5 commonly asked protein questions answered
From shakes to bars and even soup mix, protein seems to be trending everywhere in today’s grocery aisles. While most of us know protein is essential to a healthy diet, there is still a lot we might not know.
Dana Artinyan, a registered dietitian at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, answers some common questions about protein.
1. Why is protein so important for nutrition?
Proteins are present in every cell and tissue in our bodies. Protein is not only critical for building and maintaining muscle – it is also the building block for our hair, skin, bones, eyes, organs and hormones, along with countless other uses throughout the body. Inadequate protein intake has been shown to negatively impact the brain and brain function, immunity, muscle tone, skin and hair quality and lead to malnutrition and failure to thrive. According to the National Academy of Medicine, the risk of negative consequences from excess protein intake appears to be very low. That being said, those with kidney disease who are not on dialysis may need to limit protein intake.
2. Which foods are the healthiest sources of protein?
Protein can come from both animal and plant sources. “I recommend eggs, chicken, fish, lean meats, dairy products such as milk, Greek or regular yogurt and cottage cheese. Good sources of plant-based protein include beans, lentils, nuts and nut butters,” Artinyan says.
3. What are some key protein consumption guidelines for people who work out frequently?
Protein recommendations range from 0.36 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you’re more active or are trying to build muscle, you should aim for the higher end of that range. It is especially important to consume 15-20 grams of protein after workouts. That equates to 1/2 cup of cottage cheese, 3/4 cup of Greek yogurt or two hard-boiled eggs. If it’s easier for you, a protein powder can also be a good option. Look for one without added sugars and with a list of ingredients that you can recognize.
4. What about diets often touted as high-protein, like Paleo or Atkins?
Paleo, Atkins and Ketogenic diets–which are actually not always high in protein–can be done in both healthy and not-so-healthy ways.
“In general, I find the diets too restrictive and therefore don’t recommend them to patients. I want my patients to have flexibility in what they eat and to be able to continue eating foods they truly enjoy, albeit in smaller quantities,” Artinyan says.
5. What is your number one tip for healthy protein consumption?
It is essential to eat protein throughout the day. Rather than just eating a giant chicken breast at dinner, have a couple of eggs in the morning, some chicken with lunch and perhaps pork tenderloin with dinner. This can be said of most nutrients – your body can only use so much at a time, so it’s best to spread foods out across meals and snacks.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.