In the most recent episode of The Well + Good Podcast, director of creative development Ella Dove talks to registered dietitians Brigitte Zeitlin MPH, RD, CDN, Yasi Ansari, MS, RDN, and Valerie Agyeman, RD, LD, to get the low-down on protein.
Protein is about more than keeping hunger at bay or building muscle
Protein refers to the amino acids in foods that our muscles use to build and repair, according to the Mayo Clinic. "Even though they're associated with building muscles and staving offer hunger, protein is also vital for organ function and immune system support," Ansari says. "It also helps us recover from injuries, hard workouts; it makes our nails and hair grow, and, as you might've heard, it gives you energy and keeps you fuller, longer."
You don't have to protein-ify desert foods to enjoy them
It is crucial to get your protein, but not every food you eat has to contain high nutrient levels, Zeitlin says. "I want people to be able to enjoy and eat a cookie, not because it's a protein cookie, but because it's a sweet treat," says Zeitlin. She says that there are a lot of sources of protein out there, and you don't necessarily have to make sure your shakes or cookies are packed with protein as well.
Supplementing protein beyond the recommended 45 to 56 grams a day for adults (which depends on your body size and gender) doesn't necessarily yield extra benefits. So you can give up the urge to turn your favorite snacks into protein sources (unless they naturally are).
Consuming consistent amounts is ideal
One of the most important parts of getting your protein is consuming it consistently, Ansari says. Having no protein at one meal and a lot of protein at the next is not as ideal as having 15-30 grams per sitting at every meal, she says.
You can increase the aforementioned amount based on factors like your body size, gender, dietary needs, age. But having a consistent amount of protein is good for your energy and metabolism regulation, she explains. That's why the word balance is used so often in nutrition language; all food groups are important in certain amounts to meet your body's needs.
Any diet that overemphasizes a food group is a red flag
Diet advice that recommends you center food intake around a specific food group, whether protein or any other, while demonizing others is a red flag, says Agyeman. This goes for protein as well.
Fitness coaches, nutritionists, and random people on the internet might stress really high protein intake numbers. This isn't always the case, but it's important to tailor your intake to your specific needs. Older people, people with cancer, or people trying to build muscle, Agyeman says, may need more protein than the average person. Others might need less than recommended amounts, so seeking advice from an RD or trustworthy source is your best bet.
Meat isn't the only protein-rich food source
It's important to remember that protein comes in so many different shapes and sizes, Zeitlin says. A meal doesn't have to be only protein and offer a whopping 45 grams in the form of a smoothie to be valuable. Sure, that's an option you can choose, she says, but there's protein in bread, quinoa, chickpeas, and avocado.
Being creative about where you get your nutrients can be an opportunity to improve your relationship with food, experience yummy flavors, and avoid boredom.
Were you surprised by any of these protein tips or myths? For more information that will level up your protein knowledge, tune in to this most recent episode so that you can flex some new nutrition muscles in the kitchen asap.
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