Proteins That Pack a Punch

When I say protein, I know most immediately think “meat.”  I’m not just talking about meat!  Protein is found in far more than meat so, for the sake of this discussion, I hope you will not simply note the information provided here to be a recommendation to “eat more meat,” as it most certainly is not!  Eating too much meat can have many serious health consequences.

Many like to treat animal protein as far superior to plant protein because of it’s complete amino acid profile.  However, the body doesn’t just absorb whole proteins and add them to muscle mass.  It has to break them down into their amino acids to construct its own proteins.  While we won’t delve too deep here, know that proteins that don’t get broken down completely can birth inflammation and disease while too much animal protein can do also be harmful to the bones, teeth, kidneys and other vital organs.

Protein is not only essential for muscle mass, but also for spurring on a plethora of physiological processes (as enzymes that break down food and catalyze reactions; as antibodies that fight off foreign invaders). While carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source (see our article on Carbohydrates:  Foods that Fuel), protein can also satisfy the body’s energy needs and will in fact do so over the body using it for protein synthesis.

Protein is calorically dense but because proteins are harder for the body to break down than starches, it is not quite as efficient as an energy source as carbohydrates.  This is why high-protein/low-carb diets are such a trend.  The body burns more energy attempting to convert protein to energy, thereby aiding in weight loss or so is the theory but it has to be understood that carbohydrates are necessary to support this energy conversion process.  The lack of adequate carbohydrates is why most find that they’re diet/weightloss efforts come to a screeching halt as the body lacks the resources needed to convert alternative energy sources from amino acids/proteins and fats.

It should be thoroughly noted: more protein does not necessarily equal more weight loss.  Animal proteins are often packaged with excessive fats and other health hazards.  Even too much of the leaner cuts can still lead to weight gain as an excess of calories is an excess of calories (energy which gets converted and stored as fat).  This may only be worsened as an excess of animal protein can cause acidity and constipation, which stalls weight loss and health efforts.

For many looking to consume more protein out of a desire to increase visible muscle mass, remember: a lack of muscle mass is more commonly due to lack of demand placed on those muscles than a lack of resources for them.  Simply consuming protein will not in itself, increase muscle mass. There must be a demand placed on those muscles for the body to determine it must make them larger to perform the tasks demanded of it.  The body is incredibly efficient.  If nothing is signaling to it that it needs more muscle, it won’t build it.  On that same line of thought, a lack of muscle mass is not always indicative of inadequate protein intake.

All this considered, proteins are an essential part of a healthy diet and should be gathered from a variety of sources.  Just as not all sugars are created equal, so is the same with protein.  There are healthful and unhealthful sources.  For example, a steak may be loaded with protein but may also be loaded with saturated fats.  Ham may be loaded with protein but also overloaded with fat and salt (not to mention the parasites…).  It’s important that you seek to get your proteins from the healthiest, cleanest sources possible to help your family maintain a healthy weight and an overall healthy body.

Proteins are found in every cell of the body, in bones, skin, hair, muscles and every other body part and tissue.  They give us the enzymes that power a multitude of chemical reactions throughout the body and the hemoglobin that transports oxygen in our blood.  It takes at least 10,000 different proteins to build and sustain you!  It’s certainly worthwhile to be sure you’re getting the best sources possible.

Sources

close up of salad in bowl

Proteins are comprised of amino acids.  These amino acids are found in every whole food, in varying amounts and proportions.  Fruits, vegetables, grains, greens, nuts, seeds, meat, poultry, fish and dairy all contain amino acids. In animal products, the proteins are generally considered “complete” only meaning that all of the amino acids needed for protein synthesis are present.  Essentially, the animal you are consuming has harvested all of the amino acids for you.

Plant-based proteins are often considered “incomplete” only because most individual plant sources do not contain all of the amino acids needed to make protein in that one single source (though there are some “complete” plant protein sources, such as hemp).  However, these amino acids can be easily acquired by eating a variety of healthful, plant-based foods.  THIS DOES NOT MAKE PLANT PROTEINS INFERIOR TO ANIMAL PROTEINS.  It only means that you should aim for diversity among sources which you should be doing with your diet anyways.

HERE’S THE FACT:  Protein deficiency in the United States and most of the world is incredibly rare!  Deficiencies are typically seen in parts of the world where starvation is a real issue.  Most people, especially in the United States would need NO ADDED PROTEINS in adopting most any exercise protocol.  Most people are already consuming more than enough protein to support the growth of muscle mass WITHOUT added supplements, protein shakes, and extra chicken with their chicken.

On a personal note, if I’m going to have a (plant-based) protein shake, it would be either pre-workout where I don’t want to heavy my stomach with a full meal, or post-workout when I’m on the go and won’t likely be eating for a while.  (Post-workout is actually a perfect time to grab a Complete Shake while the muscles are primed and ready to rebuild and replenish nutrient levels.)  Protein rich foods and beverages can be great for staving off hunger and promoting the rebuild – just be sure you don’t get caught up in the head game of “I exercised therefore I need more protein.”  What you do really need post-workout are carbohydrates.   Not a ton, but consuming some within an hour of working out is great for restoring glycogen levels in the muscles so they’re ready to rock again when you are.

