Tag Archives: protein


Constantly Hungry?

There are three different types of hunger:   hangry, hungry and what I will call “mouthgry” or mouth hunger.  Hangry happens when the body’s natural hunger mechanisms have long gone unfulfilled, the body’s glycogen stores have been depleted, and you feel irritable and foggy.  Hungry occurs due to fluctuations in satiety hormones, leptin and grehlin.  Leptin tells us we’re full.   Grehlin tells us we’re hungry.  Leptin levels decline and grehlin levels rise 4-5 hours after eating – motivating us to eat.  And “mouthgry” happens when the mouth is just crying for a little something-something, not due to any real hunger, but as a reward, a titillating mouth pause from life’s burdens.  If you feel you are constantly hungry, it’s important to know what kind of hunger you’re experiencing and to observe personal eating patterns if you really want to change it.

Hangry, Hungry, Mouthgry

Personally there is no excuse to ever experience hangry.  It is so easy to keep a protein bar or peanut butter and crackers at your work, in your car or on your person.  No excuse, it’s a no-brainer, period.  And mouthgry is much more complicated.  It could be from eating too many refined carbs that cause fluctuations in blood sugar, or it could be related to your personal level of life satisfaction and personal contentment.  This is a much bigger focus than what will be covered here and requires personal reflection, re-prioritizing and some serious de-cluttering, both physically and mentally.  So that pretty much leaves addressing feeling hunger.

How To Manage Hunger

The key to managing hunger is to make sure each of your meals contains a good amount of fiber from real foods, a good amount of protein from low-fat sources and just the right amount of fat from the heart healthy fats and to eat 3 spaced meals a day.  Personally, I’m not big on  snacking if meal planning is given its due diligence, but a snack prior to exercise certainly makes sense.  Here’s how you can keep hunger at bay.

  1. Don’t skip breakfast.  It’s the most important meal of the day and sets the pace for the day.  Focus on fiber and protein.  It is recommended that we get 25 grams of dietary fiber based on a 2000 calorie diet.  The best sources are from whole grains, beans, nuts and produce.  You’ll know something is whole grain if the first word under the list of ingredients starts with “whole” or “100% whole”, not “enriched wheat flour”.  Some good breakfast examples are a veggie omelette with whole grain toast, a smoothie, or plain fat-free Greek yogurt mixed with fruit and topped with 2 tbsp of nuts.  Oatmeal, teff or even quinoa topped with nuts and some Greek yogurt is another great breakfast that will keep you full until lunch.  If you don’t have the time to make an omelet, one of my favorite breakfast solutions is to take a slice of a frittata and put it in a whole grain wrap with some spinach and salsa.
  2. Reduce your high glycemic carbs.  These are the carbs that shoot your blood sugar up quickly.  This is a correlation between a high glycemic diet and low leptin levels.  Examples of high glycemic foods include donuts, fruit juice, corn, potatoes, white rice, pasta and bread and sodas.
  3. Include heart healthy fat in every meal.  Research indicates that getting adequate amounts mono- and poly-unsaturated fats raises leptin levels.  Good sources of healthy fats include nuts, soy, avocado, flax seed, olive oil, canola oil and nut butters.   These fats also will lower your bad cholesterol, LDL, and raise your good cholesterol, HDL.  Be mindful of portions by looking at the calories per serving size because fat is high in calories (9 calories/gram vs 4 calories/gram for carbs and protein).
  4. Boost your protein.  In this Psychology Today article eating sufficient protein caused rats to eat less:                                                                                                                                                             “They found that the regimen sparked production of glucose in the small intestine, and              that this increase, sensed in the liver and relayed to the parts of the brain involved in the          control of appetite, caused the rats to eat less.”
  5. Increase your volume each meal with nonstarchy veggies and soup.  Not only will this please your eyes, but it will fill your belly.  Adding nonstarchy veggies to eggs, casseroles, and soups will give you volume, without all the calories.  Make sure the soups are broth based without added cream or lots of cheese.  Here’s one of my favorite chicken soup recipes and using frozen veggies and canned beans makes this a quick preparation.
  6. Distract yourself.  Hunger does come in waves.  If you’ve eaten a balanced meal a few hours earlier, go for a walk, get a drink and know that it will pass in a few minutes.

Feeling hungry is normal.  I notice with my own hunger it can be uncomfortable at times.  It effects my thinking and makes me want to make quick food choices.  Even now, it’s been four and a half hours since I had my smoothie and I notice my hunger is a little uncomfortable.  I’m thinking about the half sandwich and extra salad I made for dinner last night.  I always keep quick meal ingredients stocked like my peanut butter or low-fat cottage cheese I put on Wasa crackers, a portion of last night’s meal or even the salad we make extra at dinner to have for lunch today.  I never let my hunger get to the point where I could eat a horse.  And I certainly don’t let myself get hangry.  It takes a little planning, but my body rewards me for my effort.  And that’s something to “nay” about!


