Protein 101: Types and Benefits of Protein Sources
Proteins are the building blocks of your body. Without them, you wouldn't be able to read, breathe, walk, or speak. In fact, you wouldn't even exist! Despite this crucial role, there is often misinformation about proteins, with many thinking of them simply as nutrients found in meat or poultry. But proteins are much more than that – they are the very foundation of your life. How exactly do they contribute to your health and well-being? Read on to find out.
Macronutrients: An Essential Reminder
A balanced diet should provide the body with the right amount of foods that supply energy, structure, and essential nutrients. These can be found in two fundamental food groups: micronutrients (including vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients) and macronutrients, which include carbohydrates, fats, and the star of this article: proteins. In this regard, macronutrients play a crucial role in our overall health and well-being.
Proteins: Definition and Importance in Your Diet
The etymology of the word "protein" immediately highlights its significance. The Greek prefix "protos" means "first" or "in the first place." Looking at their composition, we can see that proteins are made up of long chains of amino acids, which are organic molecules that form the basic building blocks of their structure. Proteins give life to cells, and from there, our entire anatomy grows: tissues, organs, systems, our very existence. Everything begins with proteins and everything ends without them.
Discovering the Role of Proteins in Your Body
Take a portrait-mode selfie, or better yet, a full-body shot. Done? Look at the photo – there you are! From the tips of your hair to your toenails, proteins are present throughout your body. They make up your bones, muscles, hormones, blood components, neurotransmitters, immune system antibodies, and enzymes. In fact, proteins are the very foundation of our existence – they even play a role in our emotions (but that's a topic for another article).
Exploring the Functions and Roles of Proteins in Your Body
Proteins are essential for the proper functioning of our bodies, and their roles are numerous and diverse. Here are just a few examples:
- They provide structure and support to our entire anatomy.
- Proteins allow for tissue growth and recovery, providing them with strength and resilience. Collagen, the most abundant protein in the body, gives firmness and elasticity to bones, skin, tendons, and muscles.
- Hemoglobin, a protein found in our bloodstream, helps regulate the pH balance of our blood.
- Proteins are involved in numerous biochemical reactions in the body. Enzymes, for example, are proteins that play a critical role in these processes.
- They act as transportation vehicles in our body, carrying vital molecules such as vitamins, minerals, oxygen, and lipids through our bloodstream to the organs and areas that need them.
- Proteins help our immune system fight against bacteria, viruses, and infections.
- They can also store nutrients, such as iron (which is stored by the protein ferritin).
- Proteins facilitate communication between cells and tissues, acting as hormones. Insulin, for instance, regulates the amount of glucose in our blood and is a protein.
The Link between Protein Intake and Your Health
The relationship between protein and our health is extremely close. Without an adequate protein intake, the body is unable to carry out its tasks effectively. Therefore, it's crucial to include foods in our diet that provide high-quality proteins in sufficient quantities. Unfortunately, the current reality is alarming, with the world population living in a constant deficit of this essential macronutrient, as reported by the WHO. The daily protein consumption per inhabitant is estimated to be only 0.5 grams per kilogram of weight, which is insufficient.
What is the Recommended Daily Intake of Protein?
The guidelines of international health institutions generally suggest that we should consume between 0.8 grams and 1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, if you weigh 70 kilograms, you should aim to consume about 70 grams of protein per day. However, such a general recommendation overlooks important individual factors that should be taken into consideration. Keep reading to learn more.
How much protein should you consume in specific cases?
That will depend on your age, ideal weight, habits, and the type of exercise you do, among other variables. The Savvy team would like to make the following distinctions. Let's start by defining what "ideal weight" means.
The ideal weight:We will take into account a simple formula used by our scientific director, Dr. Carlos Jaramillo, with his patients, which he also shares in his book "Como" (2021). He always cautions us that it is not an exact and precise calculation but rather a reference point.
