Even though we walk around with devices that keep us constantly clued in to this transcendental science called the Internet and we drive giant balls of metal called cars at rates faster than a cheetah, human beings are still animals.
We have animal cravings, instincts and needs. Sometimes that’s for companionship; sometimes that’s for safety. But most of the time our animal cravings are for specific types of food that keep us functioning on a cellular level.
No matter what your diet choices are, there’s one food component that is intrinsic to the human race—protein.
Protein has been a hot topic for as long as I can remember—even before my career as a registered dietitian. Over a decade ago, Dr. Atkins made the topic of protein and weight loss diets something of a fad, which eventually turned into an everyday eating style.
Regardless of your nutrition knowledge, you’ve probably heard of Atkins and his diet. This diet advocated high protein and low carbohydrate diets.
But protein isn’t just something you need when you’re dieting, or trying to get ripped. I want to take protein out of the context of a diet food—it’s an essential macronutrient.
Whenever you are on a diet or fitness plan, it’s important to look at your calories, but it’s also really important to make sure you getting a balanced percentage of macronutrients. Three very important macronutrients are fats, protein and carbohydrates.
If your animal brain is like, “What’s a macronutrient? Just give me a burger,” macronutrients are nutrients needed in large (or macro) amounts that provide necessary calories or energy.
Nutrients are exactly what you think they are—dietary substances necessary for the healthy functioning of your body including metabolism and growth.
Aside from water, protein is the most abundant compound found in the human body. Protein is found in every cell and tissue. When I studied macronutrients in college, I remember being shocked by how much protein is so critical to the body’s functioning. I learned that in physiology, amino acids are not only the building blocks of protein, but the building blocks of life.
Without amino acids, and subsequently protein, you would not be the human animal that you are.
There are many different proteins that govern human existence. Hormones such as progesterone and insulin are proteins. Those help us get pregnant or keep our blood sugar levels healthy. Oxygen is transported through the body on a protein called hemoglobin. Certain proteins help with cellular repair after we get stressed out. In the high stress modern life, this is all the time. We need those proteins in order to keep our bodies stress resistant. Other proteins like transferrin, metallothionine, cerulopasmin and transport proteins help nutrients travel through the body.
Proteins also hold onto the code of our life—RNA and DNA that helps shape who you are.
You probably already know this, but we also need adequate protein to build and repair muscles. When you’re dieting and exercising, one of the reasons having a protein-rich diet helps is because proteins also help convert sugar and fat into viable fuel. If you want to speed up your metabolism, make sure you’re having protein in the morning, such as a hard-boiled egg.
So, now that we know we basically couldn’t exist without protein, you’re probably wondering—how does this help me lose weight?
Without exercise, effort and understanding, eating high protein isn’t going to make you lose weight. It takes a balanced and healthy combination of good carbs and good vibes. Added protein can, however, help facilitate steady weight loss if you’re paying attention to those other two things.
Protein Is Satisfying
It slows down your digestion and makes you feel fuller longer.
Protein Balances Out Carbs
Eating protein with sugar or carbs keeps your blood sugar level and helps with cravings.
Protein Digestion Takes More Energy
TEF, or the “thermic effect of food,” is the amount of energy we use to digest something. Compared to carbs and fat, protein uses more energy and eating protein therefore burns more calories simply from the digestion process.
Protein Helps Burn Fat
Your body has a harder time burning fat when it doesn’t have the support system of healthy carbs and protein. Protein consumption especially helps build lean muscle.
Protein Helps Muscle Repair
Working out a lot? You’re going to need more protein in order to make exercise worthwhile. Protein will help your muscle repair, grow and become stronger and leaner.
Despite what people say, you really don’t have to eat meat to get protein. Lots of greens and grains come with plant-based protein. However, some grains need to be combined with other proteins to make the protein complete. Black beans and brown rice is a great example.
High protein foods include but are not limited to red meats, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, cheese, yogurt, beans, legumes, tofu and quinoa.
Medium protein foods include rice, wheat, oats, millet and barley. While they have protein, their protein rates are lower and often incomplete.
Low protein foods include fruits, vegetables and juices.
What are some great combos you can eat—whether you are dieting or not?
Serving brown rice with white fish and spinach is a great way to get a complete, balanced and protein-rich meal. Greek yogurt with blueberries or oatmeal with crushed nuts. Chickpea salad on whole grain, sprouted toast. Quinoa patties with yogurt dipping sauce! The combinations of foods are endless. You can easily satisfy your animal appetite without subsisting on bacon and steak.
Animals need greens for digestion, too. Cats and dogs will eat grass when they need fiber for their digestive system to help process their protein-heavy diets.
Just eat like your dog (except trash, don’t eat trash.) and you can’t go wrong when it comes to getting your daily dose of life-building protein.
What are your favorite forms of protein? Tell me in the comments or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and tag @thefaraheffect.