Guide to Healthy Protein Sources

After fat, protein is one of the most misunderstood and sometimes vilified food sources. Protein can be obtained from a wide variety of foods. But many disagree about the healthiest sources of protein and how much we really need. Some prefer to get their daily allowance from meat, others from soy, others from dairy.... and the list goes on. Some even prefer to obtain protein from a powdered concoction of dried whey and chemicals...

All of these conflicting (and sometimes counterintuitive) perspectives can make it difficult to choose healthy sources of protein. In this article, we will review the foods that constitute a healthy source of protein and the amount we should include in our diet.

What is protein?

Proteins, at a strictly molecular level, are made up of amino acids in a linear chain. The amino acid sequence of a protein molecule is defined by the gene sequence of that protein.

While many plants and microorganisms can create the 20 proteins "internally," animals (including us) must obtain some of them through food. The proteins that we cannot create ourselves and that we must obtain through food are called essential amino acids. We get these amino acids from different types of proteins in our diet.

There are 20 standard amino acids specified by the genetic code. Proteins are absolutely essential to all cellular functions in our body, especially as enzymes that are the catalysts of metabolic reactions.

Why is healthy protein important?

Through digestion, healthy proteins are broken down for use in all parts of the body. Proteins can be broken down into glucose if the body needs it. But it is the least preferable source of energy, because it is difficult to transform (unlike carbohydrates). This is also the reason why, contrary to popular belief, we do not need to eat constantly to "keep our metabolism going". The body naturally uses other forms of fuel first, breaking down the muscle last.

That said, a long-term, low-fat, calorie-restricted diet will result in a muscle-burning sensation.

The human body needs a diet that contains adequate amounts of protein from the right sources. This is why a vegetarian diet can (but does not always) cause problems in the body.

An adequate amount of protein is absolutely vital, especially for growing children, because the body uses it to :

  • Immune function and support
  • Building cell membranes
  • Create and repair cells and tissues
  • transport oxygen and nutrients throughout the body
  • the production of hormones and enzymes

Complete or incomplete proteins?

There are two categories of healthy protein sources. Protein complete proteins are high-quality proteins that contain the essential amino acids we need for basic body function. These proteins are more easily absorbed by the body. They are found in meat, eggs, fish, poultry and dairy products.

The incomplete proteins are low-quality proteins that do not contain all the necessary amino acids. They are found in grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.

Is meat the best source of healthy protein?

Without getting into all the controversy, we'll say: not all meats are healthy and not all meats are a great choice for protein. The old adage "You are what you eat" rings true here. The confounding factor is that your dietary protein (meat) is what it eats, too. In addition to the extra body fat caused by these grain feeds, these poor animals are getting huge doses of toxins to store in that fat from all the pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics used on these grains.

If grains are bad for us, it's not the best idea to eat a bunch of animals that have been fattened on genetically modified corn or soybeans to try to be healthy.

Let's take the example of beef. Cows were meant to eat grass (they are ruminants). When cows eat grass, they function largely disease-free. And when they are slaughtered, they contain more than five times the nutrients of grain-fed cows.

Healthy, high-protein food sources

It is not always easy to know which proteins are good for the body and which are not. So we've put together a list of the best protein sources so you know what to look for. Finding healthy sources of protein will require a little creativity, but it can be done!

Grass-fed beef

Beef is an excellent source of many nutrients, including:

  • Vitamin B12 - The vitamin B12 is important for the formation of red blood cells and the proper functioning of the brain.
  • Vitamin B3 - This vitamin is important for a wide range of processes in the body, from the skin to the nervous system.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids - These essential fatty acids are important for balancing inflammation in the body and promoting heart health.
  • Vitamin B6 - An important function of vitamin B6 is to help the body produce melatonin. Melatonin is crucial for healthy sleep and circadian rhythm.
  • Selenium - This nutrient plays a role in many body functions, including reproduction, thyroid function, DNA production, and immune function.
  • Iron - iron is another essential nutrient that helps make red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. There are several types of iron, but animal sources contain the most bioavailable species, heme.
  • Zinc - This mineral is important for the immune system. It helps the body fight infections and heal wounds. This is also important for optimal growth.

Organ meats

meats

Organ meat is not most people's first choice for dinner, but maybe it should be! This unpopular protein does not deserve its bad reputation, as it is incredibly healthy and nutrient dense. In traditional cultures, organ meat was the most sought after meat and muscle meat was often fed to dogs.

Liver, for example, contains:

  • Vitamin A - Vitamin A plays an important role in vision, heart and kidney health. It is also important for immune support and reproductive health.
  • Riboflavin (B2) - Riboflavin helps synthesize food into energy and is important for cell development and function.
  • Folate (B9) - Folate is an important nutrient for pregnant women. It helps prevent birth defects and plays an important role in rapid cell division and growth as well as in DNA formation. Unfortunately, many of us take a lot of folic acid, the synthetic version of folate, which is not as well absorbed and can be problematic.

Proteins to avoid

There are many sources of quality protein. But there are also some that are not healthy and should be avoided if possible:

  • Conventionally raised beef and offal
  • Conventional chicken and egg farming
  • Farmed seafood
  • Sweetened or processed dairy sources
  • Nuts cooked in hydrogenated vegetable oils (for the most part!)
  • Beans and legumes (unless you tolerate them well)
  • Fermented soybeans

It is not always possible to eat 100% organic, pastured or grass-fed proteins. However, it is still good to know which ones to avoid if possible.

How much healthy protein do we need?

According to the official Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), we should consume at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

A 2015 paper published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recommends at least twice the amount of protein RDA, based on the findings of more than 60 health and nutrition experts at an international summit. The Harvard Medical School echoes this opinion, although it warns against overconsumption of red meat.

Pregnant women and many men need to consume the upper range of this scale.

This protein can come from beef, chicken, organ meats, wild game, eggs, nuts, seeds, yogurt and other healthy sources. And even 100 grams isn't much when you cut out processed foods and carbs.

Net income

Conventional wisdom tells us that all proteins are created equal. But in reality, some sources are better than others (sometimes by a lot). Choosing protein sources from healthy animals is always the best way to get good quality protein that will nourish the body.

What is your daily protein intake? What is your favorite source? Share your experiences with us below!

Sources:

Examination of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. (North Dakota). Excerpt from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2846864/

Research shows that eggs from pastured chickens may be more nutritious. (North Dakota). Retrieved from https://news.psu.edu/story/166143/2010/07/20/research-shows-eggs-pastured-chickens-may-be-more-nutritious

The grass is greener: farmers experience poultry on pasture. (North Dakota). Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236974606_The_grass_is_greener_Farmers_experiences_with_pastured_poultry

# Food
Marie Dupont 14 November, 2019
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