It was once thought foods had to be properly combined in one meal for the body to utilize those amino acids in protein production (such as in combining beans and rice).   This has since been found to be false.  While they can be consumed this way, the body will acquire amino acids throughout the day and assemble them as needed.

Essential vs. Non-Essential Amino Acids

What’s also key to understand here is the difference between essential and non-essential amino acids.  An essential amino acid is one that we must get from food. The “non-essentials” are not un-needed, but are those that don’t have to be acquired from our diet as the body can convert other present amino acids into the ones it needs to comprise the proteins.  (Didn’t God just make you so awesome?!).

While many try to depict plant protein as being “inferior” to animal proteins, nature shows us this is simply not true.  The largest animals on the planet (elephants, giraffes, cattle, etc.) only eat plants. Even the omnivores we’re most closely biologically acquainted with, such as gorillas, only eat enough small animals, eggs and lizards to comprise about 1% of their diet.  The rest of the proteins that build up these powerful creatures all comes from plants.

Don’t Get Duped!

While I am not trying to tell you to not eat meat, I do want you to see that your family can get loads of clean protein from healthful plant sources.  Quite frankly, I’ve had enough of the marketing schemes and tactics employed by the meat and dairy industry duping family’s out of their health and into doctor’s offices and pharmacies.

There are many myths and misunderstandings surrounding digestibility and bio-availability, nutritional needs and more so be mindful when reading articles telling you why you should be eating more protein, as well as in recommendations as to which kind.  Our capitalist culture places the burden on the consumer to consider who is making the recommendations and why.  Too much of even a good thing can be bad for you.

These industries would have us believe that we really have to make an effort to get enough protein, (i.e., that we should buy their products to aid us in our deep need).  Protein deficiency, especially in America, is ridiculously rare. Even the CDC states that most Americans get more than enough protein and should be more focused on an overall healthy eating plan that consequently incorporates plenty of proteins along with many other essential nutrients.   Again, excessive amounts of animal protein have been linked to numerous diseases and health problems.  If you’re looking to boost overall proteins, look at ways you can broaden your nutritional horizons and get them from whole food plant sources that will simultaneously boost your intake of healthy fiber and other key nutrients/phytonutrients.

For now, look to acquire your protein from a wide variety of lean, nutritious sources but fret not over acquiring enough.  Be sure to incorporate plenty of beans, greens and other plant sources such as hemp hearts, pumpkin seeds, asparagus, cauliflower, peanuts, mung bean sprouts, almonds, spinach, broccoli and quinoa to get a broad array of amino acids and other amazing health benefits!

How to Stop Flushing Your Money Down the Loo on Dietary Supplements

By LaTricia Morris, Author, Illustrator, Integrative Wellness Counselor and Founder of See Kids Thrive & Eden Life Ministries

With growing demand for nutritional supplements, there are literally thousands of products on the market with countless new brands ever trying to breach this lucrative industry.  

If you’re like the majority, you may just be standing there scratching your head, wondering “What’s the difference?”  Many people simply want to cut the crapola and get down to business – Which are the best supplements to take?

The thing is, it’s not just about which products are the best but which are also the safest and most effective.  Some sources are a complete rip-off at best and flat toxic at worst.  In fact, GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart have been implicated by New York’s Attorney General  and others for selling fraudulent supplements.  As their report stated, these supplements were found “to be fake or highly adulterated and contaminated.”

I get it.  It can be easy to get sucked in by crafty sales pitches and deep “discounts” that make you feel like you’re getting a really good bang for your buck.  Quite frankly, we’re sick of you being cheated and lied to.

Here are some of the things that we look for in selecting top quality products to help you realize your greatest health ambitions.

Nutrient Form

Calcium is calcium.  Right?  Wrong!

If you’ve ever checked the back of the bottle, you may have noticed that many nutrients have parentheticals next to the nutrient.  For example, the bottle might say “Potassium (as potassium aspartate)”

Read labels carefully to see what nutrient forms are included.   

For some nutrients, such as Vitamin E and beta-carotene, you want to make sure you’re getting natural, not synthetic, forms.

Minerals also come in various forms.  Elemental minerals, such as those found in soil, are not readily absorbed, so manufacturers typically bind them to amino acids or other substances that our bodies are able to take in. These are known as “chelated” minerals, and have names such as “Magnesium Biglycinate Chelate” on the back label.

In general, most forms of minerals are acceptable, but there are some differences in bioavailability based on your health status. The most common form of calcium—calcium carbonate—for example, is found in many supplements because it’s cheap though it isn’t well absorbed by most people, especially those who are deficient in hydrochloric acid.

Quality supplements from quality sources are key for getting top value for your dollar.

