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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Are You Protein, or Against It?


So what's the deal with protein, you may be wondering?  It seems to be added to everything from granola bars to breakfast cereal to orange juice these days.

And I am guessing that either you or someone you know has at least once attempted a high protein, lower carb diet at some point, right?

I can't say the same for myself though...I already know that I couldn't restrict my carbs too much.  No one takes away my daily oatmeal I say!

But every day it seems their is another headline contradicting the next in terms of how much we need and whether or not eating lots of it (and little to no carbs) will make us all look like Greek Gods.

So, what's the deal with protein?

North Americans have been obsessed with it since the resurgence of the Atkins and other low-carb diet trends in the late 1990s.  After failing to improve our health and lose weight on the popular low-fat diet (primarily because we gorged on high sugar, low nutrition carbs), the pendulum swung back to high fat, high protein diets. 

Many people were able to lose weight on these diets since protein is very satiating, and it was exciting to be allowed large quantities of bacon and other high fat foods, but most people - and this is backed by plenty of studies - have a difficult time staying on these restrictive diets long-term, and usually are not able to keep off the weight they initially lose.  As I have said many times, making changes to your lifestyle to improve your health that you cannot maintain long-term are kind of pointless.

Nevertheless, even my thinking about nutrition has changed a whole lot since back then. I was never into the whole low-carb thing (take away my oatmeal and you risk your life!) but I also have come to realize that carbs, even the good ones, should not be eaten with abandon.  I can easily gorge on a massive plate of brown rice or whole grain pasta but doing so isn't all that great an idea.  Even healthy, whole grains, should be eaten in moderation.  Fortunately for me, I have found that the more I've shifted my workouts away from endurance cardio and more towards HIIT and strength training, the more I crave protein instead.  I actually think I've managed to overcome my carb addiction!  Except for my morning oatmeal!

Anyways, protein is clearly still hot and trendy as most of the popular diets these days like Dukan and Paleo are pretty high in protein.  So how much do you really need to be healthy?  Well believe it or not, you may actually need more as you age.

After the age of 30, we start to experience sarcopenia, or age-related loss of muscle.  Whether you are concerned about maintaining independence and mobility when you are elderly or just want to avoid gaining fat, you should be concerned about this.  When you lose muscle mass, your metabolism decreases, which means you will lose strength, balance, mobility and coordination.  You will also likely experience an increase in subcutaneous fat, which increases your risk of Type II diabetes, heart disease and cancer, without even seeing the scale change that much. 

In order to counter sarcopenia, adults over age 60 should get  about 0.54 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

But guess what trumps the effects of protein intake on fighting sarcopenia?  Strength training, of course, and its never to late to start.

So what else do we know about protein?

The kind you eat matters.  Red meat is linked with cancer and cardiovascular disease, so stick with poultry, eggs, fish and plant proteins.

High protein intake is not associated with osteopenia (weak bones) or kidney disease.

And what about protein and weight-loss?

Most experts agree that getting enough protein is important when you are attempting to lose weight because:

1. It is satiating (along with fibre...its a myth that fat is satiating);
2. It helps preserve lean mass (muscle), which is important because when people cut calories, they often lose lean mass, which means their metabolism drops.

As for all the crap foods they are now adding protein to (i.e. Special K Protein products, protein bread, etc.)?  Skip it and eat real, whole food instead!

Source: Nutrition Action Healthletter