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Protein: Friend Or Foe?
by Amy Carlson, MS, RD, LD

Absolutely everyone is talking about protein. You would honestly think people would be bored with it by now but they're not. Many people believe the answer to their weight loss problems will come in the form of high protein, low carbohydrate (carbs) dieting. You can see my thoughts on this in a previous article. Now since you know my thoughts on "fad dieting" let's talk about the real deal on protein. Why is protein essential? How much do we need? Where does it come from?
Protein, made up of amino acids, is the major building block for our bodies. Our bodies literally build muscle and cells using protein that we consume every day. Hmmmm the old saying "you are what you eat?" Makes you wonder why you choose a processed, fatty hamburger instead of the lean deli turkey on whole wheat for lunch?

Protein is essential for optimal immune function, and if we are lacking, our bodies become more susceptible to infections and disease. Not only does our "amino acid friend" do all this…protein also helps repair all the tissues in our body! Not a shabby job description. What protein is not: protein is not our bodies main or desired energy source. This is the job of carbohydrates. Protein is a back up of sorts. It will come in as an energy source if the body is lacking carbohydrates, however, our body prefers to use carbs as the main source for fuel.

How much protein do we need?
Nutrition experts recommend .8gm/kg protein/day (1 kg=2.2 lbs). This translates into about 50 grams of protein for a 140 lb adult woman. Believe it or not…most Americans are not lacking in protein. This is primarily due to the fact that we eat so many calories every day. However we may often be lacking in quality protein. Many Americans consume large quantities of fast food that are packed with saturated fats and sugar. The protein is there but it comes with a big serving of the saturated fats that are linked to heart disease. Our arteries would be cleaner and happier if we chose leaner ways of getting our protein.

Where is protein found?
A 3 oz chicken breast has 21 grams of protein, a cup of pasta may have 7-10 grams. Dairy foods are high in protein but these are ones to watch out for. Whole milk dairy products rank high in saturated fats, so choose your low fat dairy to make it a "lean protein source". Even your veggies have some protein so think muscles when your serving up your broccoli or baked potato! The bottom line is protein is essential to our optimal health, just like carbohydrates and fat are essential. The key is moderation. You have to consume a balance of lean protein, carbohydrates and fats to really meet your body's needs.

Amy B. Carlson, MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian and consults clients in the greater Houston area. To contact Amy for an appointment call 713.978.1713 or e-mail her at abcdietitian@houston.rr.com.

View Amy's Bio
View our frequently asked nutrition questions & answers




Weight Training
Lat Pulldowns
Pulldowns are a great exercise for the back muscles but avoid pulling the bar behind the head. Pull the bar down in front of the body toward the collar bone and with the bar just below your chin. Pulling the bar behind the head puts undue stress on the shoulders and rotator cuff.
Running
Avoiding Shin Splints
Do you have lower leg pain or shin splints from running? Running on hard surfaces, worn out running shoes and weak calf muscles could be the culprit. Try running on soft trails, buying a new pair of running shoes or adding calf exercises to your weight training routine.
Walking
The Talk Test
A great way to make sure you are staying in your aerobic fat-burning range is the talk test. If you cannot comfortably carry on a conversation with your walking partner you probably need to bring down the intensity to assure yourself that you are burning fat.
Fat Burning
Your Anaerobic Threshold
A great way to make sure you are burning fat during cardio sessions is knowing your anaerobic threshold or where your heart rate zone needs to be to burn fat stores. Find a gym or fitness center that offers anaerobic/VO2 testing. Merlino Fitness offers anaerobic threshold testing every month. Check out the link below for more details.
Merlino Fitness Metabolic Testing
Nutrition
Keys to Weight Loss
If you are trying to drop weight make sure you incorporate the following to get you on your way. Drink lots of water, don't skip meals (especially breakfast), do not eat late night meals or snacks after 7 or 8 pm and build as much activity into your everyday life as you can. Michael also recommends joining weight watchers to anyone trying to lose weight and keep it off long term.
Nutritional Supplements
Stay Away From Ephedra!
The weight loss/energy supplement is in the news again. Supplement companies that market this controversial supplement claim it is safe although many have died from this dangerous supplement. Make sure you check the labels of your nutritional supplements as many are laced with ephedra, also known as ephedrine or ma huang (the actual herbal).
Quick Tip Archives
Our archived collection of fitness and nutrition tips to help you stay focused and fit.
Tip Archives

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Ice Cream Sandwiches
Take the edge off those sweet cravings with this healthy soy alternative to an ice cream sandwich without the unwanted calories and guilt.
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Take the edge off those sweet cravings with this healthy soy alternative to an ice cream sandwich without the unwanted calories and guilt.
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Our latest collection of on-line articles to help you stay focuses and fit.
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Pamela from Chihuahua, MexicoI work out 5 days a week and can't loose weight. I do spinning, tae bo and many types of cardio. Where am I going wrong?
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Nutrition
Ross from Sidney, AustraliaI am currently trying to eat six small meals per day. Apart from breakfast and dinner, I always seem to forget or skip my meals during the day. I also need some simple, easy meals (snacks) that do not require refrigeration or preparation, apart from the obvious fruits.
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Running
Amanda from Manitoba, CanadaWhat should I eat the morning of my track meet?
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