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Good quality protein is essential to our health. Our body, including organs, muscles, and other tissues are made out of protein, and adequate dietary protein is necessary for proper maintenance and healing. It’s sometimes difficult to get enough protein in our diet, especially good quality protein, and we really need to replace some of the calories from the overly carb heavy typical American diet with calories from quality fats and proteins. Powdered protein supplements and shakes can be extremely useful for reaching dietary goals but there are so many types and options to choose from. Hopefully this will help clear it up a little.
Protein is made up of amino acids, and the bioavailability of a protein supplement is dependent on the type and amounts of amino acids it contains. The body has the ability to convert and make many of the amino acids it needs, but the nine essential amino acids cannot be manufactured by the body and must be supplied by the food we eat. Most animal proteins, by definition, contain all of the essential amino acids in sufficient amounts. The protein of cereals, most beans, and vegetables sometimes contain all of these essential amino acids, but the amounts in these plant foods is often less than ideal, particularly the branch chain amino acids or BCAAs.
A common misconception with protein is that animal based protein, such as egg or whey, is easier to digest and absorb, but certain sprouted nut and seed based proteins can make them competitive, in this regard. In addition, plant proteins, as long as they are organic, pesticide-free and non-GMO, are often thought to be cleaner protein sources. However, free-range and antibiotic-free animal based proteins provide similar qualities.
Let’s take a look at some common types of proteins and their pros and cons:
Bone broth protein is really popular right now, and for good reason. It’s chock full of joint and gut healing compounds such as collagen, gelatin, glucosamine, chondroitin, glutamine, and hyaluronic acid. Whether it’s beef or chicken based, you’ll want it to be responsibly sourced from free-range animals that aren’t treated with antibiotics or hormones. Expect many companies to cut corners, so not all bone broth proteins are going to live up to these standards, and obviously this is not a vegan friendly option.
Pea protein is among the most hypoallergenic of all protein powders, as it contains no gluten or dairy. It’s also gentle on the digestive system and doesn’t cause bloating, a common side effect of many other protein powders. Another great feature of pea protein is its ability to lower levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, which the stomach secretes when it’s empty to tell your brain that you’re hungry. Pea protein produces numerous peptides that delay the emptying of your stomach and the secretion of ghrelin.
Rice protein is an affordable vegan option but tends to have a gritty texture, doesn’t mix as well as other protein powders, and usually requires a blender for a smooth consistency.
Soy protein is not an effective alternative. Nearly all soy in the U.S. is genetically engineered and high in allergens (28 different proteins present in soy have been found to bind to IgE antibodies). What’s more troubling is the more soy protein you eat, the more likely you are to develop allergies to it, and the more severe those allergies are likely to become. Soy also blocks the absorption of important minerals such as calcium, unless the phytates have been removed. Soy contains high levels of phytoestrogens, which although beneficial in moderate amounts, can be counter-productive in large amounts — particularly for children. Unless soy has been fermented, which negates many of these issues, it’s best to avoid it.
Whey protein has great bioavailability and is fairly affordable but being dairy based, it is unsuitable for those with milk allergies. Keep in mind quality varies drastically with whey protein, so it’s a good idea to carefully inspect the product label.
An interesting theory called the hygiene hypothesis proposes that childhood exposure to bacteria and even certain infections can be really beneficial to our health. Increased exposure to particular viruses, bacteria or parasites could partially explain why children who grow up around animals and in rural areas appear to develop conditions like asthma less often than children who don’t. This germ exposure not only has a vaccination effect on the immune system – priming it to defeat these microbes more easily in the future – but also teaches the body to differentiate harmless substances from the harmful substances that trigger conditions like asthma.
It’s likely that contact with certain germs teaches the immune system not to overreact. Such healthy exposure could have applications ranging from alleviating allergies to treating autoimmune diseases. And even adults could benefit from the hygiene hypothesis. After all, bacteria are all around us. The idea that things can be and should be “perfectly clean” is a myth. Humans have always coexisted with bacteria and need them to live.
However, rather than “roll yourself or your child on the floor of the NYC subway,” embrace bacteria in more practical ways. Eat cultured foods (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi) and take a high potency probiotic supplement with a diverse array of strains.
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