into the bloodstream.
For non-diabetics, this is not a serious issue, however, for individuals who do not produce enough insulin, or whose cells are resistant to insulin, this extra glucose in the blood roams free and results in high blood sugar.
Like all things, protein portioning is crucial! So how much protein should we really be eating?
According to WebMD:
Five ounces of protein per day for children age 2 to 6, most women, and seniors
Six ounces of protein per day for older children, teen girls, active women, and most men
Seven ounces of protein per day for teen boys and active men
Keep in mind that these are general guideline recommendations and can vary based on lifestyle and other health conditions. Talk with your physician about how much protein you should be consuming every day.
Since carbohydrates are limited, diabetics in particular often find themselves eating more protein. When people eat lots of protein but few carbohydrates, their metabolisms go into a state called ketosis. Queue the Ketogenic Diet.
Those who follow a Ketogenic diet consume fat and protein instead of carbs, causing the body to burn more of its fat stores for fuel. This process causes blood sugar to lower naturally.
Diabetics can reap a huge benefit from this way of eating. High carb foods are often high in refined sugars as well. As you reduce the amount of carbs you eat, you are reducing the amount of sugar you are taking in. This in turn lowers insulin and blood sugar levels.
The foods prohibited by the Keto diet include: bread, crackers, bagels, cookies, pastries, etc. Basically, foods made with white flour and sugar are off limits. Processed foods found in boxes and plastic bags are out. Vegetables, meats, seafood, fats, and dairy are in.
Now, all protein is not created equal. Eating large quantities of processed meats like hot dogs and deli meat has been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, and certain types of cancer. There are many other more nutritious protein options available.
Beef, chicken and turkey are the most “traditional” protein sources. Pay the extra few dollars for free-range, organic, and grass-fed meats. It truly makes a difference, not only in taste, but has an incredible impact on the body.
Don’t forget that there are many alternative protein sources too!
Packed with omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is a particularly exceptional alternative protein option. Its fatty acids keep your brain running in tip-top shape, improving cognition, memory, and focus. These same fatty acids also help prevent the development of cancer cells and have even been shown to kill them. Be cautious of the type of salmon you purchase. The above benefits can be found in Alaskan wild-caught salmon. Benefits decrease and potential health dangers increase when you choose farm-raised varieties.
Chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils are a great source of nutrients. They are typically very high in protein and fiber, which helps to slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream. The high levels of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals in nuts improves focus, alertness, and provides a boost of energy.
Even some veggies can pack a protein punch! Asparagus, spinach, bok choy, broccoli, mustard and collard greens, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are some of the vegetables that contain the most protein per serving.
Now that you’re a “Protein Pro” get out there and enjoy!