Protein: Rights and Wrongs
We would die without protein. Just like your body makes use of the simplest sugars to go about it's usual process, it absolutely needs the amino acids provided by protein to function. Here are some famous proteins (at least famous to me):
Albumin- the most abundant protein in the blood plasma.
Hemoglobin- found in red blood cells, it traps iron which binds to oxygen molecules so that the blood cells can carry that oxygen to your tissues.
Insulin- moves the sugar that circulates in your blood after eating into your tissues to be used as energy.
Collagen- structural protein that maintains the integrity of your skin and connective tissues.
Keratin- structural protein in your hair and nails.
The list goes on! Enzymes are proteins as well, and they play a part in just about every chemical reaction that keeps you alive and functioning. Even with all the work they do for us, proteins don't last long. They need to be replaced regulary, by putting the right combination of amino acids together around the clock.
So where do those amino acids come from? Protein! Yes, that's right. Proteins get broken down for their parts in the little "chop shops" of your body so that those parts can be used to build other proteins. And the organ responsible for storing those proteins is the liver. So whenever you eat your respective protein source, you'r replenishing your protein needs.
Western cultures go way overboard on the portion sizes for our meals. Only we would give a steak or chicken the lead role on our plates. The problem is similar to overloading on carbohydrates when you are not an athlete. Proteins have a caloric value, too. In fact, it's the same as with carbs (4 calories for every gram). Meaning, if you eat more than you plan on using, your body will store it in places you don't want it to. In addition, animal-derived protein sources like meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products also provide fat. Meats and poultry especially contain saturated fats which, in excess, will boost up your LDL (that's the BAD cholesterol).
How much protein do we need in our diet? It depends on many factors (for example, are you active or not? Are you well or are you sick? How old are you?). However, the general formula one can use starts with simply multiplying your weight in kilograms by 0.8 or 1.0. If you were hospitalized or otherwise really ill, however, you would double it because you're body is working harder to get back to normal and goes through proteins like...well, water. So if you weighed 150 pounds, you would weigh about 68 kilograms. Therefore your daily protein requirement would range from 54 to 68 grams. This translates to about 18 to 23 grams of protein in each meal (don't skip a meal and double up on the next one because your body needs time to utilize those nutrients, or else what doesn't get used goes into storage...same principle here people!).
Here's where the numbers get complicated: if you're overweight or obese. How do you know if you are? If your BMI, or Body Mass Index is between 25 to 30, you're overweight. If it's over thirty you're obese. In this case your daily protein requirement is going be high, too, so it will MAINTAIN that weight. To get a little perspective, calculate how much protein you will need if you were at a healthier weight. Start consuming that amount of protein each day. What you should do then, is get active and drink plenty of water so whatever your body metabolizes gets flushed out regularly. Next, start to cut down on your consumption of fats (unlike carbs and protein, every 1 gram of fat provides 9 calories) because that is the hardest to get rid of once it accumulates and it the most dangerous for your health in excess. As you start shedding pounds you can adjust your protein requirements.
What I also recommend is a little education: Look at your nutrition labels and see exactly how much fat, carbohydrates, and proteins you are getting per serving. Start looking up how much protein is in a particular serving of your favorite protein sources (for example: a 3-oz piece of meat usually has about 21 grams of protein). Eating healthier and losing weight really doesn't have to be complicated.