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Issue 6, August 2007

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Issue 6, August 2007

The Protein Puzzle

Deconstructing America’s golden nutrient.


Deconstructing America’s golden nutrient. WHAT IS PROTEIN? Protein – like fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, miner- als,

Protein – like fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, miner- als, and water – is a nutrient. And, just like carbo- hydrates, it contributes 4 calories per gram to our diets.

Unlike the other nutrients, though, protein is com- posed of smaller units called amino acids, which are compounds containing oxygen, hydrogen, car- bon, nitrogen and, in some occasions, sulphur.

There are a total of 20 amino acids, but nine (cya- line, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methio-

nine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan) are essential (meaning our bodies can not produce them, so we must obtain them from our diet).

When we eat protein, it is metabolized and broken down into its different amino acids, which are ab- sorbed and consequently used to make new proteins in the body.


Protein is crucial for muscle growth and repair. It is also necessary to keep our immune system healthy and skin and bones structurally supported. Collagen, for example, is a protein found in connective tissue (and injected into your lips if you want them to look like Angelina Jolie’s).

Many hormones and antibodies are composed of protein. For instance, insulin (the hormone our pan- creas secrete to help lower blood glucose levels after eating, as discussed in issue two of Small Bites) is made of amino acids.

Although carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy for the human body, protein can be used if



Issue 6, August 2007

excessive amounts are consumed or the body has very low amounts of carbohydrates and fats.

Making protein the go-to nutrient for energy is not recommended, though, as it distracts protein away from its main focus -- repair and growth.

Also, keep in mind that excess calories in the form of protein are stored as fat, not muscle or “strength”. If you consume more calories than you need, you will gain weight, even if these calories come from protein.


In the United States, protein is often touted as a nu- trient we can’t get enough of. You would think we are thisclose to developing a life-threatening defi- ciency, based on the non-stop push to eat more of it.

In reality, insufficient protein levels are only a problem in the poorest of nations.

The only people in developed countries who should be concerned with not getting enough protein are those on extremely strict diets (i.e.: fruitarians).

So just how much protein do YOU need? Take out a calculator and crunch the following numbers:


Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2


Multiply that figure by 0.8

Whatever number you get is your necessary protein requirement. However, you can take in up to 175 percent of this figure and still be within a healthy protein intake range.

After these calculations, a 150 pound individual would get a suggested daily protein consumption of 54 grams.

As long as this person stays within the 175% range (94.5 grams), they are okay.

If your intake is above 175%, you are consuming much more protein than your body needs and can handle. We’ll talk about possible complications from this a little later.


My bet? Much more than you need.

Many people mistakenly believe that protein is found only in meats and dairy. Think again!

Take a look at the following chart:






1 cup



Peanut butter

1 tablespoon


Whole wheat

1 slice



Brown rice

1 cup



1 ounce (23 pieces)



1 ounce/slice



1 cup



1 cup






Whole wheat

1 cup




1 cup


Black beans

1 cup



3 ounces



3 ounces



3 ounces


Sirloin steak

3 ounces


Chicken breast

3 ounces




Issue 6, August 2007

The only food group with negligible amounts of protein is fruit.

Someone eating a peanut butter sandwich for lunch consisting of two tablespoons of peanut but- ter and two slices of whole wheat bread is con- suming 16 grams of protein in one sitting.

If they had two eggs and a cup of oatmeal for break- fast, they’ve had 35 grams of protein by that after- noon, all without a bite of meat or dairy.

Keep in mind, too, that although three ounces of meat are considered one serving (and, as mentioned in the last issue of Small Bites, is equivalent in size to a deck of cards) – people eat much more than that in one sitting.

of cards) – people eat much more than that in one sitting. containing all the essential

containing all the essential ones is considered complete.

All meat and dairy products are complete pro- teins.

Does this mean vegetarians are getting the short end of the stick? Not necessarily.

While it is true that plant sources of protein are in- complete (since they might have six or seven essen- tial amino acids, except for soy, which is a complete protein), nature is no dummy.

Grains, for example, are low in the amino acid lysine. But, guess what? Legumes contain plenty of it (and the amino acid THEY are low in is found in necessary amounts in grains)! So, a vegetarian balanced diet provides all the essential amino acids.

The average steak at a steakhouse clocks in at nine ounces. That adds up to
The average steak at a steakhouse
clocks in at nine ounces. That adds up
to 78 grams of protein – a whole day’s
worth for the vast majority of adults!
This sesame-crusted tofu dish
accompanied by rice and brocco-
lini provides all nine essential
amino acids.

Pregnant women and nursing mothers need more protein than other women, but this extra amount is taken care of by the required extra calories.


The literature on protein often makes references to complete and incomplete proteins.