Ideal weight for a man
Calculating the ideal weight for a man can be done by using his height, taking the last two digits as a reference. For instance, if you are a man with a height of 1.80 meters, your ideal weight would be around 80 kilograms. For a man with a height of 1.90 meters, his ideal weight would be approximately 90 kilograms. However, this is just a reference and may not be an exact calculation. Knowing your ideal weight can help you determine the appropriate protein intake for your body.
Ideal weight for a woman
Calculating ideal weight for a woman can be done by using her height, taking the last two digits as a reference, and subtracting 5 to 10 units from them. For instance, if you are 1.65 meters tall, your ideal weight would be around 55 to 60 kilos. If you were 1.80 meters tall, your ideal weight would be around 70 to 75 kilos. Keep in mind that this is just a rough estimate.
Calculating your ideal weight through this simple exercise will help you determine the amount of protein you need. Want to know how? Keep reading
Consumo de proteínas por edades y rutinas
Age: between 18 and 50 years old
Physical exercise: little (sedentary tendency)
Daily protein requirement: between 0.8 grams and 1 gram of protein per kilo of ideal weight.
Male example: Juan is 35 years old, rarely trains, and is 1.70 meters tall. His ideal weight (IW), according to his height, would be approximately 70 kilos; therefore, Juan should consume about 70 grams of protein every day.
Female example: Martha is 42 years old, rarely exercises, and is 1.54 meters tall. Her ideal weight (IW), taking into account her height, would be 49 kilos (subtracting five units from 54). Thus, Martha should include 49 grams of protein in her daily diet
2–On the Fifth Floor
Age: over 50 years old
Don't forget that: From this age, the body begins to lose muscle mass, so it requires a higher protein intake.
Daily protein requirement: 1.5 grams of protein per kilo of ideal weight.
Male example: Alberto is 60 years old and is 1.85 meters tall. His ideal weight would be 85 kilos. If we multiply the IW (85) by the protein ratio indicated for his age (1.5), we would get 127.5 as a result. Then, Alberto should include a little over 127 grams of protein in his menu every day.
Female example: Sonia is 55 years old and is 1.70 meters tall. Her ideal weight would be 65 kilos. Let's do the math, 65 x 1.5 = 97.5. Sonia should consume a little over 97 grams of protein every day.
👉 Note from the Savvy team: these numbers are an estimate, don't stress yourself out trying to be exact. If, for example, you need to consume 49 grams of protein, and you ate more than 50, great, no big deal. It's always better to consume a little more than to fall below your minimum daily protein intake.
3. Other Cases
A) Athletes and gym-goers:
Those who exercise hard on tracks, in pools, on roads or natural trails; and those who seek to gain muscle mass, should consume between 1.5 and 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of their ideal weight. Ingesting more than these proportions is unnecessary. Multiply the values, as we have taught you, and you will know the amount of protein you require.
B) Children and teenagers:
As their bodies are constantly transforming and evolving, their protein demand is high. Until the age of four, an infant should consume 2.0 grams of protein according to their weight (always following the recommendations of their treating pediatrician). Between 5 and 17 years old, their consumption should be 1.5 grams per kilogram (again, following the advice of their specialist). Upon reaching 18, their protein intake will depend on what we have explained earlier.
C) Pregnant women:
We recommend consuming 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight from the beginning of your pregnancy. However, if you are a pregnant woman, consult every decision you make with your doctor and your primary nutritionist.
How to know how much protein a food has?
Now that you know how to calculate the amount of protein you need daily based on your age, physical activity, and habits, it's important that you understand how much protein the main foods you bring to your table contain. One of the main mistakes is thinking that the weight of the product (a chicken breast, a piece of loin, a large cup of beans or broccoli) is equal to its protein content. Don't be confused, the weight of the food is one thing; its protein content is another. Let's see this example.
A 100-gram chicken breast does not contain 100 grams of protein. It contains protein, of course, but also water, fiber, and fat. The actual protein content of that breast, i.e., its effective protein (PE), is approximately 31 grams. *THESE VALUES VARY DEPENDING ON THE SOURCE CONSULTED.
