A Primer on Protein

A Primer on Protein

I have to give my husband credit for this post.  He’s been doing an intense exercise program for the past 6 months and complained that he’s “not getting any stronger” and wondered about how much protein he should be eating.  Good question, I said!

Protein is one of the four macronutrients in our diets and provides 4 calories per gram.  Carbohydrate also provides 4 calories per gram and fat provides 9 calories per gram.  Alcohol, thought not really a “nutrient” does give you 7 empty calories per gram, meaning, lots of calories, but little if any, nutrients.

Protein is known as a “building” nutrient as it’s needed for muscle strength and recovery.  Skin, hair and nails are all technically made out of protein.  Your body also needs protein to make hormones, enzymes, blood cells and other structures in the body.  Protein is needed for normal growth and development and for healing the body under times of stress such as surgery, infection or trauma such as a car accident.  Protein also aids with satiety, the feeling of fullness you get between meals.  Adding protein to meals may aid weight weight reduction as it impacts appetite.

Protein is made up of amino acids.  Essential amino acids are those that cannot be made by the body from other amino acids.  Complete proteins are foods that provide all the of the essential amino acids needed by the body.   In general, eggs or other animal foods (beef, poultry, pork, dairy products) are complete proteins, while plant-based foods such as beans and rice offer some amino acids, but not all in one food. Combining beans with rice provides a complete protein.  It was once thought that these foods needed to be eaten at the same time, but this is not true.  If you have rice at lunch and beans at dinner, your body will assimilate essential amino acids from them.  Beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu, peas, and  peanut butter also provide protein in plant-based form.

Protein needs vary based on age, weight and physical activity.  Infants and toddlers have higher protein needs per weight for growth and pregnant women also require more protein for a healthy pregnancy.  Active men and women (such as long distance runners or weight lifters) have higher protein needs to help with muscle growth and recovery.

Most healthy adults require approximately .8 grams of protein per kilogram body weight.  There are 2.2 lbs in 1 kilogram, so a 220 lb man weighing 100 kg would require 80 grams per day.  (220/2.2 = 100 kg).  Athletes may require between 1.0 to 1.5 grams of protein per kg depending on how active they are.  In my husband’s case, I suggested 1.2 grams of protein per kg body weight to build more muscle.  He is exercising at high intensity and using weights five days per week for at least an hour.

Finally, to spare protein from being broken down for calories, you’ve got to eat enough food to meet calorie needs.  Consider this- if you’ve not got enough food to fuel your workout, you won’t be able to exercise as intensely, and your body may eat up muscle for energy, thus lowering metabolism.  You can’t argue with science.

Fighting hunger, one can at a time

Fighting hunger, one can at a time

Click on the link to see my project grant with People’s Liberty:



As a dietitian, I am profoundly passionate about issues surrounding food insecurity- the inability to have regular access to safe, nutritious food.  Although I didn’t grow up impoverished, per se, my parents were products of the Depression Era, and with 4 siblings, we didn’t waste a thing.  I witnessed the result of food insecurity when I worked at the VA Medical Center, in Guatemala where my second daughter was born and in Cincinnati at my girls’ school.  Many don’t know that Cincinnati ranks SECOND in the US for childhood poverty.  And poverty is the main cause of malnutrition.

Malnutrition not only stunts growth, but also affects learning and the ability to earn a good living for years to come.  Children who are malnourished are less prepared to enter the workforce and earn less money than their nourished peers.  It is an issue that affects developed nations and neighbors in our own backyards.

About a year ago on the eve of my 50th birthday, I was honored to receive a People’s Liberty Grant for $10,000 to install 10 mini food pantries in low income/food desert neighborhoods around the city. Taking on a project like this was no easy feat!  But I am so excited and proud of the work I did with a small team and the help of People’s Liberty.

