Science Saturday – Protein

How to maximize the benefits of protein.

We have yet to add protein into our daily challenges, before we do lets look at the important information. Selecting protein with a complete amino acid profile is key, after that extra benefits like favourable fatty acid profiles and then micronutrients like Vitamin B12 are good. It’s also really important to look for the absence of growth hormone, pesticides and unnecessary additives.

The following proteins all have a complete amino acid profiles and it’s easy to find good quality sources:

  • Beef
  • Fish and seafood
  • Poultry
  • Lamb
  • Eggs
  • Pork
  • Game meat, when it’s available.

You should select a protein sources based on how the animal was raised and what it was fed! This isn’t just a moral choice, the quality of the animals life influences the macro and micronutrient profiles. The more similar to an animals natural state the better, wild caught, 100% grass fed, free range etc.

1) BEEF

You have probably heard more and more about grass-fed beef recently, and for good reason. Most feed lot cows are fed a bioengineered mix of corn, antibiotics, and several growth hormones. Feed lot farming produces beef that is more science experiment than nutrition. The extreme manipulation of the cows’ diet produces meat that isn’t even nutritionally comparable to grass-fed beef. Beef from cattle that were 100% grass fed contains 2 to 4 times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids, is richer in antioxidants, and contains about 5 times more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is the fat toxic to cancer cells.

When eating healthy beef, do not avoid the fattier cuts of meat. In general, grass-fed cows are leaner than corn fed cows (some of the lean cuts are as lean as chicken breast!), but they don’t taste as good as the fattier cuts. Additionally, with leans cuts you are missing out on the main nutritional benefit of grass-fed beef: the omega-3 fat Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

When enjoying fattier cuts of beef from grass-fed cows, you might notice the fat has a yellow tint. This is because grass contains beta carotene, and cows that eat a lot of grass store a lot of beta carotene, which is then passed on to the consumer.

If you don’t have access to grass-fed beef, conventionally raised beef is still a good choice for protein. Conventional beef still offers vitamin B12, selenium, zinc and other B vitamins. When eating conventional beef, avoid the fattier cuts as much as possible.

2) FISH AND SEAFOOD

Seafood has the highest-ranked fatty acid profile because it’s low in saturated fat and high in omega-3 fatty acids. To get the most of those omega-3s and other valuable vitamins, look for wild-caught fish. Farm-raised salmon, for example, is much fattier than wild-caught fish, but has about 50% less omega-3s and protein content due to increasing amounts of grain and legume feed. Also, many commercially farmed fish are injected with dyes to give them a more appealing color.

When shopping for fish, note that the term “wild” is nebulous and often misused. In many ways, “wild” similar to the highly abused “natural” designation. Ask your fishmonger where the fish came from. If it’s wild, the store will have paid more for it, so they’re likely to understand the value proposition. If they don’t have an answer for you, that’s a red flag that the fish is farmed. Try to avoid Atlantic salmon, as it currently comes from fish farms.

Salmon labeled “Alaskan salmon” is a great choice because there is no farming allowed in Alaska. Another safe option is sockeye salmon, because it cannot be farmed. You can tell sockeye salmon apart from other salmon by its color: it’s bright red as opposed to pale pink

Other options for cold water fish include black cod, Pacific halibut, sea scallops, spiny lobster, and shrimp.

3) POULTRY

Poultry such as chicken, turkey, duck, and pheasant boast robust micronutrient profiles:

  • Poultry, and most notably turkey, contains tryptophan, an amino acid that incudes a comforting, sleepy feeling. Tryptophan increases the serotonin levels in your brain, enhances your mood, and helps you sleep.
  • Poultry is a good source of vitamin B6, which is needed for protein metabolism and amino acid synthesis.
  • Chicken is high in phosphorus, an essential mineral that supports your teeth and bones, as well as kidney, liver, and central nervous system function.
  • Chicken is abundant in selenium, an essential mineral involved in metabolic performance—thyroid, hormone, metabolism, and immune function.
  • Chicken is also high in vitamin B6—which promotes methylation, a process that keeps blood vessels healthy, energy levels high, and metabolism burning calories—and niacin, which helps to maintain healthy skin and aids in the digestion and absorption of food.
  • The list goes on, including retinol, alpha and beta-carotene, and lycopene, all derived from vitamin A, which is vital for healthy eyesight.

Birds are omnivores; they eat plants, worms, insects, and bugs. They are not vegetarians, so next time you see “vegetarian fed” on the label, laugh and know that is marketing talk for “fed only grain.” Avoid these poultry products if you can source higher quality poultry products.

Like beef, the lean and fat cuts — or light and dark meat — both have benefits. Most dark meats contain more zinc, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, vitamins B6 and B12, amino acids and iron than white meat.

4) EGGS

Eggs are both a fat and protein source so we’ve covered them before. They’re being mentioned again because they are one of the BEST quality sources of protein, even higher than beef.

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