Protein – What Is Protein?
What is protein? Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are the three main macronutrients that we require in our diet. When a person starts a low carbohydrate (carb) diet, they will eat more protein and healthy fat to meet their daily calorie requirements. So, enough protein is needed in your diet to keep your hair, nails, skin, joints, tendons, intestines, and bones healthy. Because of this, many people supplement their diets with collagen.
1. Meat & Seafood
Eating low carb meat and low carb seafood are two of the best ways to make sure that you are getting all essential amino acids in your low carb diet. Meat and seafood are complete proteins, meaning that they contain all nine essential amino acids.
2. Milk, Egg, & Cheese
Foods like dairy milk, low carb egg, and low carb cheese are also complete proteins. Therefore, you can eat some of these on a low carb diet to help meet your daily calorie requirements for protein. However, milk contains a milk sugar called lactose. So, while milk may be off limits or greatly reduced for a low carb or keto diet, cheese is not. When cheese is processed, the lactose is essentially eliminated making most low carb cheese lactose free.
3. Fruits, Vegetables, & Nuts
Most low carb fruits and low carb vegetables contain at least a small amount of protein. However, by itself, they are not enough to meet our daily requirements for protein. Vegetarians eat a combination of fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts to get all the needed proteins. While some grains like quinoa are complete proteins, they are off limits for a low carb diet.
Nuts will have more protein than many vegetables, however they are still not a complete source of proteins. Therefore, remember that most individual vegetables, fruits or nuts will not have all of the essential amino acids that are found in complete sources of protein like meat, seafood, and dairy.
As one of the three macronutrients, protein is made up of nine essential amino acids. Protein and the associated amino acids can not be made by the body. Therefore, for the most part, we must include all nine amino acids in our diets. Amino acids form our DNA, so the protein that we eat literally becomes the fabric of who we are.
9 Essential Amino Acids:
Histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine are the nine essential amino acids that make up our DNA. Each amino acid serves a different important role in the body.
For example, histidine is responsible for histamine production. Histamine is responsible for the inflammation response in our immune system. When we have an over-production of histamine (better known as an allergy), we take over the counter anti-histamines.
Tryptophan is needed to produce serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is a hormone that gives us a sense of well-being and happiness, while melatonin help us get a restful night of sleep.
Protein or collagen is needed to build and repair damaged muscles and tissues. So, when we are injured, the body will need and use more protein to heal a wound after surgery, repair a broken bone, or fix a torn ligament. So, while many people associate protein with body building, it clearly serves even more important roles in the body! You can learn about collagen here.
Our hair and nails are primarily made of protein. Therefore, if your diet is poor, your nails may become brittle and your hair may start falling out. This is an indication that you are not eating enough protein. Brittle nails and hair are some things that you can observe. However, on a cellular level, a protein deficiency may be less noticeable.
Proteins is a very important component of every cell in the body including, but not limited to blood, bones, muscle, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, collagen, and skin. In addition, protein is needed to make hormones, antibodies, enzymes and other chemical required by the body.
According to WebMD, unlike carbohydrates and fats, protein is not stored by the body. So, when your protein intake is not adequate, you have no reserve to tap into. And as a result, you will experience hair loss and other damage that you may not readily observe.
Keep in mind that the type of protein you eat will have an effect on your overall health. Fresh lean meats will have less cholesterol, less saturated fats, and less sodium. A low carb diet that is high in unhealthy saturated fats can result in clogged arteries and elevated blood cholesterol levels even if a person is skinny.
Most grilled, baked, or lightly sauteed seafood are high protein, low fat. However, most shellfish are relatively high in cholesterol. So, jumping on an all seafood diet would not be recommended either. Ultimately – balance is the key!