If you see an old Enquirer box decorated like R2D2 on Colerain Ave, you have seen my work in progress.  The other pantry locations can be found here: https://facebook.com/peoplespantrycincy

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Donate to the Free Store Food Bank.  Their dollars fund several projects throughout the city and they have better buying power.
  2. Participate in food drives at work, church or school.  Your donations help those in need.
  3. Ask your dentist or Gyn office for donations for toiletries.  These items cannot be obtained on food stamps and are desperately needed by families.
  4. Keep some canned goods in your car to stock our pantries. Canned beans, tuna, peanut butter, fruits, vegetables, soup or extra toiletries are always needed.  Donate things you, yourself would eat or use.  Love your neighbor as yourself.
  5. Don’t waste food!  Buy what you need and eat it. If you have perishable food to donate, check out: https://ampleharvest.org 

For more information on People’s Liberty: https://peoplesliberty.org 

Breakfast quinoa with cinnamon and ginger

Breakfast quinoa with cinnamon and ginger

Now that it’s cool outside, you can kick the cold cereal to the curb.  If you’re tired of oatmeal, given quinoa for breakfast a try?

I tend to have a lot of quinoa on hand from previous cooking demos.  It’s a favorite grain for me because of its versatility and strong nutritional profile. Quinoa is higher in protein and fiber than other grains, which means it promotes satiety (read FULLNESS). In addition, it’s a decent source of iron- a nutrient that can be deficient, particularly for women and kids. Typically, I have used it for savory dishes with vegetables and beans. Today was different! I made a small batch as a trial, but the recipe can be doubled or tripled to serve more. Below is what transpired.

1/2 cup dry quinoa
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. ginger paste (Spice World)
1 Tbsp. slivered almonds

Cook quinoa according to directions.
While still hot, add cinnamon, ginger paste, brown sugar and slivered almonds. Mix and serve warm.

Makes 2 (1/2 cup) servings. Nutrition facts per serving: 184 calories, 4.1 grams fat, 6.7 grams protein, 30.5 grams carbohydrate, 3.8 grams fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, 3 mg sodium

Buy the bird

Buy the bird

While experts argue whether goat or pork is the most consumed meat in the world, chicken seems to be pretty popular when you look at statistics from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.1   We’ve got restaurants that are solely based on sales of chicken and according to Farmer’s Trend Market Sales, sales for chicken are up 4% in 2017. 2

Chicken breast has often been suggested as part of a healthy diet because it’s a lean protein choice that’s easy to prepare.  While skinless chicken is popular, you may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater by not buying the whole bird.  Here’s a few reasons why.

  1. Chicken breast can cost anywhere from $2.99 per pound to $8.99 per pound for organic.  A whole chicken may run you as little as $1.49 per pound on sale to $3.99 at most groceries.
  2. There are lots of recipes you can make with a whole chicken.  Chicken thighs are great baked or grilled, while chicken breast is often used for chicken salad or sandwiches.  Chicken wings make a great appetizer.
  3. A rotisserie chicken is a great option for people with no time, talent or patience to cook.  Most chickens cost less per pound to purchase already prepared and have a variety of flavor profiles to choose from.  If you want to start from scratch, a whole chicken can be cooked in a crock pot by seasoning the cavity and placing the whole bird in the pot on low.  No liquid required.
  4. When you purchase a full chicken, you’re typically going to have leftovers to use in other dishes.  Try chicken tacos, chicken casserole, chicken stir fry or add diced chicken to a salad.  The carcass can be used to make chicken stock.
  5. There’s something to be said about chicken that is still attached to the bone compared to boneless chicken. It tends to be juicier and more flavorful than separated chicken parts.  Chefs note that the bones serve to insulate the meat, which slows the cooking time and helps retain moisture. 3



  1. http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/themes/en/meat/background.html
  2. https://www.usfoods.com/content/dam/usf/pdf/farmers_report/FarmersReport.pdf
  3. http://www.seriouseats.com/2013/03/ask-the-food-lab-do-bones-add-flavor-to-meat-beef.html

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