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Protein - Essential for Overall Health and Wellbeing

Posted on February 24, 2015 by Ruth Buttigieg | 0 comments

The amount of animal protein we should eat seems to be constantly under scrutiny. One day it’s a report stating that animal protein is bad for health, whilst the next day it’s the reverse advise - eat animal protein as a recent study has been shown it helps prevent chronic diseases X, Y and Z. Behind the catchy headlines however, what does the science actually say about the role of animal protein in our diet and health?


One home truth that you should certainly take from this piece is that the quality of the protein in your diet has a big impact on your health. By this we mean the less processed animal protein is, such as hot dogs and other fast food meat products, the better. Unprocessed protein is better as it is more wholesome and because it contains less inflammatory ingredients (eg: vegetable oils).


Quality protein has a very central role in a variety of body functions and health. Studies keep showing that if there is one thing that rises above the cacophony of health stories is that protein is essential for weight loss and maintenance, plays a role in immune functions as well as signalling the brain when we are full.

 

What is Protein?


From a nutritional point of view, protein is very important. It is one of the main macronutrients and one which requires daily consumption as the body is unable to store protein. In other words, eating a lot of protein one day and barely nothing the next is not the ideal way to go. Protein is an important nutritional component as it provides the building blocks that are responsible not only for building muscle, but also for maintaining it.


In nature there are around 100 amino acids available, however the human body only requires 20. These can be classified as essential and nonessential amino acids. The latter, our body is able to create them via certain metabolism pathways, however we require a daily stream of 10 amino acids through our diet as the body is unable to produce these from scratch.


Protein and Weight Loss


Current UK guidelines advise that adult males consume 55g per day of protein whereas adult women consume 45g per day. These amounts are based on only one aspect of protein - nitrogen balance. Nitrogen is an important molecule that is required for optimal health, so this amount is based on the key requirement of this molecule to ensure that we don’t wither away. However this approach to protein is unfortunately ignoring the other important roles that protein performs in our body.


Consumption of dietary protein interacts with hormones such as leptin, which signals the brain triggering a feeling of fullness. So, eating protein helps you stay fuller for longer. A diet high in carbohydrates has the opposite effect on the brain as it triggers a ‘liking’ mechanism that operates the same brain mechanism as opioid substances. So basing all your meals around carbohydrates is not the best idea when trying to lose and maintain a steady weight.


When losing weight, it is still important to make sure that your are still getting an adequate amount of dietary protein. Not consuming enough protein can lead to loss of muscle. In fact, a new study communicated in May at the European Congress on Obesity found that severe calorie restriction led to a higher loss of muscle when compared to other participants who ate twice as much. Loss of muscle will register a greater difference on the scale, as muscle weighs more than fat, than if only stored fat was lost. Loss of body fat however registers greater differences in body shape and definition.


It is important to maintain muscle mass in your body, as this will ensure that your metabolic rate remains high. Having a healthy metabolic rate will help you achieve optimal weight loss and will help you keep the weight off. Apart from helping us feel full, dietary protein consumption also helps to burn energy faster as its digestion is intricately linked to our metabolism.


Protein and Health


Protein is made up of various amino acids, most notably branched amino acids such as Leucine. A steady stream of leucine helps to boost our metabolism thus resulting in weight loss but also other health benefits such as stabilising blood sugar metabolism and cholesterol levels ensuring high HDL (good cholesterol) vs LDL (bad cholesterol) ratios.


The highest sources of leucine are foods containing animal protein and dairy options. Avoiding red meat and dairy options can make it a bit more difficult to ensure a steady stream of leucine.   


A meal containing high amounts of good quality protein, especially leucine, is needed not only for weight loss but also to ensure optimum health. This is why here at the Natural Low Carb Store we only use the highest quality animal protein in our meals as this ensures not only a wholesome nutritious meal, but also a tasty meal!



References:


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  • Calder, P. (2006). Branched-chain amino acids and immunity. The Journal of nutrition, 136(1), pp.288--293.
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