By Adrienne Greenwalt of Lean Life Health Coaching in Columbus; Certified Health Coach, RN MSN, and mother of three
It’s hard to walk through an aisle at the grocery store these days without seeing ‘now with PROTEIN!’ splashed across packages of bread, yogurt, cereal, ice cream and more. But is all this protein beneficial or even necessary?
Protein is the major building block of all of our body’s cells and is broken down into amino acids through digestion. There are nine essential amino acids that we cannot make in our bodies and must get from our food. All nine are provided in animal sources of protein such as meat, fish, dairy products and eggs. Plant-based sources of protein like whole grains, legumes (like lentils, split peas and peanuts), beans, nuts and seeds are all valuable sources of protein, but since each contains only some of the nine essential amino acids, the vegetarian diet needs to be varied enough each day to ensure you get all of them. Since these amino acids are necessary for vital functions of our body, you may be left wondering how much protein you and your children really need, and if you’re getting enough.
The good news is, if your child is consuming enough calories through a balanced diet, then they’re almost certainly getting enough protein. The best way to consume protein is to spread out our intake across the day by including a source of protein in all of our meals. Even in teenage athletes, a healthy, balanced diet usually provides enough protein to meet the body’s needs, and it is almost always better to consume protein as part of a meal made up of whole foods as opposed to a supplement like protein powder. Protein powders, like other vitamins and supplements, are not regulated by the FDA, and the nutritional breakdown and specific ingredients may not be as cited on the container. Always check with your family’s pediatrician before adding a supplement to your child’s diet.
There is a lot of debate around the specific amounts of protein required in the adult diet. The USDA’s recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, with an exception for pregnant and lactating mothers, who require slightly more protein per day (1.1grams per kilogram of current weight). Several popular diets such as Atkins, Keto and the Paleo diet all put a heavy emphasis on increasing protein in order to lose weight and/or build muscle. But if you consume more calories by just adding protein, and not burn off those calories with increased exercise or activity, they will still be stored as fat in the body. However, if you’re replacing the calories you used to get from refined carbohydrates (sugary cereals, chips, white bread, etc.) with whole-food sources of protein (such as unsweetened peanut butter, salmon, lean turkey or chicken, lentils, spinach, broccoli or pistachios) and you’re making other healthy and nutritious choices and getting adequate exercise, you’ll begin to see a myriad of health benefits.
For the average person looking at the confusing protein recommendations and feeling frustrated, I offer you a simple suggestion: focus instead on eating a whole-food diet: heavy on plants, low on highly processed foods containing refined oils and artificial additives, and you’ll be on your way to improving your health. Always check with your healthcare provider before changing your diet or exercise regimen. If you’re looking for education and guidance on improving your overall health, preventing illness or making healthy food choices, visit us at LeanLifeHealthCoaching.com.