Are you eating enough protein? What’s the best source for protein? And why is it so important? Dr. Josh Axe, a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author, who is focused on helping people heal by using food as medicine, shares a multitude of protein facts that will help you understand whether your body is getting what it needs to thrive, and if not, what to do about it.
Why Is Protein Important?
Protein is the building block of you! It is the basis of your muscles and it’s in the foods that are going to boost your metabolism and fat-burning potential. Let’s be honest: nothing is more important than protein. It is the fuel that motivates and supports your body’s ability to build healthy tissue and cells. Proteins keep the body going. Because they’re used to develop, grow and maintain just about every part of our bodies—from our skin and hair to our digestive enzymes and immune system antibodies—our body constantly needs more.
Vital organs, muscles, tissues and even some of our hormones are built of proteins. In additional, proteins create hemoglobin and important antibodies. They’re involved in nearly about every bodily function, including controlling blood sugar levels, healing wounds and fighting off bacteria.
Without protein there’d be no life.
Protein Facts: Benefits
The biggest benefits of protein include fat burning, helping muscle recovery and helping heal cuts and wounds. Protein is essential to healing an injury. It’s also important for:
- Fighting diabetes and balancing blood sugar
- Brain function
- Combatting depression and brain issues
- Maintaining healthy cholesterol
- Muscle recovery and recovery from injury
9 Signs Your Body Isn’t Getting Enough Protein
1. High cholesterol
High cholesterol and triglycerides are not just caused by eating fatty foods—they’re also a result of increased inflammation, hormonal imbalances and a high-processed/high-sugar diet. If you tend to replace protein with sugary snacks, refined carbs and packaged convenient goods, your liver and cells may begin to process fat less effectively and cause your cholesterol to rise. Some studies conclude that not eating enough protein can lead to a risk of heart disease.
2. Anxiety and moodiness
Amino acids are the building blocks for neurotransmitters, which control your mood. Proteins help the brain synthesize hormones like dopamine and serotonin, which help us feel calm, excitement and positivity.
3. Working out is a struggle
Of course protein is needed to build new muscle mass, but it’s also important for energy and motivation. A lack of protein can result in muscle atrophy, fatigue and even fat gain. You can workout more, but see fewer results if your diet isn’t enough to support tissue repair or your energy needs.
4. Poor sleep
Bad sleep patterns and insomnia can occasionally be linked to unstable blood sugar levels, a rise in cortisol and a decrease in serotonin production. Blood sugar swings during the day actually carry over through the night. Carbohydrates need a lot more insulin to process than fat or protein do. Need a snack before bed and want to help your sleep? Have something with protein in it. A protein-filled snack can increase tryptophan and serotonin production, with little effect on blood glucose levels. Eating enough protein actually slows down the absorption of sugar during a meal.
5. “Brain fog”
Protein facts: It is necessary for many functions in the brain, and not having enough of it can lead to brain fog, poor concentration, lack of motivation and trouble learning new information can be a sign that you don’t have the neurotransmitters you need to focus (including dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine and serotonin). Neurotransmitters are synthesized in the brain using amino acids and studies show that balanced diets with enough protein can boost work performance, learning and motor skills.
6. Gassiness and constipation
Many of our body’s functions, including metabolism and digestion, need amino acids. If you feel generally tired because of a protein deficiency, then everything from enzyme production to muscle contractions in your gastrointestinal tract and digestion will suffer.
7. Weight gain
Although high-protein foods may have more calories than carbohydrates, they can help you feel fuller, which in turn can prevent snacking or overeating. Eating enough high-protein foods also help stabilize blood sugar, which allows you to retain muscle mass. And increased muscle mass burns more calories all day and reduces cravings.
8. Irregular menstruation
One of the most common causes of irregular periods and infertility in women is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Two major risk factors for PCOS are obesity and prediabetes or diabetes. Low-protein, high-sugar/high-carb diets can contribute to insulin resistance (which affects 50-70 percent of all women with PCOS), fatigue, inflammation and weight gain that can disrupt the balance of female hormones needed to sustain a regular cycle.
9. Frequent injuries and lengthy healing time
A low-protein diet can increase your risk for muscle loss, falling, slow bone healing, bone weakness, fractures and even osteoporosis. Eating enough protein helps the body absorb calcium and helps with bone metabolism.
Older adults with the greatest bone loss are those with a low protein intake (about 16–50 grams per day), according to studies. Research also shows that a diet high in amino acids, which we get from protein, can help treat and prevent muscle loss that comes with age.
How Much Protein Do We Need, Exactly?
Each person needs a different amount of protein. Your body weight, gender, age and level of activity all determine how much protein is best for you, and your needs likely vary by day. Generally, experts recommend that 20-30 percent of our daily calories come from protein.
- At an average weight and activity level, the USDA recommends 56 grams of protein per day for men, and 46 grams per day for women.
- If you’re very active, pregnant or ill, this might not be enough.
Best Protein Sources
Here’s a few more protein facts: eating a mix of plant-based and animal-based proteins is the best approach to getting enough. While animal products have more protein per calorie than most plants, eating too much meat, dairy, fish or eggs everyday isn’t the best idea. There’s also drawbacks to it (it’s less environmentally sustainable, more expensive and more acidic).
Vegetarian proteins often double as a great way to get more fiber, antioxidants, electrolytes and other nutrients, so it’s good to try to include them regularly in meals in place of meat.
When buying protein, make sure it’s organic. Many conventional restaurant and grocery stores do not sell grass-fed organic meat, which is a downfall. Conventional meat comes with hormones, antibiotics, steroids and other chemicals that are not good for your health. So make sure you get grass-fed meat!
Here are some great protein options:
- Vegetarian and vegan protein, which will provide a significant amount of amino acids, includes: all types of beans and legumes (especially adzuki beans, mung beans and lentils), nuts and seeds, flax, chia and hemp, as well as unprocessed/ancient grains like oats, buckwheat, amaranth, farro or quinoa. It’s an added bonus if you consume sprouted nuts, legumes and grains since these help make the amino acids in them more easily absorbed once you eat them.
- Some vegetables have a fairly high concentration of protein, especially considering how low in calories they are. Veggies that help boost your protein intake include: spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and mushrooms.
- For meats or fish, the best forms of protein are going to be things like grass-fed beef, organic chicken and turkey and wild-caught salmon.
- Protein is the building block of the human body. It is the basis of your muscles and is an integral part of several bodily functions, which is why we always need to make sure we are eating enough protein.
- The biggest benefits of protein include fat burning, helping muscle recovery and helping heal cuts and wounds. It also fights diabetes, balances blood sugar, is a key component of brain function and aides in muscles recovery and recovery from an injury.
- You may not be eating enough protein if you suffer from the following ailments: high cholesterol, anxiety and moodiness, working out is a struggle, poor sleep, brain fog, gassiness and constipation, weight gain, irregular menstruation in women and frequent injuries with lengthy healing times.
- The best diets include a mix of plant-based and animal-based proteins, including beans and legumes, as well as unprocessed/ancient grains like quinoa, among others; vegetables, such as spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and mushrooms; and meats or fish, such as grass-fed beef, organic chicken and turkey and wild-caught salmon.
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