Examples of healthy proteins such as salmon, eggs, nuts, and chia seeds on a wooden cutting board.

Protein: What You Need to Know

By Suzanne Caithamer, RD

It seems as though everyone is running around with a protein shake these days. Why do you need protein, anyway? Is this a fad, or a legitimate nutrition practice?

Let’s start with what protein is and why you need it. Protein is one of the three macronutrients that make up foods — the other two being fat and carbohydrate. Protein is essential for repairing the body, helping with new cell generation, and muscle growth and repair. Protein is a component of every cell. People who do not eat enough protein, such as those with severe chronic illness, can experience muscle wasting, dull hair and skin, and muscle cramping.

The majority of people who eat a varied diet are not lacking in protein. Even if you want to build muscle, extra protein will not help you do that. Only exercise builds muscle.

If you consume more protein than you need, your body will simply break it down and get rid of it. It is not difficult to get enough protein: 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman is what is recommended by the DRI (Dietary Reference Intake). One six-ounce chicken breast has 52 grams of protein.

Protein and fat keep you full, and many people like the ease of drinking a meal or hearty snack. Protein shakes are convenient, but it is important to choose your ingredients wisely. Many popular protein powders on the market are filled with thickeners, sugars, and filler ingredients that are not healthy.

For example, Muscle Milk is a popular whey-based (milk) powder that also contains fructose, refined oils, natural and artificial flavors, and the artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium. These ingredients can cause inflammation, fatty liver disease, and insulin resistance, to name a few conditions best avoided. Many people have trouble digesting milk proteins, so whey may not be the best choice for them anyway.

At Covenant Natural Health Care, we recommend protein powders made from whole foods. Standard Process and Ancient Nutrition are two brands that meet our requirements. Adding hemp seeds, flax seeds, nut butters, raw and soaked nuts and the like will also provide protein without unnecessary ingredients that may be harmful to your health.

Whole Food Protein Shake Recipe

*Note: this shake makes three servings. Feel free to adjust quantities to make less shake, or leave some ingredients out. The nuts and seeds are the protein sources. Blueberries add antioxidants, and the coconut oil adds healthy fat to keep you full.

  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons almond butter
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
  • 4 walnuts
  • 2 Brazil nuts
  • 1 large banana
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin coconut oil
  • ½ cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend on high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add more water if the shake is too thick to drink. Serve chilled. Makes 3 cups.

Per cup: 377 calories, 17 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 14 g fiber, 12 g protein, 47 g carbohydrate, 129 mg sodium

From The Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook by Mark Hyman, MD, 2013.

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