Most of your body parts are made of the components of protein called amino acids. Getting enough good quality protein is essential in both:
- Your body STRUCTURE – Your muscle and bone are high in protein and other components. Organs like your brain, skin, liver etc. are made from protein.
- Your body FUNCTIONS – How well your body and brain work also depends on adequate, good quality proteins. They become a) enzymes to break down your foods; b) neurotransmitters that signal information between nerves so you can think, feel & respond; and c) hormones that allow digestion and healing and growth and elimination of waste to occur.
When you have enough of the right proteins:
You would think that – with this much benefit from eating enough of the right proteins – that your doctor would make them a regular discussion point in your health check ups.
But doctors are busy people, and this basic level of nutritional biology is probably lost back in the mists of first year medicine.
So here are some things that your doctor probably won’t tell you about protein that could make a BIG difference to your health and wellbeing.
- We need to eat protein every day – and not just 1 serve. For most of us, 3 times per day is a good plan.
- All proteins are not created equal – especially in today’s industrial food production systems. The right, high-quality protein is important. Choose minimally processed protein with the least amount of additives, from the best possible sources, with the least pesticides and herbicides used in the growing process. There is a vast difference in the quality of protein from a wild caught kangaroo vs. factory farmed bacon that’s processed with salt, sugar and preservatives.
- Proteins come from many sources – from red meats, white meats, fish, dairy, eggs and plants like mushrooms, legumes, nuts and grains.
- Generally meats are called a ‘complete’ protein – because they contain all the essential amino acids your body needs. Plant proteins are great for variety and micronutrients – but don’t always have the the correct combo of amino acids to be most useful. So when you eat plants for protein, you need to combine them with suitable other proteins. So put some almond/cashew butter on wholegrain bread, or peas in your pasta, or have some hummus that combines chickpeas with sesame seed (as tahini).
- Your body will tell you if you’re not getting enough protein with: a) lower energy levels b) less emotional wellbeing c) disrupted hormones d) poor digestion e) disrupted sleep patterns. This can also be confirmed from standard blood tests – which include information about your protein processing. For example, your albumin levels need to be above 40.
- HOW you cook your protein impacts your body – cooking meat at high temperatures can expose you to carcinogens like heterocyclic aromatic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). So more lightly cooked meat is healthier.
- All digestion starts in the brain – including protein digestion. The way that you prepare your food, its aromas, and how it looks makes a difference. Digestion also happens in your mouth – chewing generates saliva and its digestive enzymes start the breakdown process. Further processing happens in your stomach to unleash the powerful potential of the protein you eat! It is here that your stomach acids combine with an enzyme called pepsin to break down the protein into its smaller components – called amino acids – to get it ready to be absorbed through the small intestine. The beneficial bacteria in your gut help digest proteins too.
- Some medications – like Somac and Nexium – stop the stomach acids from working (which can give you relief from stomach pain) but after more than about 4 to 6 weeks interrupts the normal body function of acid production. Then you risk health issues like gastrointestinal infections, poor absorption of protein, allergies and food sensitivities, along with SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth etc)
- Mushrooms are a great alternative source of protein – and much better for the environment as well as your health. There are many varieties available today, so explore your local Asian grocer for interesting, tasty varieties. Pop some King Oyster slices on the barbie or top your salad with some cute Enokis. A bit of a wonder food, medicinal mushrooms like shitake and reishi (and even the humble button mushroom) supply great benefits to your immune system too.
- Alternative grains offer higher levels of protein than modern wheat. While wheat is 17% protein, kangaroo grass is 27% protein and more suited to grow in Australia due to drought tolerance etc. Bruce Pascoe – author of the book Dark Emu – suggests that we could slowly convert farms to kangaroo grass over a ten year time frame. Hemp seed is fashionable but expensive at the moment, but quinoa is another ancient grain that’s a complete protein with all the necessary amino acids.
The Apple Cider Vinegar hack (or any vinegar) will help with your protein digestion too: start with one teaspoon gradually increasing to one tablespoon in water (I like soda). Drink before meals as an aperitif or on your salad/veg at the start of a meal. As well as helping your stomach acids digest protein, this will help curb insulin spikes in your blood (a way to prevent diabetes and general inflammation in your body & reduce cravings, thus help with weight management). A win all the way. see https://integrityhealth.com.au/minimise-your-glucose-spikes-to-maximise-your-health/
Do you get enough good protein?
Protein is essential for your health – and the more good protein you can include in your diet, the better you will feel, think, work and sleep.
Your doctor may not have all this information – or the time to include it in a short consult.
So if you’re sad, sleepless or tired – check your protein. Keep a food diary for a week – then book a consult with your friendly neighbourhood naturopath or dietician. Food really CAN be your best medicine.
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