What You Need to Know About Protein
Eating adequate protein is essential for achieving your health goals
Protein is one of three major classes of foods called macronutrients—the other two are fats and carbohydrates. Protein is made up of amino acids, also known as the “building blocks of protein.” We get protein primarily from poultry, beef, lamb, pork and other animal products, including almost anything that swims. We also get it from animal by-products such as eggs, milk and cheese. Protein comes in vegetable form, most notably soy, and from seeds/nuts as well.
Why Do I Need Protein?
Protein furnishes the raw materials your body needs to make muscles, organs, hair, neurotransmitters, enzymes and just about anything else necessary to keep it running like a well-oiled machine. Simply put, without protein you would die. (The same cannot be said, by the way, of carbohydrate, but that’s another story.)
Protein also plays a role in weight loss1 or weight management. Compared to carbohydrate, consuming protein has less of an effect on insulin (which drives fat storage), a greater effect on glucagon (which drives fat release) and a considerably greater increase in metabolic rate. Several studies demonstrate greater body-fat loss on a high-protein diet than on a high-carb one2. Increasing intake of protein relative to carbohydrates fills you up more, so you wind up eating less3. A recent study showed that even eating snacks with a higher protein and lower carbohydrate composition can reduce the amount of food you eat at the next meal by 5 percent4. And eating protein boosts your metabolic rate—the technical term is thermogenesis. In fact, one study showed that healthy young women experienced 100 percent higher thermogenesis after eating high-protein meals—even two and a half hours later 5 than when they ate a “conventional” high-carbohydrate meal.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
Many nutritionists recommend that individuals consume about half a gram of protein per pound of body weight, but other nutritionists feel that figure is far too low. So, for example, a 145-pound person would need at least 70 grams, which translates to roughly 10 ounces, or about two and a half small chicken breasts. Athletes need more, as do muscular people, those under stress and pregnant or nursing women. It’s worth noting that Atkins guidelines call for at least 6 ounces of (weighed uncooked) protein at each meal.
Because older adults don’t use protein as efficiently, they need at least 15 percent more than younger people.6,7 Researcher Ronni Chernoff, Ph.D., R.D., recently stated, “The importance of dietary protein cannot be underestimated in the diets of older adults; inadequate protein intake contributes to...increased skin fragility, decreased immune function, poorer healing and longer recuperation from illness8.”
How Can I Be Sure to Get Enough Protein?
Protein bars and shakes are an easy way to get high-quality protein into your diet. In addition to adding variety to the menu of protein choices, both are especially convenient when you are on the run or just don’t feel like sitting down to a meal. But all bars and shakes are not created equal. As a meal replacement, products should contain at least 12 grams of protein per serving,
Even though you know that it is important to eat regularly, you may simply not be that hungry first thing in the morning. If so, an Atkins Advantage® bar or shake or a Morning Start™ bar is a great way to go. Eating a high-protein breakfast has been shown to be particularly important to successful weight loss9. Using Atkins bars and shakes actually increases compliance with low-carb guidelines10,11. Both bars and shakes are also excellent snacks after a workout
What’s the Best Kind of Protein?
The current process of rating protein is called the Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAA), which rates the protein’s amino-acid profile against the acid test: what’s needed for the growing requirements of pre-school-age children. Whey, eggs and casein (milk protein) all have a nearly perfect PDCAA score of 1.0.
What’s in Atkins Products?
Atkins products use a blend of proteins from four sources:
• whey protein isolate
• soy protein isolate
• sodium caseinate
• calcium caseinate
Whey protein isolate is considered the highest-quality protein after casein in terms of the body’s ability to use it. Extremely low in carbs, it’s high in protein and contains virtually no fat. It has been shown in studies to possess immune-boosting capabilities because it increases cellular levels of what is arguably the body’s most important antioxidant, glutathione. Soy protein isolate has been shown to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol and actually inhibit the progression of atherosclerosis12. Milk protein is not only the easiest for the body to use; it also improves mouth feel and taste. Since each type of protein has a slightly different amino-acid profile, the combination of these all-star protein sources ensures optimal amino-acid content overall.
No matter where you get your protein, be sure to balance it with the appropriate amount of nutrient- and fiber-rich carbs and healthy natural fats, as well as plenty of muscle-building and cardio-enhancing exercise.
1. Layman, D.K., “Protein Quantity and Quality at Levels above the RDA Improves Adult Weight Loss.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23: 6, 2004, pages 631S-636S.
2. Layman, D. K., “A Reduced Ration of Dietary Carbohydrate to Protein Improves Body Composition and Blood Lipid Profiles During Weight Loss in Adult Women.” Journal of Nutrition, 133 (2), 2003, pages 411-17.
3. Layman, D.K., “Increased Dietary Protein Modifies Glucose and Insulin Homeostasis in Adult Women During Weight Loss.” Journal of Nutrition, 133 (2), 2003, pages 405-10.
4. Noakes, M., Paul, F., Keogh, K.J., “High Protein Snack Bars Can Reduce Food Intake and Improve Glucose and Insulin Metabolism in Overweight Women.” Obesity Research 12(S), 2004, page A55.
5. Johnson, C.S. “Postprandial Thermogenesis is Increased 100% on a High-Protein Low-Fat Diet vs. a High-Carbohydrate, Low-Fat Diet in Healthy, Young Women.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 21 (1), 2002, pages 55-61.
6. Campbell, W.W., Crim, M.C., “Increased Protein Requirements in the Elderly: New Data and Retrospective Reassessments.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 60(1), 1994, pages 160-75.
7. Campbell, W.W., Evans, W., “Protein Requirements of Elderly People.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 50 (1), 1996, pages S180-S185.
8. Chernoff, R., “Protein and Older Adults.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23( 6), 2004, pages 627S-630S.
9. Layman, D.K., “Protein Quantity and Quality at Levels above the RDA Improves Adult Weight Loss.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23(6), 2004, pages 631S-636S.
10. Westman, E.C., Yancy, W.S., Edman, J.S. et al, “Effect of 6-Month Adherence to a Very Low Carbohydrate Diet Program.” American Journal of Medicine, 113(1), 2002, pages 30-36.
11. Stern, L., Iqbal, N., Seshadri, P. et al., “The Effects of Low-Carbohydrate Versus Conventional Weight Loss Diets in Severely Obese Adults: One-Year Follow-up of a Randomized Trial.” Annals of Internal Medicine, 140(10), 2004, pages 778-785.
12. Clarkson, T.B., Anthony, R., “Phytoestrogens and Coronary Heart Disease.” Baillieres Clinical Endocrinol Metabolism, 12(4), 1998, pages 589-604.