Monday, January 26, 2009

Habit-A-Week Challenge, Week 15: Eat Enough Protein

It's week 15 of the Habit-A-Week Challenge, where you make one small change each week to make your life a little healthier. If you've been following along, and have kept each healthy habit as the weeks passed, you now have 14 great new healthy habits in your life! And I bet you've lost weight, too if that was one of your goals. Sticking to small changes over time really does give results without being painful. If you are just joining us, or if you slipped up along the way, just start right here and work on this week's habit. When the Challenge ends (next week!), you can go back to Habit #1 and keep working on them, one per week until you have revamped your life dramatically without a ton of effort. For last week's habit (and links to all the previous habits), click here.

This week we'll focus on getting enough protein in our daily diets. Protein is important to build healthy muscle (and I don't mean bulking up. Remember, your heart is a muscle, and you certainly want that to be healthy!) Your skin and organs also are composed of protein, and it is important for tissue repair and for making hormones and enzymes. Protein also helps you stay satisfied and not get hungry as often. If you eat a meal with very little protein, you might feel hungry soon afterwards, leading to too much snacking.

So how much protein is enough? Most experts recommend a protein intake of 15 to 30% of your daily calories. The RDA for protein for your body weight is 0.8g per kilogram. You can try out a protein calculator like this one or this nifty one, which not only gives you your RDA but also has some cool information about dietary protein.

Foods that contain all 20 of the amino acids we need for growth are called complete proteins. These include animal proteins such as meats, fish, eggs, and milk. There are also a few non-animal complete proteins including hemp, quinoa, and soy. Proteins that don't have all of the essential amino acids are incomplete proteins, such as whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and some vegetables. You can get all of your protein needs in a vegetarian diet by combining complementary proteins to make a complete protein. For example, beans + rice or peanut butter + wheat bread.

You can figure out whether or not you are getting enough protein by logging your food for a few days on Sparkpeople (free) or any other calorie/nutrition logging site. At the end of the day you can easily see how many grams of protein you have eaten, and which meals were lacking.

Also, be aware that some protein sources may also include high cholesterol or saturated fat. Beef is generally higher in saturated fat, so experts recommend limiting red meat. High-quality proteins that are healthiest include fish, chicken breast, egg whites, beans, nuts, and whole grains.

Some ideas for getting protein into your diet:

Breakfast: Egg whites or Egg Beaters, scrambled or in an omelet with veggies and low fat cheese. Add protein powder to a breakfast smoothie, or to your oatmeal. Add nuts to your oatmeal; a spoonful of peanut butter is really good in oats, too!

Snacks: a handful of almonds, a low fat string cheese, or some hummus with carrot sticks. I also enjoy peanut butter on apple slices. And don't forget the crunchy roasted chickpeas!

Lunch/Dinner: fish or chicken is a great main course, but you can also get plenty of protein in a lentil soup, refried beans, salads with chickpeas or beans. Bean soup is fantastic. Vegetarian chili over brown rice is great too!

Feel free to add your favorite protein-rich meal and snacking ideas to the comments section. I always love to get fresh ideas for the menu!

If you already get plenty of protein, focus on the quality of the protein you eat. Try to get more from vegetarian sources. Add fish at least twice a week to your diet. Try and cut back on red meat; once a week is plenty... less is great, too.

When you get enough good proteins in your diet, you'll feel better. Eating a handful of nuts is so much better for your body than eating a protein-devoid 100-calorie pack of Oreos! Improve your diet... improve your life :)

Watch for an update on how I'm doing, either this evening or tomorrow. It's almost the end of the month! Do your best to have a healthy week.


new*me said...

I have been working hard to get enough protein so I will focus on better quality ones. I probably eat too many whole eggs! Thanks for the very informative did your research girl! Looking forward to your update! Can't believe our January is almost gone!

clickmom said...

I struggle with the protein issue. I know it's the way for me to be successful in my weight loss efforts but man, I just don't like protein! The only thing I like is dairy and last year I found out I am allergic to it. But for this challenge, I am going to step up to the plate and eat for maximum health- fish and nuts (with appropriate compliment) it is!

Anonymous said...

hey lyn,

just wanted to say how much i appreciate your blog. hope your day is filled with happiness. i am currently struggling with worries, stress, anxiety and want to turn to food. your blog gives me hope.

god bless you,

♥ Dee ♥ said...

Does Sparkspeople track your cholestorol? If not, and this is important to you, I use NutriMirror. You might want to check it out...

(and no, I don't work for them... lol)

Lady Downsize! said...

Hi Lyn, great idea. I believe I do well with the amount of protein, because I always make sure to have it in every meal. Tweaking the quality is good. I'm learning that me and beef don't get along so well. It will cause bad bloating and gas, especially mixed with pasta. I do believe I get too many carbs, but I really can get the recommended levels of any of it right. Where did you find the percentages for protein. Did it include carbs/fats/sodium etc.?

I'll be one of those people starting over. I had no idea 14 weeks have gone by already. I have to go back and check to see which ones are now my habit.

antgirl said...

I recently switch my breakfast from oatmeal to an egg white sandwich and noticed a marked difference in the start of my day. Protein rocks!

spunkysuzi said...

I definitely try to get as much protein as i can in. Somedays i come out short but i'm getting better at it :)
Love sparkpeople and yes it can track cholesterol or sodium and just about anything else!

Anonymous said...

I know I should get more protien, the calculator says I should have 110g and I only have around 50.

Scale Junkie said...

Thanks for this reminder. I have always struggled with this one.

Jen, a priorfatgirl said...

Roasted chickpeas are in the oven right now - OH I CAN'T WAIT!!! Thanks for the recipe!

Vickie said...

I have a friend that was watching her total calories - but not eating 'evenly' - she started eating a more balance food plan and the weight started coming off more steadily. Lack of protein and too many carbs was her problem. Even though her total calorie # was right on - the balance wasn't there - and her body was not being fed all the healthy things in needed.

Ria said...

Great post, Lyn! I've definitely noticed that I feel better and have an easier time staying on plan when I eat more protein. The resistance training book I'm currently reading (New Rules of Lifting for Women) has an interesting take on this . . . it points out that we're asking a lot of our bodies when we try to lose fat without losing muscle, and that when we cut our calories in order to lose weight, we may need to increase the percentage from protein to make sure we're getting enough to maintain/build muscle mass.