3 Things You Must Know About Protein

3 THINGS YOU MUST KNOW ABOUT YOUR PROTEIN

PROTEIN, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE GROSS

 

3 things you must know about protein

What is protein? If it HAD a face, took a breath and made a noise it is a protein. If it CAME from something that had a face, took a breath and made a noise, it is a protein. (Apologies if this sounds gross but the direct approach is often the most memorable.) So it could be the chicken or the egg, it could be the cow or the milk. If it is an animal or came from an animal, it’s protein.

If it HAD a face, took a breath and made a noise it is a protein. If it CAME from something that had a face, took a breath and made a noise, it is a protein. (Apologies if this sounds gross but the direct approach is often the most memorable.) So it could be the chicken or the egg, it could be the cow or the milk. If it is an animal or came from an animal, it’s protein.

There are most certainly plant-based proteins but to state a simple fact: if it was or came from an animal it is regarded as a protein.

COMPLETE Vs INCOMPLETE PROTEIN

Food cannot be used by the body in the form it takes on our plate. A piece of chicken does not enter our blood as a piece of chicken.  When we eat that piece of chicken, we break it down (digest) into small single parts that are able to travel in the blood.  Protein is broken down into amino acids (AA).

Be clear about this concept.  When we put water in the freezer, it becomes ice.  Water and ice; two words for the same thing in a different form.  We eat protein; it is digested and enters our blood as amino acids.

Some amino acids are nonessential because the body can make them. However, there are nine amino acids which are essential amino acids (EAA), because the body cannot make them. They must come from food.

“Complete” proteins have all nine amino acids in them.  There are other protein sources such as the protein we find in that peanut butter or the oatmeal or the bread or the vegetables, and these are incomplete proteins because they do not contain all of the essential amino acids.

Complete proteins that have all nine EAAs are superior to incomplete proteins (I know there are some vegans jumping up and down right now, but please hold your horses, I will expand on this… Did I mention food bias can be incredibly emotional?)

For the protein to be effectively used by the body it is preferred that all essential amino acids are present; it is for this reason that complete proteins are superior. All animal proteins are complete proteins, whether it is the animal itself or something the animal produces (milk, eggs).  Plant-based complete proteins include soy, quinoa, hemp, chia, and buckwheat.

Red meat contains heme iron.  Heme iron is better absorbed than the nonheme iron found in plants.

Animal protein also contains riboflavin, niacin, B6, B12, zinc and Selenium.

It would be a challenge to find such an array of vitamins and minerals in processed meats. So many people get the majority of their protein from hot dogs, sausage, bacon, deli meat, jerky, pre-made burgers, etc.

 

There is a concern about protein intake and illness, including cancer.  How we handle our meats is important, and over-cooking can be problematic.  The heat of cooking releases fat and when this fat drops onto a cooking surface it produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which then seep back into the meat.  PAHs have recognized carcinogens and easily avoided by wiping up the fatty drips created during cooking.  For those of you who like to grill, simply wipe underneath as you cook. If you like your meat very well done then make sure you cut off those crusty bits.  Heterocyclic amines are created when meat is cooked so well that crust is formed.

The link between animal protein and sickness seems to be associated with consuming processed proteins and eating over-cooked meats.  White meat has no such association, although how the animal was raised and fed cannot be overlooked.

Processed meats (and processed food in general) are linked to inflammation, and inflammation is the underlying cause of many diseases, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s.  Inflammation is one way the body tries to protect itself from foreign substances, stress, infection and toxic chemicals. When the immune system senses such dangers, the body activates proteins (yep proteins) to go and protect its cells.

Inflammation is a natural part of healing but, like anything, when it overreacts it can cause trouble.  It can damage your gut, hurt your joints, damage blood vessels and cause autoimmune diseases.  It will mess with your sleep, make weight loss a real issue and increase your chances of getting cancer.

Overeating processed foods will overload your body with substances it does not recognize, and this will put the immune system into overdrive.  A huge part of the connection between protein intake and sickness is the inclusion of processed meats in the studies.

