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.

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
Preventing weight gain for breast cancer patients

Preventing weight gain for breast cancer patients

I was on Fox 19 earlier with my buddy Kara Sewell talking about foods to include in your diet during treatment and recovery.  The foods are great for anyone trying to “manage their waist”.

Start your day with whole oats and eggs.  Oats are high in soluble fiber, which reduces appetite.  Eggs are an eggscellent source of protein, which regulates blood sugar and satiety.

Add avocado to your sandwich or salad.  The MUFAs (monounsaturated fatty acids) reduce appetite and this type of fat is also heart healthy.  Include high protein or Greek-style yogurt for probiotics and protein.  Probiotics are important during cancer treatment to recolonize your gut and strengthen immunity.  Protein in yogurt has been found to improve satiety.

Finally, eats beans or lentils at least 3 times/week.  They’re a source of both fiber and protein and keep calories in check because they’re fat free.  Season with garlic, onions, ginger, tomatoes, peppers or a variety of spices.



Engineered proteins and body weight

Engineered proteins and body weight

Part of my job as a dietitian is to dig into the latest research on what works and what doesn’t for various diseases.  Our curiosity for science is what makes most RDs, neRDs.  Below is an interesting article on engineered proteins and their possible use in the fight against obesity.  The “gut-brain axis” is real!


Broccoli Slaw with Cranberries, Almonds and Yogurt Dressing

Broccoli Slaw with Cranberries, Almonds and Yogurt Dressing

This delicious recipe is loaded with cancer fighting nutrients including vitamin C, beta-carotene and fiber. The yogurt dressing adds a boost of protein as well as calcium with a light, tangy taste. Pecans can be substituted for almonds and dried blueberries, raisins or apricots could be used in place of cranberries. Enjoy!

¼ cup sliced raw almonds
1 (12 oz) package of broccoli slaw (Manns or Kroger brand)
½ cup dried cranberries or other dried fruit
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. rice vinegar
3 Tbsp. honey (or agave nectar)
3 Tbsp. plain, Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper

1. In a small, non-stick frying pan, toast the almonds over medium heat shaking the pan frequently until they start to brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, add broccoli slaw and cranberries.
3. Combine remaining dressing ingredients in a large measuring cup or mixing bowl. Whisk together until the dressing is smooth and emulsified.
4. Pour dressing over broccoli slaw and mix. Add cooled almonds and stir to combine.
5. Chill for at least 30 minutes to 4 hrs before serving.

Makes 4 servings. Nutrition facts per serving: 117 calories, 7 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams protein, 1.5 grams fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, 124 mg sodium.

Overweight but fit still at risk

Overweight but fit still at risk

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism suggests that “metabolically healthy obese”- a subset of obese individuals, who were initially thought to not be at high risk of heart and other chronic disease, still might be.


Study author Kristine Faerch from the Steno Diabetes Center in Copenhagen states that while it was once thought that it was not unhealthy to be overweight or obese if you lived a healthy lifestyle, research suggests differently.  Overweight and obese individuals face an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.  To lower risk, keeping a healthy weight throughout the lifecycle is vital. 1


Faerch and her researchers evaluated data in over 6200 men and women that joined a Danish study where they were tracked for over 10 years.  The subjects’ initial BMIs and 4 risk factors for heart disease including HDL (“healthy” cholesterol), high blood pressure, triglycerides and blood glucose were monitored.  “Metabolically healthy” subjects had none of these risks, while “metabolically unhealthy” were defined as having at least one risk factor.  In the follow up period, 323 subjects developed heart disease.  Men who were metabolically healthy, but obese, had 3 x the risk of heart disease versus metabolically healthy men with normal weight.  Women that were metabolically healthy but obese had double the risk.  Overweight men that were metabolically healthy had equivalent risk as their normal weight counterparts.  Overweight women at the outset had a slightly higher risk than normal weight subjects.  The authors note that only 3% of male and female subjects were obese, but considered metabolically healthy.  Over a 5-year period, 40% of those considered metabolically healthy because metabolically unhealthy. 1


Joshua Bell from the UK’s University of Bristol is not surprised.  He and his colleagues published a paper in February nothing that obesity increases age-related disability and decline, even in metabolically healthy individuals.  His research found that after 2 decades, physical ability declined two times more while pain increased 6 times more in obese individuals compared to normal weight individuals. He stresses that heart disease is not the only risk factor to consider in healthy aging. 2


Matthias Schulze at the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Potsdam-Rehbruecke, who did not participate in either study, believes other measurements such as waist-hip ratio, waist circumference and body fat could be looked at to determine “metabolically healthy” obese. 3 Healthy and obese can change to unhealthy and obese very quickly.  More research is needed to find how to decrease disease risk in both groups.



1.Louise Hansen, MSc, Marie K Netterstrøm, MSc, Nanna B Johansen, MD, PhD, Pernille F Rønn, MSc, Dorte Vistisen, MSc, PhD, Lise LN Husemoen, MSc, PhD, Marit E Jørgensen, MD, PhD, Naja H Rod, MSc, PhD, DMSc, Kristine Færch, MSc, PhD. Metabolically healthy obesity and ischemic heart disease: a 10-year follow-up of the Inter99 study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab jc.2016-3346.  Published March 7, 2017.


2.  J A Bell1,2, S Sabia1,3, A Singh-Manoux1,3, M Hamer4 and M Kivimäki1, Healthy obesity and risk of accelerated functional decline and disability.  International Journal of Obesity advance online publication 14 March 2017; doi: 10.1038/ijo.2017.51


3.Kristin Mühlenbruch, Tonia Ludwig, Charlotte Jeppesen, Hans-Georg Joost, Wolfgang Rathmann, Christine Meisinger, Annette Peters, Heiner Boeing, Barbara Thorand, Matthias B. Schulze.  Update of the German Diabetes Risk Score and external validation in the German MONICA/KORA study. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice.  June 2014 Volume 104, Issue 3, Pages 459–466

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