Thanks to the Banting diet and Professor Tim Noakes, protein is the new superfood on everyone’s plates – but why?
Amino Acids:The building blocks of protein
Protein is so much more than just the steak we braai over weekends or the chicken breast (every dieter’s go to meal) we force-feed ourselves. When these proteins are broken down, we get amino acids.
Amino acids facilitate very important functions in the body:
- Digest food
- Major structural component of muscles and other tissues in the body
- Repairs cells and body tissues
- Used to produce enzymes, hormones and haemoglobin
- An energy source used by the body (the word ketoses might come to mind)
- The different type of amino acids:
- Essential Amino Acids – The body can’t produce these and must be digested through food. Histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine are the essential amino acids.
A “complete protein” is the term used when a protein contains almost equal parts of all 9 essential amino acids. Meat and eggs would be good dietary sources and the plant-based ones are soy, buckwheat and quinoa.
- Non-essential Amino Acids – Are made by the human body and therefore not needed through diet.
Alanine, asparagine, aspartic Acid and glutamic acid are the non-essential amino acids.
- Conditional Amino Acids – These amino acids are only essential during times of stress, trauma or illness. A patient in ICU recovering from a severe car accident or burn victim would require these.
Arginine, cysteine, glutamine, tyrosine, glycine, ornithine, proline and serine are conditional amino acids.
The quality of proteins is also vital and are classified on their biological values-comparing the amino acid composition, the bioavailability of amino acids and how readily they are digested. In other words, how effectively does the body use the protein we consume?
High biological proteins are mainly from animal sources whereas plant-based proteins are of lower biological value because the lack one or more of the essential amino acids.
The types of protein we consume are also important, some are higher in saturated fats (the bad cholesterol) and others contain essential fatty acids (bonus!).
Animal proteins are complete proteins that also contains numerous minerals and vitamins.
Red meat has been labelled as bad for one’s heart health due to its saturated fat and bad cholesterol (LDL) content. Compared to white meat it has a higher protein count and contains more zinc, iron, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamin B6 and B12.
Mainly mammals with four legs are considered as red meat – lamb, beef, pork and game. This can differ from a dietary to a culinary point of view.
Removing all visible fats before cooking and using healthier cooking methods such as steaming and boiling, helps to lower the saturated fat content.
White meat, chicken and fish, has less saturated fat, calories and myoglobin compared to the red meats. The unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids in fish can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Salmon and tuna are good sources of these powerful fats. Remove chicken skin before cooking and choose breast meat instead of the darker meat pieces to make it even more waistline friendly.
Whey protein (20%) and casein (70-80%) are the two major protein components found in bovine milk. They are both complete proteins and contain phosphorous and calcium. Milk proteins are a source of biologically active peptides that aids in the uptake of vitamins and nutrients in the body.
Eggs pack a mean protein punch and are considered a lean protein. They contain many beneficial fats and the old wives’ tale of “only two eggs a week” is no longer relevant as it has been proven that the cholesterol found in egg yolk doesn’t raise one’s blood levels as believed before. Eggs are a more economical protein option, have a long shelf life and can be eaten with any meal of the day. Winner winner chicken dinner!
When combining different vegetable proteins (nuts, legumes and soy), one can consume all the essential amino acids and benefit from low saturated fat levels, good cholesterol (HDL), fibre and phytochemicals. Plant-based diets are also turning over a new leaf and becoming more popular despite the high protein low carb movement seen over the last few years. Tofu, coconut cheese and soy products are making this a more sustainable lifestyle.
Over the last couple of years high protein diets have become the go to for weight-loss, body building competitors and athletes. A high protein diet causes the body to lose body fluids quickly, resulting in a drop on the scale. The body starts to burn fat for fuel as there are no extra carbohydrates (sources from bread, pasta, starchy vegetables and rice). Glucose found in carbs are the brain’s main source of energy. The body releases ketones which leads to quicker satiety and this may lead to weight-loss but can also cause mood swings, headaches and nausea, temporarily.
However, there can be health concerns with an increased intake of protein and should be discussed with a physician or a registered dietitian before making any drastic dietary changes.
Before making any drastic dietary changes or increasing your protein intake, speak to a physician or registered dietician as there can be health concerns. Especially if renal, liver, bone, metabolic or cardiac diseases are prevalent in your family history.
Clearly it is not quite as simple as “Chicken or Beef?”