Remember the amino acids I mentioned at the be- ginning of the newsletter? Well, a protein source

It was previously thought that vegetarians needed to combine their proteins by having them at the same time (i.e.: grains and legumes in the same meal).

We now know the body stores amino acids for a few hours, so if someone has only oatmeal for breakfast, they’ll be getting all the essential amino



Issue 6, August 2007

acids by munching on a handful of almonds two hours later.

By the way, the American Dietetic Association fully supports vegetarian diets.

Their official statement: “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the preven- tion and treatment of certain diseases. Plant protein can meet requirements when a variety of plant foods is consumed and energy needs are met. Research in- dicates that an assortment of plant foods eaten over the course of a day can provide all essential amino acids.


provide all essential amino acids. ” PROTEIN AND MUSCLES If that same person eats 1,800 calories,

If that same person eats 1,800 calories, he will not gain mass, no matter how much protein he is downing.

What a lot of people don’t know is that there is a limit as to how much protein our bodies can syn- thesize.

Think of our body as a one liter bottle. You wouldn’t attempt to pour a gallon of water into it all at once; the excess would flow out and go to waste.

I know a lot of men who start hitting the gym, im- mediately give up carbs, go on high protein, low-fat diets and then wonder why they aren’t seeing results. Guess what? Their new high-protein diets simply don’t provide sufficient calories!

Before I studied nutrition, I myself fell for this protein myth in an attempt to gain muscle mass.

I later discovered that my protein-heavy meals contained less calories than my regular balanced ones, so I was counteracting all my efforts at the gym.

ones, so I was counteracting all my efforts at the gym. Ask most personal trainers how

Ask most personal trainers how to bulk up and they’ll recommend protein powders (like Muscle Milk, shown above) and lots of tuna and chicken.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Reading a few issues of Men’s Fitness does not make one qualified to dis- pense nutrition advice.

The key to bigger muscles is simply more calories.

Someone weight training who normally eats 2,000 calories a day needs to eat approximately 2,500 calo- ries a day to bulk up.

Eating high-protein, low-carbohydrate snacks like Atkins’ Crunchers will not help you gain muscle mass. You’re bet- ter off having a glass of low or non-fat milk instead, which provides your body with the protein AND carbohydrates it needs to help build muscle.



Consider this example.

Six ounces of tuna add up to 200 calories and 44 grams of protein.

Three ounces of tuna sandwiched between two slices of whole wheat bread clock in at 320 calories and 30 grams of protein.

A person trying to add mass would be better off

having the tuna sandwich rather than six ounces

of tuna over a bed of lettuce, since it provides the

necessary extra calories.

Do protein shakes have their place? Yes. Since these shakes are an easy opportunity to get a few ex- tra hundred calories in one meal, I think they are helpful for people like myself, who have a hard time consuming too much food at once.

The reason for having these shakes, though, should be extra calories, not more protein. By the time you add milk, whey protein, and peanut butter, some of these shakes contain 70 grams of protein!

A healthy shake should have no more than 20 grams

of protein. Be sure to include fresh fruit and

healthy fats (ie: ground flaxseed) and even grains like uncooked oatmeal to make your shake well- balanced in its nutrient content and generous in the vitamins and mineral category.

Issue 6, August 2007

It is common knowledge among sports nutritionists that a shake containing protein as well as ap- proximately 35 grams of carbohydrates helps in- crease protein intake by the muscles much more than a high-protein, low-carb shake.

Remember, protein does not provide strength or bulk by itself. It is the combination of weight- bearing exercises and additional calories that result in muscle growth. These additional calories will contain the slightly extra protein someone perform- ing very high amounts of weightlifting needs.

perform- ing very high amounts of weightlifting needs. In my opinion, too many people over- look
perform- ing very high amounts of weightlifting needs. In my opinion, too many people over- look

In my opinion, too many people over- look the important role carbohydrates play in muscle building.

It is absolutely possible to gain muscle by eating from all food groups and not supplementing extra protein in the diet.

Dr. Peter Lemon of the University of Western On- tario in Canada -- an expert protein researcher -- has concluded that, at most, competitive body- builders need 1.4 or 1.5 grams of protein per kilo- gram of weight (or approximately 175% of their required protein needs, the figure mentioned at the beginning of this issue).

When men who are just lifting weights for 40 min- utes three times a week tell me they are consuming 300 grams of protein a day, I can’t help but think how unnecessary it is!



Issue 6, August 2007

I can’t stress this enough. Bulking up and building

muscle mass is all about total calories. If you and

a friend are doing the exact same weight lifting rou-

tine and eating the same amount of calories, the per- son eating the most protein will not have an advan- tage.

There is one thing scientists across the board agree on – the importance of genetics. Some peo- ple are just able to put on muscle more quickly than others, and have the genetic propensity to add it in higher amounts.