Dosage Level

Once you’ve determined which form you’re looking for, you’ll want to check the label for dosage level.  On the surface, Bottle A containing 60 caps for $20 may seem a better buy than Bottle B containing 30 caps for $18.  However, if the dosage for Bottle A is 2 caps daily and Bottle B’s is 1 daily, B may actually the better buy.

Be sure to check the dosage – serving size and amount per serving, as well as the suggested use (whether you should be taking it once, twice or thrice a day…).  You want to make sure the product has enough of the active ingredients or nutrients to actually improve your health.  

For example, an arthritis supplement may boast a slew of excellent ingredients, including 500 mg of glucosamine sulfate. This may sound great until you learn clinical trials have shown that the amount of glucosamine sulfate needed to produce a beneficial effect is actually three times that —1,500 mg.  So, in reality, it’s not going to do you much good unless you’re taking more of it to bridge the gap.

Some products boast a wide range of really good ingredients, leading you to believe you’ve really got all you need right there in that one bottle.  However, when you look at the labels, you may find that each ingredient is provided in such small amounts that they couldn’t possibly have a therapeutic effect.  A laundry list of ingredients can also complicate the body’s ability to absorb and utilize each ingredient as it tries to determine exactly what it’s digesting.

Some blends are good and may actually work synergistically, boosting bioavailability of key nutrients.  Check the label to determine how much you’re actually getting of what to determine whether you’re really getting your money’s worth.

Keep it simple.  Keep it clean.  Keep it real.

Reputable Manufacturers

Nutritional supplements are big business, and thousands of companies are in the market.  You want to be sure you’re getting your product from a company that can be trusted.  Avoid supplements and foods that come from countries with poor regulations and standards.

Solid, reputable nutritional supplement manufacturers formulate supplements based on scientific research, buy the best raw materials and pay independent labs to make sure their products meet label claims and contain no contaminants.

It is perfectly reasonable to contact a supplement manufacturer and ask for verification of quality. Good companies have product specs, research supporting their formulas and laboratory assays stating that their ingredients are free of contaminants and true to dosage claims made on the labels. Some of this information is available on company websites but some other companies will make you dig for it.

Price

We’re all looking to save money, but understand that price has some bearing on quality.  For example, most B-12 supplements are in the form of the cheap, synthetic cyanocobalamin (cyano- because it’s bound to a cyanide molecule).  Methylcobalamin tends to cost more but comes without the toxins and is much more readily assimilated and utilized by the body.

Cheaper supplements may be more affordable but are they really providing the value you want out of something you’re going to be putting into your body daily?

Do not purchase dirt-cheap or mail-order brands without carefully studying labels and learning something about the company!  Manufacturers of discount products have to save money somewhere, and they may do it by using inadequate dosages, improper nutrient forms or other cost-cutting measures.

You can get information like this from organizations that evaluate consumer products. One that specializes in nutritional supplements is Consumerlab.com. They review a wide variety of nutritional categories, make general recommendations, test products for quality and potency—and post all of this information on their website.

Seals of Approval

Some organizations offer “seals of approval” for products that pass their evaluation requirements.  Many of these organizations are reputable—although a few are simply rubber stamps for a fee. However, virtually all of them require manufacturers to pay thousands of dollars per year to use their seal on products and in advertising, and smaller, less well-known or prolific companies may not be able to afford the fee even though they deserve the seal.

Seals of approval from Consumerlab.com, the Natural Products Association (NPA), the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), and others are indicative that the products are the best supplements to take. However, the absence of such a seal is not a real reflection on quality, either good or bad.

Expiration Dates

Always look for an expiration date. While some nutrients, such as calcium and other minerals, maintain their potency for several years, others like vitamins B and C have a significantly shorter shelf life. The FDA doesn’t require expiration dates on supplement bottles, so many companies don’t provide them. We do not recommend buying such products.

Past expiry doesn’t render all products useless as it simply guarantees potency up to that date.  Still, you want to make sure you’re getting the best quality possible.

Look for Label Red Flags

Look for “red flags” on labels—sugar, artificial coloring and flavoring, preservatives, and additives such as shellac, chlorine and other chemicals should be avoided.

Above all, don’t be afraid to seek help when shopping for the best supplements to take. Ask questions of a nutrition-minded physician, a nutritionist, a well-educated naturopath or health-food store employees. Just make sure the advice you get isn’t tainted or tilted but comes from a source you know you can trust.

DISCLAIMER: This information is offered on an informational basis only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health provider before making any adjustment to a medication or treatment you are currently using, and/or starting any new medication or treatment. All recommendations are “generally informational” and not specifically applicable to any individual’s medical problems, concerns and/or needs.

Sources:

http://www.drwhitaker.com/choosing-the-best-supplements-to-take/

http://mamavation.com/2014/09/toxic-vitamins-how-to-pick-a-supplement-thats-clean-for-your-family.html

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/new-york-attorney-general-targets-supplements-at-major-retailers/?_r=0

http://www.newsmax.com/TheWire/fake-herbal-supplements-walmart/2015/02/03/id/622342/

http://www.naturalnews.com/032766_cyanocobalamin_vitamin_B-12.html