NO MEAT, NO PROBLEM

Most vegans I have met are very well-informed when it comes to food. They are confident about their food choices because they are educated about their food choices.  I have to admire any group of people who live their lives based on their beliefs and not simply on their desires.  When they look at the incomplete proteins, meaning those that are missing one or more of the essential amino acids, they know which incomplete proteins they can combine with other incomplete proteins to provide all essential amino acids at the same time.  There are webpages dedicated to these combinations. Two of the best-known combinations are rice and beans, and peanut butter and bread.  When two incomplete proteins are combined, they can provide all the essential amino acids for the body to use.

Vegans are nearly always know about their food, but the same cannot be said of vegetarians.  I totally understand the repulsion to eat an animal.  I often find myself on the cusp of vegetarianism and I know many other meat-eaters who feel the same way.  Then, in my nutrition practice, I meet those who chose to be vegetarian to lose weight.  Weight loss is more challenging for vegetarians. It is certainly not impossible but replacing protein with carbohydrates, as many vegetarians do, moves you away from your goal, not closer to it.  (All will be explained in the chapters to follow.)

It is important to remember that when you see ‘protein’ on a label, not all proteins are equal.  The type and quality of a protein may be of paramount importance to attaining your goal.  If you want to build muscle, it is best to eat high-quality complete animal proteins, and if you want to avoid eating animal products, then it would be best to eat a wide variety of plant-based complete and incomplete proteins.

over 40 muscle

WHAT DOES PROTEIN DO?

The protein that we eat is used to make enzymes (enzymes help make reactions in the body happen), antibodies, hormones, muscle, and collagen.  The process we mostly associate with protein is, of course, building muscle. Protein plays a much larger role in our health and well-being.

Protein cannot be absorbed and used by our body in its dietary state.  We don’t have chicken, eggs or even tofu floating around in our blood; we have amino acids.  Amino acids make up every cell in our body.

We cannot store protein.  As soon as we eat protein, it is broken down/digested, absorbed and utilized to make the enzymes, hormones, muscle, etc.

All proteins are made up of the nonessential and/or essential amino acids, and different proteins have different ratios of each of these amino acids.  Problems can arise from eating the same foods over and over.  An ultra-narrow diet means getting the same amino acid profile every time. There is a benefit to eating a variety of different proteins to avoid a deficiency of any one amino acid.

Nitrogen is needed by every cell in our bodies, and we get nitrogen from the protein we eat.  The more nitrogen there is in protein, the better the protein.  We know we have complete and incomplete proteins, and proteins can then be ranked by the amount of nitrogen they provide.  Soy is indeed a complete protein, but it is inferior to nitrogen-rich milk, eggs, meat, and poultry.  If building muscle is your goal, you should consider increasing your consumption of nitrogen-rich complete proteins. The most nitrogen-rich proteins include meat, fish, eggs, and milk.

Protein is our maintenance man, constantly building, maintaining and repairing.  At the same time as protein is being used to build, protein is also being broken down by different processes in our body.  “Nitrogen Balance” is where we have as much nitrogen entering our body as is being broken down.

If the goal is to build muscle you want to make sure you have a “positive nitrogen balance,” with more protein entering the body than is being broken down.

Because protein is always being used and never stored, I would suggest trying to eat protein several times a day. This is how protein differs from carbohydrates and fat, both of which can be stored (more on that later…).

You are what you eat, and this goes for animals too.  If an animal has been pumped full of drugs and fed crap, then you might want to consider that before you eat that animal. Animals are kept in heinous conditions and the fed food they were never meant to eat. They are sick, full of antibiotics and highly stressed, and then we eat their flesh or drink the milk.  Hopefully one day soon, it will be realized and regulated as the highly unethical and potentially dangerous sourcing of food that it is.

There is a huge and welcome surge, pushing for ethically kept and healthfully fed animals. Unfortunately, price point still tends to dictate conditions for animals but things are improving and if the push continues we might find quality protein produce readily available to everyone at reasonable prices.

