We know… we know… in the world of weight loss, “carbs” is a dirty word. Consumers don’t always get it: they need carbs and most foods and drinks contain them. Protein has come to reign supreme in a dieter’s world, but is that fair? Putting commercial hype and trends aside, what is the real story about these nutrients and how do our bodies use them?
First: Why We Need Protein
There are several sources of this essential nutrient out there:
• plants, including vegetables
Many consumers associate our favorite polypeptide with “meat” but, as the list shows, vegetarians and vegans can also get what they need without meat. It’s a good thing, too, because without it they would not thrive.
Protein contains amino acids which are essential to building, maintaining, and repairing muscle tissue. The heart is like your bicep: it’s a muscle too.
Protein-rich foods often contain omega fatty acids. The brain feeds off of these acids found in salmon and nuts, for instance. Without the right foods a person has to supplement with vitamin pills, meal replacement products, and powdered mixes.
Next: Why We Need Carbohydrates
Bodies store energy from food which is high in complex carbohydrates. These include grains, vegetables, fruits, and natural sugars such as honey and maple syrup. A complex carbohydrate takes time to break down so that it provides energy slowly over time and, if used completely, does not convert to fat. Foods associated with simple carbohydrates are the ones to avoid:
• soft drinks
• table sugar
Now: Let’s Put The Two Together
When you combine these foods in their ideal forms, a body performs better than if one is missing or processed items are preferred. At snack time, an apple plus a spoonful of peanut butter provides enough energy to make it to a meal. Although deli meats and hamburgers are sources of protein, salami and process ham, for example, usually contain additives or fillers including salt, something consumers usually eat too much of. In addition, when we eat a hamburger with a bun, the meat itself may be okay, but the bun is a source of simple carbohydrates quickly broken down into sugars and then fats.
Finally: Let’s Talk about Ideal Amounts
A perfect meal time arrangement sees a person’s plate organized thus:
• up to one quarter protein
• up to one quarter grains (rice, Quinoa, or couscous, for example)
• half or more of vegetables and/or fruit
Portions of sources such as meats and grains should be about the sizes of a person’s fist (according to that individual’s size) with the last group taking up as much space as desired. If you like fatty sauces take those into account as well. Salad dressings made from balsamic vinegar, herbs, spices, and fruits can be used more liberally than Ranch or Caesar dressings. Potatoes are alright as carbohydrates as long as they are baked or boiled, not fried or smothered in butter.
Some individuals find it difficult to achieve the correct balance of foods on their plates or they can’t seem to eat enough of certain foods. Meal replacement powders containing protein and good carbs plus vitamins and minerals are excellent alternatives if these do not contain sugar, synthetic sweetener, or additives.