So when you eat a 100-gram chicken breast, you are actually consuming 31 grams of protein. See the difference? How do you know how much PE the main products you bring to your table contain? Here are four reference tables that include animal, vegetable, and nut sources. *REFERENCE TABLE FROM THE BOOK "COMO"
Protein content in animal-based foods, such as meat, fish, shellfish, and eggs.
Protein content in various cheeses
Protein content in nuts
Protein content in grains, vegetables, and legumes
Which are better, animal proteins or vegetable proteins?
Both animal and vegetable proteins are good for you, and it's recommended to include both in your diet. Ideally, you should aim to get an equal proportion of protein from both animal and vegetable sources (50/50) to meet your daily protein requirements. You can use the tables provided in this article to create a balanced menu that incorporates both. In future articles, we'll discuss how to get the right amount of protein if you're vegetarian or vegan, as well as how to balance your diet by properly combining the three macronutrients.
Are protein supplements recommended?
Yes, they can be helpful, but the benefits depend on the sources they include. Always check the ingredient list to see what kind of proteins they contain and how many chemicals they're made of. Avoid supplements that contain inflammatory substances, such as milk or sugar, or that make unrealistic claims about their taste or benefits. Look for supplements with clean sources of protein that are useful for complementing your daily intake, especially if you're exercising regularly, trying to build muscle mass, or over 50 years old. In these cases, you should aim to consume at least 1.5 grams of real, effective protein for every kilogram of your ideal weight.
Using protein supplements can also help you track your protein intake more accurately. Most brands specify the amount of effective protein in each scoop, making it easier to keep track of how much you're consuming. Some supplements also contain other nutrients and amino acids that can help improve your intestinal health, skin condition, and brain function, among other benefits. Read the labels carefully and choose wisely.
Don't forget that...
Although the basis of any diet should be vegetables – the most beneficial carbohydrates on the planet – each and every one of your dishes should be based on protein. Remember, "protos" means first, so prioritize proteins. Think about which ones you are going to include in your meals, estimate (not rigidly or excessively) the protein intake you need, and build your menu accordingly. Do not fall short of your protein requirements! A low intake of this macronutrient can lead to diseases.
Is milk a good source of protein?
The best milk for a human being is the one provided by their mother at birth; the one that comes from her breast. Milk produced by cows is undoubtedly good for their calves. As we grow, we lose an enzyme called lactase, which is what allows us to digest and assimilate the lactose contained in the milk from that ruminant. In general, dairy products cause our body to swell, which is why they are not the most beneficial protein sources. You can enjoy them from time to time, in ice cream or on pizza, but they are not the best protein allies. However, if you like cheese, we suggest including matured cow, sheep, and goat cheeses in your diet. During the aging process, cheese loses water, dehydrates, retains its good fats, and leaves aside casein, a protein related to intestinal permeability.
Which proteins should you avoid?
Quality matters. It's not just about meeting your daily protein quota; it's essential to choose wisely. Opting for organic chicken breast from a reputable distributor is not the same as buying frozen chicken wings that are ready to be fried in inflammatory vegetable oil. You don't need proteins from highly processed products like sausages, pepperoni, or canned meats. Look for real food instead.
Is it okay to eat the same proteins all the time?
Variety is not only the spice of life but also the key to good health. Don't consume the same protein sources every day out of habit or compulsion. Aim for diversity. While it's great that you enjoy beans and eggs, your body needs a broader spectrum of amino acids that they may not provide. Mix up your protein sources, including meat (if you're an omnivore), broccoli, mushrooms, nuts, and other products to get a complete amino acid profile.
One final tip...
To properly and consciously meet your daily protein requirements, keep these three words in mind:
Quality: Choose proteins from real foods (not ultra-processed) or supplements that contain clean ingredients, free of sugar or dairy.
Quantity: Now that you know how to calculate how much protein you need daily, make sure you don't fall short in your protein intake.
Variety: Mix different protein sources at your table so that your body can have a feast of amino acids and your meals will be richer.