The power of protein

By Roger Lane

Today’s consumers have a growing appetite for protein, but do they understand the role of protein in health? Protein helps support weight management, builds and maintains lean body and muscle mass and helps support appetite and hunger control.

According to the USDA, a sedentary adult man or woman needs at least two ounces of protein a day to prevent deficiency. The nine amino acids that protein delivers to our bodies contributes to our functioning immune systems, metabolism, muscle development and bone strength. While this trivial amount may be enough to maintain our basic needs, studies show we need significantly more to thrive. Traditionally, Americans have enjoyed most of their protein from animal sources: beef, poultry, pork, dairy, eggs. More recently though, plant-based proteins have appealed to the general consumer for a range of reasons from health and wellness, to concern for the environment or animal welfare. Let’s take a closer look at both protein options.

Animal protein provides all nine amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and the vitamin B-12 our bodies need to function at a base level. Vegetarians often need to combine plant-based proteins in an effort to match and consume the same amino acids found in a single piece of meat. The lack of vitamin B-12 in plant-based diets leave vegetarians who do not supplement at risk for a variety of diseases. Animal proteins offer an efficient, compact package from which we can derive our basic needs for protein, but what about our other dietary needs?

While animal proteins offer simple efficiency, plant-based proteins offer a complexity of vitamins, phytonutrients, antioxidants and fiber that animal protein cannot. And, if Americans are deficient in anything, it’s fiber. Whole grains, nuts, beans, green leafy vegetables, and legumes are fibrous, dietary powerhouses. In addition to the protein benefits these foods provide, their fiber content aids digestion, promotes healthy gut flora and has strong associations with decreased risk for obesity-related chronic illnesses. Also naturally low in sodium and saturated fats, plant-based proteins provide a low-calorie, nutrient-dense alternative to their animal counterparts.

In a country with 39.6% obesity rates among adults, and a per capita consumption of 222.2 lbs of meat per year, there’s something insufficient about the 10 oz of animal protein we are eating a day. Perhaps a dietary shift toward plant-based protein is just what the doctor ordered?

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