This flows neatly into the critical issue of cost and our eating behavior.  Animals (including fish) had a face, took a breath, were born into life and thankfully this bestows value upon them.  Protein is more expensive than any boxed or packaged product.  To buy rice, pasta or bread is relatively inexpensive.  When cost is a factor, it makes financial sense to buy less protein and more cereals, grains, etc. When we eat out we get a pasta dish with a little bit of protein thrown in, or that Chinese meal with mountains of rice and the shrimp you have to dig for.  Protein is expensive, and it makes sense for the restaurant business to focus their meals on the cheaper macronutrients.  They skimp on the protein and rely heavily on the fillers of bread, rice, potatoes, tortillas, beans, and pasta. There is no escaping the interplay of finances and food.

To understand each macronutrient (protein, fat, carbohydrates) you need to know what happens to them once you have chewed them up and swallowed them.  This is likely more than you need to know, but it completes the picture, removes question marks and joins the dots so to speak.

The journey of protein after it leaves your plate.  Protein is chewed and swallowed, and it moves on down your esophagus (throat) and enters your stomach.  There it meets pepsin, an enzyme which breaks the protein and peptide bonds.

The majority of the digestion of protein that happens in the small intestine.  The pancreas is linked to the small intestine and sends pancreatic enzymes there to breakdown more peptide bonds (Trypsin, Chymotrypsin, Carboxypeptidase)

Polypeptides are broken down into peptides (two or more amino acids join together) which are then broken down into single amino acids a form in which they can then enter the blood stream.

 

In a nutshell, protein is made up of many parts which the stomach and the small intestine break down into single units which can then enter the blood.

The single amino acids go straight to the liver. This organ takes what it needs before releasing the amino acids into the general blood stream.  Once in the general blood stream, the amino acids can be used to make muscle, collagen, hormones, antibiotics, and enzymes.

Complete digestion (breakdown) must take place for proteins to be fully utilized.  When people have an issue digesting protein, they may be advised to take a supplement containing the enzyme pepsin.

We need a healthy stomach, pancreas, and liver for all digestion to take place.  Heavy use of antibiotics and over-the-counter pain medication can greatly affect the functionality of the stomach and liver.

·        Protein builds, maintains, repairs and creates. It is constantly required. It is being used and broken down all day and all night.  It is the 24/7 maintenance man of your body.

·        Protein is a source of nitrogen and every cell in our body needs nitrogen.

·        There are complete and incomplete proteins, all of which are valuable although the complete proteins are better utilized.

·        Protein cannot be stored. When we eat protein, it is used.  There might be an advantage (depending on your goal type) to eating protein several times a day.

 

Protein is expensive, and usually, the least used macronutrient in a prepared meal.

All complete proteins are not created equal. The level of nitrogen is ranked, and animal proteins rank higher than non-animal proteins.

 

 

 

We have choices in the sourcing of our animal protein. The more we select the grass-fed produce which is hormone, antibiotic and cage-free, the more we empower the local and ethical farmer, and the more pressure we put on the monstrous giants of the food industry.  Do not underestimate your power as a consumer, as we have seen in recent years we all have a voice and collectively we have the ability to shake things up a bit.

As we age our protein requirement might actually increase and yet we tend to eat less.  One solution is to take a BCAA supplement.  Branch Chain Amino Acids will give you the essential amino acids you need without having to eat any meat.  Persoannly I eat much less animal protein than I used to.  I don’t eat pork, lamb or any red meat by choice and my taste for poultry really changed over the last few years.  Even worse I don’t tolerate egg yolks very well, more than 2 and I get this ugly rash all over my neck and chest.

A BCAA supplement (2-3 grams before and after a workout and once or twice more per day between meals) is therefore my go to spplement.

The Shrink Shop has its own line of supplements (check out on   Amazon )

And BCAA are certainly another product I would like to add to our brand

If you enojoyed this blog post please share and comment with any ideas you would like me to cover

3 thoughts on “3 Things You Must Know About Protein”

  1. GREAT INFO!!! you really broke it down well and help me to better understand. I was a vegetarian, but always ate eggs for protein. Recently I started eating fish again and feel much better. I limit my fish to wild, pole caught fish only!

    1. Hey Robert. Thank you so much. This really is great yo hear because this is part of chapter one of a book I wrote and am editing right now. The chapter on protein carbs fat was challenging because it’s not that exciting but it has yo come first before I discus anything else. Goal was to simply break it down without getting crazy detailed (which never seems to help people)

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