Protein - Don't Skip It At Breakfast & Lunch!
To kick off our exploration of the three macronutrients that contribute to balancing blood sugar, we are exploring protein.
Protein has only recently come under fire (compared to fat and carbs which were demonized decades ago) with the new vegan/vegetarian movement.
However, what I want you to remember from today is that protein from animal sources is ideal for MOST people as it provides nutrients in their most bio-available forms (more on that in a bit).
Proteins are made up of amino acids that come together in the form of peptide bonds. Approximately eight amino acids are considered essential, as our body cannot create them. The rest of the amino acids can be produced by the body if not received via food.
It’s amazing how many ways proteins are utilized in our bodies. They are the building blocks of human structure, as they aid in the formation of the brain, nervous system, blood, muscle, skin, and hair. Furthermore, proteins transport vitamins, minerals, fats, and oxygen throughout the body, as well as keep our bodies in proper acid-base and fluid balance. Normally, proteins are not used for energy unless the body is in starvation-mode, in which case, the breakdown of muscle will occur in order to sustain the bodily functions.
Above, I mentioned that proteins should be high-quality, which means that the proteins are complete (in regards to amino acids composition), bioavailable, and digestible. What protein sources fall into this category?
Organ meats – liver, kidney, heart, etc (yes they are sooooooo good for you!)
Eggs (the egg whites have more protein, but the yolk is loaded with all the vitamins, so eat the whole egg please!)
Seafood (canned tuna and salmon are my go-tos!)
Other cuts like veal, bison, and venison
When I say these sources of protein have the most bioavailable nutrients, what do I mean?
Imagine someone gives you $50 cash. You can immediately do something with that. Awesome, right?
But what if someone gives you a $50 check. You can't use it immediately. You have to get in the car, drive to the bank, cash the check, and then you can use it.
The process is similar in animal vs non-animal sources of protein and the nutrients within each source. Animal sources of protein contain nutrients like cash - easy to absorb and use! Non-animal sources of protein contain nutrients like checks - sometimes the nutrients are there (not always like in the case of B12 which is only in animal sources), but they are hard to get to and use.
Typically, I recommend eating a 4-8oz portion at each meal (2-3oz per snack if desired), more if you have blood sugar regulation issues, workout regularly, and/or are male.
When is the best time to eat protein? Most people think protein is a lunch and dinner only food, but honestly, it needs to be eaten at all meals in some form or another. And by this, I mean at lunch, dinner, and breakfast. Sorry, cereal, pop tarts, waffles, and granola are not solid breakfast choices. They are all carbohydrate-based in the form of refined grains and sugars that spike the blood sugar and leave us hungry within an hour (so we reach for a “healthy” granola bar and the blood sugar roller coaster begins again!).
On the contrary, a well-rounded breakfast that includes all three macronutrients - protein, fat, and carbohydrate – is the way to go. Actually, setting up all of your meals or snacks so that they contain a portion of each macronutrient is the perfect way to stay satisfied from meal to meal. Just make sure that those sources are from real, whole foods, or it defeats the purpose!
Protein might be straightforward, but it does typically need to be cooked, which takes time. My top tips include:
Cook protein in bulk - whole chickens, several pounds of chicken thighs, a 2-3lb pork or beef roast, etc
Some precooked options are okay when it comes to protein - soy free canned fish, precooked shrimp, no sugar added precooked chicken sausages, and Applegate Farms deli meats and products are my favorite
Remember that cooked protein can be FROZEN super easily, especially if you aren't going to get to it within it expiring or going bad
Additionally, consuming protein post-workout is a must, especially after a strength-training workout. Many people think they need to only refuel with carbohydrates after a tough workout, but consuming protein after a workout will help speed up recovery and promote the growth of muscle tissue. However, this best applies to REAL, WHOLE sources of protein, not protein powders.
Speaking of which - a quick note on protein powders and their use pre and post-workout: check your labels! Most of these protein powders are loaded with chemicals and sugar. In all honesty, unless you are training for a super specific event, I would not recommend looking into protein powders. Just focus on getting your protein from real, whole foods!
When you start to eat more protein throughout the day (and chew it really well - my plug for digestion!), you'll start to notice you're fuller longer, don't have as many energy dips and spikes, and your sleep and mood are much more even. It's amazing what a simple change to make your diet more blood sugar balanced can do!
Next time we'll cover healthy fats.
As always, if you want to schedule an in person or phone free 15 minute nutrition consult, you can reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule!
You can find a complete PFC balanced guide + my favorite brands list here.