Proteins are an essential part of your diet.
They’re found in a wide range of foods…everything from burgers to beans. But not all proteins
are the same. Some proteins are surrounded by stuff that’s bad for you like saturated
fats. That would be the burger. Other proteins are coupled with good stuff like vitamins,
minerals and fiber. Yes. I’m talking about the beans.
We want proteins because they play a critical role throughout the body, helping it make
and repair cells. Every one of your cells contains proteins. They’re a major part
of your muscles, bones, skin and hair. The basic building blocks of proteins are
called amino acids. Think of amino acids as letters in an alphabet: just like our 26 letters
can be arranged into hundreds of thousands of words, the 20 basic amino acids can be
arranged into tens of thousands of proteins. And while the body can make most of these
20 amino acids, it can’t make 9 of them. These 9 are called the “essential” amino
acids, and we must get them from the protein in our diet.
Based on that, proteins in food are considered either “complete” or “incomplete”.
Animal proteins generally contain all the “essential” amino acids. Those are “complete”.
Soybeans are the only plant protein that is “complete”. Proteins from fruits, veggies,
grains and nuts are missing at least one essential amino acid. They’re “incomplete”. This
is an important point for vegetarians, who need to be sure to eat a variety of foods
with protein to make sure they get all of their essential amino acids.
Protein helps you feel fuller, and doesn’t cause spikes in blood sugar. And while it’s
an important part of a healthy weight loss plan, beware of high-protein diets. They are
not balanced. All protein sources aren’t the same and
the trick is to pick out the healthy ones in the right amounts. Here’s what I tell
my patients: Eat a mix of proteins because different sources
offer different benefits. With animal proteins, you have to be careful
because they often contain a lot of an unhealthy fat saturated fat. Limit your intake of red
meat and avoid processed meats, like deli meats and hot dogs. Both have even been
linked to a higher risk of certain cancers. The best sources of animal protein are lean
meats, like poultry without the skin and fish. When it comes to dairy products, like butter
and whole milk, look for low or non-fat options like skim milk or low-fat yogurt.
Proteins like those found in nuts, beans, whole grains, and soy are a good choice. They
are a terrific source of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Soy products also contain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Some even contain fiber.
It’s still unclear whether soy protein plays a role in preventing hot flashes or chronic
disease. What is clear is that soy products, like tofu or soymilk can provide a great alternative
to less healthy proteins in your diet. As an experienced nutritionist, I know a lot
people avoid proteins because they are afraid of the fat. Remember, some fats are “good”
and so are some proteins. You need them both. When they are eaten from smart sources and
in sensible portions, they’re the foundation of a healthy, balanced diet.