What’s so bad about getting 300% of my protein re- quirement every day?” some of you might wonder.

The most serious complication that can arise from eating very high amounts of protein over a long period of time (this does not apply to someone “go- ing on Atkins” for two weeks) is excessive stress on one’s kidneys.

Eating too much protein results in large amounts of nitrogen (a byproduct of protein metabolism) being excreted in the urine in the form of urea.

Excess nitrogen has been linked to a higher risk of developing kidney stones as well as reduced kidney function in old age.

In fact, people with renal disease must go on low- protein diets (we are talking 25 or 30 grams a day, which is VERY hard to do) in order to prevent their kidneys from over exerting themselves.

Remember, our bodies are smart and know how much protein they need. If your body requires 90 grams of protein a day and you feed it 240, the excess will simply be removed. Protein is NOT stored in muscle tissue.

Instead, the excess nitrogen left over from protein metabolism is converted to ammonium. Our liver then turns ammonium into urea, which we uri- nate out.

Our liver is not an unlimited ammonium con- verter, though. It has limited capacity. So, anyone

with a liver disorder or enzyme deficiency will run into problems when consuming too much protein.

The worst part is – you wouldn’t know you had this enzyme deficiency until you overrun your body with protein and your liver isn’t able to take care of all the ammonium.

Having extra ammonium in the body, rather than excreted, can cause serious problems.

Excess ammonium first targets the brain, and can lead to a condition known as hepatic encephalopathy, which can result in attention deficit disorder, general drowsiness, and mood disorders.


Soy has long been considered a healthy source of protein – so much so that products containing it will boast about its presence on their packaging.

The FDA even allows the following statement to be included on foods that contain soy protein:

soy protein in a diet low in saturated fat and choles-

terol may


to reduce the risk of heart disease."

terol may help to reduce the risk of heart disease. " While it is true that

While it is true that soy protein contains isoflavones (secondary vegetable substances which, once di- gested, are believed to provide our bodies with pro- tective properties), I believe the true advantage to



Issue 6, August 2007

plant proteins has to do with what they are lack- ing.

Consider this. A three ounce beef patty delivers 234 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 6 grams of saturated ft (30% of our maximum daily limit).

A three ounce soy patty, though, delivers 120 calo- ries, 3 grams of fat, and less than 1 gram of saturated fat.

ries, 3 grams of fat, and less than 1 gram of saturated fat. Diets high in
Diets high in animal proteins are usually high in saturated fats, which, as explained in
Diets high in animal proteins are usually high in saturated fats, which, as explained in
Diets high in animal proteins are usually high in saturated fats, which, as explained in

Diets high in animal proteins are usually high in saturated fats, which, as explained in Issue 4 of Small Bites, are linked to higher risks of atherosclerosis and heart disease.

fats, which, as explained in Issue 4 of Small Bites, are linked to higher risks of
fats, which, as explained in Issue 4 of Small Bites, are linked to higher risks of
fats, which, as explained in Issue 4 of Small Bites, are linked to higher risks of
fats, which, as explained in Issue 4 of Small Bites, are linked to higher risks of

I side with the American Heart Association’s take on soy protein. They do not tout it as single- handedly being able to lower one’s risk of heart dis- ease, but note that soy protein usually replaces less healthful selections like beef and fatty cheeses, while delivering fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

veloping breast cancer, while others blame it for IN- CREASING one’s risk of developing breast cancer!

Allow me to clarify the matter. What is known is that, among many other factors, high estrogen levels are linked to an increase in a woman’s risk of de- veloping breast cancer.

We also know that phytoestrogens are not as powerful as human estrogen. And, recent research suggests they lower the impact of circulating estro- gen.

In fact, one particular phytoestrogen known as

lignan -- found in sizable amounts in flax, sun- flower, and sesame seeds -- has been shown to lower the production of estrogen!


high phytoestrogen intake in one’s diet is not equal


having high estrogen levels, so I don’t believe the

moderate incorporation of soy-based foods into a woman’s diet are responsible for increasing a her risk of developing breast cancer.

Many of the studies ringing the “don’t eat soy if you’re a woman” alarm are rather limited. A lot of the subjects have very different diets, with soy being the only thing in common.

Additionally, a lot of studies are done with Asian women, who eat soy throughout their entire life. This is very different to the American diet, where soy protein and soy products only became mainstream in the past 15 years.

It’s also worth pointing out that many of these stud- ies – particularly the ones concluding that soy protein stimulates the growth of breast cancer cells -- isolated soy and gave subjects phytoestro- gen supplements, rather than food containing phytoestrogens.


Soy protein contains phytoestrogens (a plant compound that mimics human estrogen).

