Protein: Essential Building Blocks for You and Your Baby April 20, 2013 00:00

Most people don’t know as much about protein as they think they do.  When you were in school, or perhaps in your own kitchen as a child, you learned that protein was one of the rainbow colored sections that comprised the all-powerful Food Pyramid.  The protein section of the poster was filled with pictures of beans and chicken legs, nuts and eggs.  Your mother complained that the only protein she could get down you was peanut butter.  Now, as an adult and a mother, you know that protein is important to growing bodies.  But what, exactly, is t protein-rich food comprised of and why is it necessary for a healthy body and mind?

Proteins are the building blocks of life

Simply stated, proteins are compounds formed from various combinations of amino acids, of which there are twenty, arranged in countless combinations.

Every single chemical reaction and every body function relies on the presence of amino acids.   So you can see that proteins really are a requirement for a healthy body. They build cells, regulate fluids, rebuild tissues, and are vital to hormone, antibody, and enzyme production.  In the absence of carbohydrates and fat, proteins also supply the body with energy.

Eight of those twenty amino acids that form the proteins are not produced or stored inside the body, so they absolutely must be consumed throughout the day.  They are phenylalanine, tryptophan, valine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, and threonine.  These eight are called essential amino acids, as in, “It’s essential that you eat them!”

Essential amino acids are found in a variety of protein sources like fresh water fish, eggs, nuts, and some nut oils. But it’s also important that you eat a balance of various types of proteins, essential and non-essential, as your body often cannot produce enough of the non-essential amino acids to meet your needs.   Let’s see if we can make it easy for you to figure out just how much and what types of proteins to include in your diet.

Healthy Protein Consumption

You may have heard proteins referred to as complete or incomplete, high-quality or lower-quality.  These terms simply refer to whether or not a protein source provides you with all of your essential amino acids in the necessary proportions.  Sources such as meat, dairy, poultry, eggs/egg whites, and fish provide you with the correct balance of all of your amino acids.  However, you can still get all of your amino acids by combining several incomplete proteins such as nuts and oats, or beans and brown rice.

Eating large amounts of red meat and dairy can actually add too much fat to your diet, without the necessary fiber for a healthy digestive system.  Instead, you should balance your protein intake by combining lean meats and fish, low-fat dairy and eggs, with combinations of nuts, legumes, and whole grains. 

How much is enough?

The Food and Drug Association recommends a daily protein intake of about 50 grams, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.   This might look like two poached eggs for breakfast, a yogurt cup for a snack with granola, a cup of beans and brown rice as part of your lunch, a pork chop with dinner, and a handful of almonds and seeds somewhere in between. 

Contrary to what you may think, the necessary intake of protein does not changed based on physical activity.  Instead, protein needs are based on your weight, and should be right around .8 – 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Protein for Breastfeeding and Pregnancy

However, if you are a nursing or pregnant mother, you will need to increase your protein intake by about thirty additional grams per day.  While still in the womb, this protein is crucial to the healthy   development of his or her body and brain.  Also, the amino acids that you take in will help regulate your sleep and your emotions, two very important things for your own personal well-being. 

 

 

Infants use a third of their dietary protein to build new muscles and connective tissues.  Since their primary, and best, source of nutrition is their mother’s breastmilk, you will need to make sure yours has all the protein necessary for your baby’s healthy body.

You can add extra protein into your diet easily by snacking on unsalted nuts, egg whites, lean meat slices and hard cheeses, or by sprinkling your cereals and yogurt with flax seeds.  Skip the chips and opt for edamame or raw trail mix, and add a slice of turkey bacon to your morning omelet.  Carry some prepackaged protein bars in your purse to avoid grabbing a bagel when you’re out running errands. 

With just a few simple changes, you’ll be able to add the right kinds of protein to your diet… for your body and your baby’s.

 

Resources:

  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administrationhttp://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/FoodLabelingGuide/ucm064928.htm
  2. Nutrition and Well-being A to Z    

http://www.faqs.org/nutrition/Pre-Sma/Protein.html

  1. The Nutrition Source, Harvard School of Public Health http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/protein/
  2. USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 

http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.ht