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It’s All About the Protein!


It’s All About the Protein!

Driving in to work this morning, I was thinking about my own eating habits – what “makes them” and what “breaks them.”  I thought about what the greatest challenge was/is for me from day to day.  To take it back a few steps, you should understand that I recently got back from a vacation where we spent a lot of time out of town with family and friends.  We weren’t “totally” in control of our eating, and found ourselves in situations of needing to be “polite” and adapt to what was being served.  Having been pretty careful for the last couple of years, especially, about eating clean a majority of the time, it was unusual to jump back into eating just like everyone else. (That good old Standard American Diet – SAD)  Needless to say, my husband and I both gained 6 pounds in two weeks doing the best we could.

So, thinking about that experience, I decided that it’s really all about the protein.  Many of my days on vacation started out with smaller meals, mostly carbs, with little protein.  That was trouble right there, because I was unsatisfied right from the start, and it got worse through the day.  I’m thankful, however, that we stayed busy, and were able to be distracted a good bit of the time, because I would have been “hunting” for more food, if not.  Breakfast normally consists of eggs and bacon or sausage, with veggies.  To me this just hits the spot and keeps me happy for many hours.  In my mind I know I’ve gotten nutritionally what I need and I can focus on drinking my water and accomplishing whatever else I want to do throughout the day.  On vacation, while staying with friends and family, we often skipped the lunchtime meal, which left me wide open to want to snack in the afternoon and go crazy at dinnertime because I was so hungry.  (When in Rome….)  Dinners were often much later than I was accustomed to, and then it was time to sleep—on all that food.  Let’s just say my tummy wasn’t too keen on that idea, but I did what I did.

eating protein, along with veggies, and good fats at each meal is the key to being nutritionally satisfied.Back to the protein—eating protein, along with veggies, and good fats at each meal is the key to being nutritionally satisfied.  You can eat, enjoy great food, and move on with your day, without feeling “haunted” about needing something else.  If you’re in the mood for something sweet, have some fruit.  If you want snacks, include some nuts, or some more veggies.  Enjoy a variety of tastes and textures and make it interesting.
But what about all those healthy grains we’re supposed to have?  Well, as I tell my clients, “You can have as many grains as you’re willing to burn….are you running a marathon, working out intensely, etc.? “  My point is that if you don’t burn it, you store it.  If you need to add some weight, go ahead.  If you’re trying to lose some, just wait until you’re in your maintenance phase, or just keep grain servings to one or two a day until you’re there.

Planning your proteins is key, as well.  I often suggest bulk cooking meats on the weekend or using the crockpot to cook larger roasts during the week.  It’s super easy to grab a bag of frozen veggies, throw some butter and seasoning on it and call it a meal after that.  But, without the protein….well?  Buy good cuts of meats in bulk when they’re on sale.  Quality matters—always choose the best source, without all those funky additives like hormones, broth, fillers, etc.  It’s best if what you buy is just that, with nothing else put in.  Remember, you’ll be eating what the animal whose meat you’re buying ate.  If they ate corn and soy and antibiotics, well, you’re getting some of that too.  Grass fed is best, if you can get it.  If not, just do the best you can and don’t look back.

One should not consume more than 30 grams at a meal.
People often wonder how much protein to eat.  Well, that depends on your size, sex, activity level, and health status.  A general rule of thumb I often use for a healthy individual with normal kidney function and normal activity is half their body weight in grams per day.  Athletes and others will need more, depending on specific goals.  One should not consume more than 30 grams at a meal.  When faced with that huge steak at the restaurant at dinnertime, just ask the server for a box right when the food is delivered.  Cut the steak in half, or in thirds, and pack the remainder for another meal.  Continue on with the meal as if you had already eaten that part of the steak—you’ll never miss it.  (That’s a good way to handle most restaurant meals, anyway – the portions are usually way too large.)  In ounces, you’re looking at anywhere from 3-4.5 ounces of meat, 2-3 eggs, or 6 ounces of fish per meal.  Protein shakes are always a good way to supplement protein intake.  Protein powder is available from animal and plant sources in good variety in many markets and health food stores.

When considering what you’ll eat at any meal, ask yourself “Where’s the protein, where’s the good fat, and where are the vegetables?”  Watch your portions – just right in the case of protein and fat, and enough or more of the veggies.  It’ll make your life easier, you’ll be more satisfied, food won’t be such an “issue,” no matter where you are at the time, and you’ll avoid a lot of those cravings for some of the unnecessary processed carbohydrates that otherwise might sneak into your day and wreak havoc with your body.   (And, yes, we came home, ate clean, and got rid of those 6 pounds quickly – it’s amazing what you can do when you want to feel like yourself again!)

Cathy Draper, M.S., R.D., CF-L1

-Featured image by 16:9clue