Interestingly enough, some camps laud phytoestro- gens as being helpful in lowering one’s risk of de-


human estrogen). Interestingly enough, some camps laud phytoestro- gens as being helpful in lowering one’s risk
human estrogen). Interestingly enough, some camps laud phytoestro- gens as being helpful in lowering one’s risk


Issue 6, August 2007

This resulted in extremely high doses of phytoestro- gens – much more than most people get in their di- ets.

I personally think it is best to not be overly con- cerned with soy and breast cancer either way.

It is foolish to consider oneself immune due to soy consumption in the same way it would be silly to fear that snacking on a bowl of edamame every other day is the equivalent of smoking a cigarette.

Organic compounds in soy known as isoflavones compete with estrogen for receptors (structures in cells that pick up and hold on to certain enzymes and hormones).

Thus, it is believed that during menopause, when the body’s estrogen levels naturally drop, these isoflavones can fool the body into thinking there is more estrogen available, thereby helping reduce some symptoms of menopause.



One of my favorite quick lunch dishes!

1 whole wheat wrap 2 tablespoons hummus 1/4 cup avocado 1/4 cup peppers (red or green) 1/8 cup red onion, chopped 1/4 cup mesclun mix 1/8 cup carrots, shredded 3 ounces broiled tempeh, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste

approximately 30 seconds), fold, and eat.


410 calories 18 grams heart-healthy fats 3 grams saturated fat 19 grams (!) fiber 25 g protein (15 g soy protein)

It might not sound like a filling meal, but the combination of protein, high fiber and heart- healthy fats is guaranteed to keep you full for hours. Even my most carnivorous friends have been surprised at how great this wrap is and how full they feel afterwards.

As an added bonus, the medley of vegetables pro- vides a plethora of vitamins (including A, C, and E), minerals (such as potassium and magnesium), and antioxidants, while the tempeh contains Omega-3 fats.



The first issue of Small Bites covered fiber and ana- lyzed the Atkins Diet. Here we are six months later and I’m covering a very similar diet – Protein Power.

The philosophy behind it is the same as Atkins. Strictly restrict your carbohydrate intake and si- multaneously increase your protein consumption.

and si- multaneously increase your protein consumption. People needing to lose 20 percent or more of

People needing to lose 20 percent or more of their weight are asked to eat no more than 30 grams of carbohydrates a day.

Place ingredients in center of wrap (for an extra touch, heat up the wrap in the microwave first for



Issue 6, August 2007

That equals 1 banana OR half a cup of brown rice OR a cup of oatmeal.

Of course, once eating resumes, these layers resume replication and “grow” back.

In other words, a bowl of oatmeal with a sliced ba- nana on top – with its fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients -- is a “no no”, while four strips of bacon and a Swiss cheese and ham ome- lette get the green light, despite the complete lack of fiber and very high amount of saturated fat.

Protein Power can also be very low in calories. Some people – particularly those who are physically inactive -- are advised to take in as little as 1,000 calories a day.

One crucial issue with low-calorie, low-carb, high- protein diets is that when the body’s preferred source of energy – glycogen, courtesy of carbohydrates – becomes scarce, the body burns some fat but also starts converting amino acids into glucose via a rather taxing cycle.

This result in the loss of muscle mass – and guess which is one muscle the body goes to for bor- rowed energy? The heart! In the long run, this can be particularly harmful to its structure.

Remember: a lot of the rapid weight loss seen with these extremely low-calorie diets can be at- tributed to two things -- water weight and “self- digestion”.

Foods rich in protein have very little sodium; a min- eral which, as explained in issue 3 of Small Bites, retains water.

Eliminate most of the sodium in your diet (which

is necessary, and thus found even in healthy foods

like whole grains and low/non-fat dairy) and the water in your body will be flushed out.

Additionally, within the first 48 hours of going on

a very low-calorie diet (and especially when fast-

ing), our body digests the protein layers of the di-

gestive system, which thereby stop replicating.

When it comes to nutrition, there is no reason to believe that a diet following the recommended in- take of 60% carbohydrates, 20% fats, and 20% protein (give or take 5 or 10 percent of each of those nutrients) is unhealthy.

This is how humans ate before all these diets came about, trying to tinker with our consumption and tell- ing us to lower fat or lower carbohydrates. And now, here we are, in a country where two thirds of the adult population is overweight (and a quarter is clinically obese).

I know it doesn’t sound exciting or groundbreaking, but you can’t beat the truth. Forget chalky meal- replacement shakes or putting fruit salad in your “food that makes me fat” list.

A diet low in processed foods, high in fruits and vegetables, and consisting of regular-sized por- tions is the key to good health, especially when complemented with physical activity and enough sleep.

Small Bites is a monthly newsletter de- livering nutrition information without sponsors to please, advertisers to pro- mote, or hidden agendas.

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Thank you, and see you next month!