New Wave Nightingale

Whether animal or plant, protein is essential for life

New Wave Nightingale(Oct. 25, 2023) — Protein, a basic nutrient, lives in a place of perpetual controversy as the pendulum of popular opinion swings between high- and low-protein diets every few years.

Protein is everywhere: muscle, bone, skin and hair, to name a few. It builds the enzymes that catalyze innumerable chemical reactions necessary for life and makes the hemoglobin in blood.

There are greater than 10,000 different proteins always at work in the body. Protein is comprised of more than 20 amino acids which cannot be stored.

The body makes most of them as needed, but nine cannot be synthesized and must be consumed. These are known as essential amino acids, which are responsible for “muscle health, liver turnover and the regeneration of proteins within the body,” says Gabrielle Lyon, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and founder of the Institute for Muscle-Centric Medicine.

“Dietary protein has dual roles,” she continues. “It’s a combination of 20 different amino acids, and those 20 different amino acids all have different roles in the body and are required in different amounts.”

Many protein sources rich in essential aminos involve animal products, such as lean meat (especially poultry), yogurt, lean fish (tilapia and sole) and cottage cheese. Those who do not consume animal products need not be concerned, as many plant foods – including beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds and soy products – are also full of protein.

According to registered dietician Janet Helm, it’s actually better to vary your protein sources.

“Most Americans get enough protein from meat, poultry and eggs but do not meet recommendations for seafood, nuts, seeds and soy products,” Helm says. “Increasing your plants, like the eating patterns of the Mediterranean diet or a flexitarian approach, offers multiple benefits – from maintaining a healthier weight to reducing the risk of heart disease, certain cancers and Type 2 diabetes.”

Helm dismisses the traditional concern that plants are an “incomplete” protein that require complex combinations of different proteins.
“Now we know that when you eat a variety of plant foods, the overall mix of amino acids – or the building blocks of protein – is not substantially different from animal protein.”

So, animal or plant, how much protein is necessary? The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. This amount is expected to meet basic nutritional requirements. Another approach is to consume 10%-35% of your calories from protein.

Pregnant women have significantly increased protein needs, and there is some evidence to suggest that otherwise healthy seniors, a group at risk for muscle loss (Sarcopenia), may profit from upping protein consumption in conjunction with a resistance training program.
As increased protein can be taxing to the kidneys, it is best to check with a medical professional before going “whole hog.”

Avoid diets of extreme high protein (Ketogenic). They can result in rapid weight loss but put one at high risk for Ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal condition. Moderation is always the best and safest course.

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Nathalie Montijo
Nathalie Montijo
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Nathalie Raven Archangel-Montijo holds a rather interesting array of degrees and certifications, including master’s in nursing and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). She has post-master certification as an adult geriatric primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP) and a license to practice acupuncture in California (L.Ac). To round all that out, she is certified in infection prevention and control (CIC) and as an advanced certified Hospice and palliative care nurse (ACHPN).

She also performs in the outlaw country band, Nineteen Hand Horse.