Protein 101: What You Need To Know

Protein 101: What You Need To Know

Protein 101: What You Need To Know

Most of the information we hear about protein is related to the Atkins or low carbohydrate diets. However, many individuals are not aware of the health benefits of eating the right amount and quality of protein.

In this article, I will provide you with important information about protein. I won’t be discussing high protein diets or controversies among supporters of the low carbohydrate vs low fat diet. To remain healthy, we need to keep a balance within our body, mind and soul. Our bodies require the supply of the right amount of nutrients in our food. To achieve a healthy body, we need to eat a well-balanced diet that includes combination of carbohydrates, protein and fats. These three components are known as “macronutrients,” meaning that our body needs large amounts of it. Vitamins and minerals known as “micronutrients” are also very important components but required in a lesser amount.

Protein is the building block of every cell, tissue and organ in the body. The most important functions of protein are:

• Giving structure to the skin, bones, hair, and nails
• Helping build cells and repair tissues
• Synthesis of hormones, neurotransmitters , enzymes and blood
• Carrying important substances through the blood to cells and receptors sites
• Participating in vital chemical reactions in the body
• Helping the immune system

So, what is protein?

Proteins are complex molecules made from small units named amino acids. There are a total of 20 amino-acids which are attached to each other. Eleven of these are manufactured by our bodies, however the other nine, called “essential amino acids, “ must be obtained directly from our food because the body is unable to make them.
When we eat, the body breaks down the protein in food to make the amino acids that it needs. Our bodies are constantly consuming and replacing amino acids. We need a combination of different types of protein to provide the body with all the twenty amino acids required for optimal functioning.

Unlike carbohydrates and fat, our bodies do not store protein. During acute illness or food deprivation, the body will start breaking down muscles in order to produce the amino acids it needs.

The amount of daily protein recommended will depend on the gender, age, level of physical activity and total body weight of each individual. Men usually need more protein than women. The USDA recommends an average of 56 grams of protein a day for men and 46 grams for women (this is about 10-35% of each individual’s total daily calories). A higher amount will be necessary for children and adolescents who are still developing and athletes. Certain individuals with renal disease and gout are required to consume a lower amount of protein.

There are different types of protein

Complete or high quality proteins: they have twenty amino acids. Examples: eggs, meat, poultry and cheese.
Incomplete proteins: they are low in one or more essential amino acids, such as beans and tofu.

Foods rich in protein

• Meats, poultry, and fish (select lean meats)
• Eggs
• Milk and dairy products (low-fat)
• Legumes (dry beans and peas)
• Nuts and seeds
• Tofu

Vegetarians may select plant-based sources of protein which include beans and peas, soy products, nuts and seeds. As we discussed previously, complete or high quality proteins are mostly found in animal products.

You can also find supplements rich in low-fat protein such as protein shakes, protein bars and egg white products.

When selecting your protein source, choose lean meats with the least amount of saturated fat. Meats and processed animal products are very high in sodium, fats and additives, and they can be harmful to our health.

The USDA has indicated that most adults in the United States consume the right amount of protein. However, the right type of protein must be selected to provide the health benefits, allowing our bodies to function properly and efficiently.

The New Face of The Nutrition Label

The New Face of The Nutrition Label

The White House and FDA (Federal Food & Drug Administration) have announced a new format for the nutrition label, also known as “nutrition facts panel” in food packages and beverages. It has been more than 20 years since it was first implemented by the FDA.

The nutrition label is an important tool providing nutritional information of the components in each commercial food or drink. It details the amount of calories, fats, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates and protein, as well as other nutrients, vitamins, minerals and added ingredients. It was supposed to allow consumers to make better decisions when purchasing a food, although this has not been the case.

The current format seems to be confusing for consumers to read and understand.

Also, the food manufacturers have been allowed to claim a food has 0 grams of Trans fat even if the product contains 0.5 grams or less. Trans fats are dangerous fats added by food makers to improve texture and make products last longer. It can raise “bad cholesterol”, clogging arteries and causing cardiovascular diseases.

As an obesity specialist, I have taught my patients how to properly read nutrition labels so they can make better decisions while purchasing food.

But, why the change? Why now?

These changes have been necessary for a while. The increase in the rate of obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease in children and adults has triggered government officials to look closer at the amount of food additives. Among them, sugar, salt, and trans fats are not properly disclosed by the food industry.

In 2010, Bruce Silverglade, Director of Legal Affairs, and Ilene Ringel Heller, Senior Staff Attorney, at the Center for Science in the Public Interest on their publication Food Labeling Chaos, recommended the following changes in the fool labeling system:

• Many people think that one package is equal to one serving. The nutrition label should disclose the TOTAL AMOUNT of calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, added sugars, fiber and protein per package size and not serving size.

• The Total Calories and Serving Size should be in larger print.

• The calories coming from fat should no longer be listed. It does not disclose if the source of fat is healthy or not. Total fat, saturated fat, and trans fats should still be required to appear on the nutrition label.

• With no daily values for trans fat, added sugars, or protein, consumers don’t know how much they should be eating every day.

• The percentage of Daily Value (% DV) is confusing for consumers. It does not indicate the right amount required for each person to eat every day.

• The daily amount of sodium should be 1,500 mg for women & 1800 mg for men. The current 2,400 mg limit is too high.

• “Dietary fiber” should be called “fiber” and should include only intact fiber from whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, and other foods.

• The label should list only added sugars (i.e. high fructose corn syrup, etc.) not the naturally occurring sugars in milk and fruits.

• Refined sugars such as enriched bleach flour should be included as part of the list of ingredients.

What are the new proposals?

• The most visible change is that the Total Calories and Servings per package would also be more prominent (larger print). The “Amount Per Serving” will be changed to “Amount Per Cup.” A 20-ounce soda will become one serving.

• The proposed labels would remove the “calories from fat” line you currently see on labels, focusing instead on total calories found in each serving. Nutrition specialists have come to understand that the type of fat we eat matters more than the calories from fat. The listing of total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat would remain the same.

• If approved, the new labels would place a bigger emphasis on Total Calories, added sugars and certain nutrients, such as Vitamin D and Potassium.

• FDA would update Daily Values for various nutrients. Daily Values are used to calculate the Percent Daily Value (% DV). In addition, the % DV would be shifted to the left of the label. FDA wants to help consumers visually and quickly put nutrient information in context.

What’s my opinion?

I have been practicing Obesity Medicine since 2005. As a family physician, I have seen the devastating effects poor eating habits and obesity have on people’s health. These changes have been necessary and we hope it helps Americans make better healthy food choices.

• The food industry should disclose the amount of Trans Fat, even if the amount in the food is 0.5 grams or less. However, I find it VERY unlikely food manufacturers will disclose this information, unless it is mandated by law.

How will people determine the amount of total calories and other nutrients appropriate for them are?

We need to teach our population the basics about nutrition and how it changes as we grow. If nutrition classes could be implemented starting in kindergarten, will have healthier and stronger communities in the future.

If you have any comments about the food labels system, we would like to hear from you.

The FDA is accepting public comments until May 28, 2014. You may go to for more information.


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