Pushing Protein

July 8, 2011 5:11:12 AM PDT
Protein is considered an essential element of a healthy diet - but how much do you really need?

It seems to be the new hot trend in dieting. It's not the more protein-less carbs diet; it's about working more protein into your daily food intake.

Many high protein products are showing up in the supermarket these days. Are we becoming protein deficient?

In 12 months, Kim Hastings went from 26 to 13 percent body fat and lost 12 pounds. She credits two things: a boot camp class and a lot of protein.

"I take over 200 grams of protein a day," said Hastings. "I think an average person probably takes about a hundred."

Certified personal trainer Bryan Daskam says most of us don't get enough protein.

Daskam said people need more protein "especially if you're going to exercise, even if you're not exercising, you have to."

However, many exercise and sports medicine specialists, including those at Loyola University Medical Center, disagree.

They say we don't need the extra protein that food labels are pushing, and that a person's normal diet, even if it isn't the greatest, will have sufficient protein without the additives and supplements.

"Our western diet seems to already provide an adequate amount of protein for our nutritional requirements," said Lara Dugas, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at Loyola University Medical Center.

Try a formula: Plug in your weight - say you weigh 130 pounds. Divide your weight by 2.2, then multiply that by 0.8. 47 grams is thus your recommended daily protein intake given your weight.

What about the supplements, shakes and bars pushing extra protein?

"These new and improved products - they're not. It's marketing. It's all marketing," said Dr. Kim LeBlanc, family medicine doctor at LSU Health Sciences Center.

Something else to consider: Protein products can be packed with calories, so they are more of a meal than a snack.

"So if you look on the back of a label of your average protein bar, they're delivering about 200 calories, so that is half a meal right there," said Dugas.

There are plenty of healthy protein-rich foods to choose from. For example, you'll get about seven grams of protein in one ounce of cooked meat. So, a three-ounce chicken breast would provide about 21 grams of protein. A cup of dried beans has around 16 grams.

Many other foods offer their share of protein. A cup of milk has about eight grams, and one egg contains more than six grams. Vegetables also have protein. A cup of broccoli offers five grams and a medium baked potato about three grams.

"Look at where your protein is in relation to everything else and you can supplement only where needed depending on your goal - strength training versus someone who is trying to lose weight," said Dr. Neeru Jayanthi, doctor of sports medicine at Loyola University Medical Center.

Experts tell us there is a misconception that bulking up on protein will promote weight loss. Their message: A calorie, whether it comes from protein or a carbohydrate, is still a calorie.

"You can reduce weight by your total calorie consumption. Period," said Jayanthi.

What protein foods may have over carbohydrate is staying power, so some people may feel more full for longer.

"Your body seems to burn at a slightly higher metabolic rate, and what we know is that protein is harder to digest than carbohydrates," said Dugas.

If you decide to go on a high protein diet, check with your doctor first. Too much protein can cause problems, especially for people with kidney issues.

If you are starting an intensive exercise program and want to take a protein supplement to build muscle, experts say it's important to evaluate all of your protein sources.

More information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Loyola University Medical Center

American Dietetic Association

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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