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The Power of Protein

posted Jan 13, 2017, 6:48 AM by Tracy Ducker, MS, RDN   [ updated Jan 13, 2017, 1:50 PM ]

This week we continue our discussion on “What is My Healthy Weight? Our nutrient of discussion this week is protein. Protein is in every cell of our body. It is needed for muscle and tissue repair and growth; helps keep hair, teeth, and nails strong and healthy. It is essential for bone growth, and to make enzymes, and hormones. But it also can help in weight loss by helping you feel full longer and by maintaining or increasing muscle mass. When losing weight it is important to not lose muscle mass, the more muscle you have the higher your metabolism (the calories you burn each day). So it makes sense to lose fat and gain muscle. Weight lifting and protein can help you achieve this. But, is a high protein diet the way to go. There is a lot of debate on this, people do lose weight on high protein-low carbohydrate diets, but it is hard to follow for a long time and it causes the body to go into Ketosis. Ketosis is when the body uses fat instead of carbohydrate for energy, in theory this sounds good, but Ketosis produces ammonia and the long term effects of high ammonia in the body are still unknown.

A healthy way to lose fat weight is to consume adequate amounts of protein. Protein needs vary depending on age, sex, weight and amount of exercise. The general range for adults is 0.4 - 0.85 grams/pound of body weight.  A sedentary female adult’s needs are at the lower end of the range while a male body building athlete has needs at the high end of the range. Because protein helps to keep you feeling full it is recommended that a protein food be eaten at each meal. That could be an egg or Greek yogurt or nuts for breakfast, a meat sandwich or tofu salad for lunch, and rice and beans or fish for dinner.

Good sources of protein

Protein is found in many foods including meat, poultry, fish/seafood and the products made from these animal foods. Protein is also found in plant foods, like nuts, tofu, beans, and whole grains. Protein that comes from animals is what is called a complete protein; this means that all 20 amino acids are present in the food in the recommended amount. Protein that comes from plant foods are incomplete proteins, meaning the amount of one or more amino acid is low.  This doesn’t mean if you don’t eat meat you won’t get enough protein, it just means you need to eat a variety of plant foods (and dairy and eggs if you choose to) to get enough of all the amino acids. Below is a table with the protein content of both plant and meat foods.  


Protein (grams)

4 oz. cooked chicken breast, skinless


4 oz. cooked lean beef


4 oz. cooked salmon


6 oz. Greek yogurt


4 oz. firm tofu


6 oz. yogurt


½ cup cooked lentils


1 cup milk


1 large egg


1 slice whole grain bread


1 oz. nuts


Protein intake is important when trying to lose weight, but it is also important to consume enough carbohydrates and healthy fats for A Balanced Diet. For more on carbohydrates check out last week’s blog, then next week check out our new blog as we will delve into fats. Click here for a vegetarian Greek Lentil salad with 7 grams of protein or if you want a hearty Greens and Beans Chicken Chili with 17 grams of protein click here.