Getting The Best Protein For Breakfast?

My last blog I talked about the logistics of eating – in particular, the nutritive and emotional value of food.  The next few blogs I want to focus on each of these areas in more detail, starting with common nutritional mistakes I first see in my clients. 

Many people start their day with a bowl of cereal.  The cereal aisle at the store has undergone so much change over the past ten years with a shift from sugary cereals to organic, whole grain and sometimes protein-enriched choices.  But, just because a cereal is organic or has added protein, is it better for us?  Are there better, simpler choices to eat first thing in the morning. Here are some things to consider.

Role of Protein In Your Body

Protein is the workhorse of your body. Protein has a role in just about every function for survival: cell structure and function, waste clean up and intracellular response.  Dietary protein allows these physiological actions to occur in order to support our immune health, hormone production and cell to cell communication.

There are 20 amino acids in the proteins of the body.  These amino acids are like a Lincoln Log House.  You need each piece to build a complete house.  Take out a few pieces and it will fall down.  If our body does not get all of them it can’t survive.  Eleven of them can be manufactured, but there are nine of them our bodies  can not make, they must be consumed.  Our bodies do not store protein like it does sugar and fat.  If we do not consume enough protein our bodies will breakdown muscle tissue in order to get the amino acids it needs.  An indication of this is muscle wasting and increased fatigue.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

The Institute of Medicine has set the Recommended Daily Allowance of protein at .36 gms per pound of weight.  Someone weighing 200 pounds will need to consume about 72 gms of protein daily.  An estimated 45% of U.S. adults don’t get enough protein or have impaired protein utilization and experience muscle wasting as a result.  One study indicated that consuming more than 30 gms of protein at one time did not yield a higher absorption.  Thirty gms of protein is about four ounces of meat, fish or poultry.

Most of the people I work with get ample protein at dinner but not enough at breakfast unless they are eating eggs.  Most cereals, unless they have protein enhancements (usually from soy byproducts) don’t have enough protein unless the serving size is doubled.  But do you really want the doctored-up soy isolated-enhanced cereal?

Soy Isolates and Concentrates As A Protein Source

soy isolates

Special K protein enhances protein by using soy isolates

Soy isolates are formed by taking out most of the carbohydrates and fats from defatted soy flour, making it 90% protein.  Soy concentrates are made from removing some of the water-soluble carbohydrates from defatted soy flour, making it 70% protein.

Soy protein is being added to cereals, protein bars and just about anything stating the product has “added protein”.  There’s controversy over the benefits of eating all this extra soy.  Some studies link the added consumption of soy isolates to improved glycemic control in postmenopausal women with diabetes, as well as some beneficial results in cardiovascular health in monkeys and reduced tumor incidents rats.  And there was even one study even indicated increased soy protein consumption reduced thyroid cancer risk.

But there is still some controversy over increased soy consumption and breast cancer.  There are some supportive studies, but also some that show increased hyperplastic epithelial breasts cell and estradiol production in post menopausal women who consumed additional soy protein isolates.  Furthermore, the USDA is now studying furan, a possible human carcinogen, that’s found in soy protein isolates.

The practical side of me says, why take a risk with man-made, manipulated proteins when there are plenty of non-controversial choices out there?  I’m not against soy, but maybe just stick with the real thing: edamame, soy milk, tofu, miso and tempeh, not the manufactured isolated soy proteins that could be the real culprit just through the process of manufacturing them.

Other Benefits of Eating Adequate and the Right Kind of Protein

Protein takes longer to break down than carbohydrates so consuming enough helps with satiety which helps you feel fuller longer between meals.  One study also shows that eating 30 gms of protein per meal improved body weight management and risk factors contributing to heart disease.  Keep in mind that there is still some controversy of eating too much protein at one time and that doing so can lead to osteoporosis, increased risk of cancer, impaired kidney function and heart disease if the protein is coming largely from beef and other high saturated fat protein sources.

What’s The Best Protein For Breakfast?

The best sources of protein should be low in saturated fat, be whole and non-manipulated, and be quick and easy to put together.  Here are some of the things I recommend for breakfast:

  • smoothie.  It delivers 30 gms of protein through the Greek yogurt, the flax seed and milk.
  • Two pieces of sprouted whole wheat toast with 3/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese.  It delivers about 30 gms of protein since the sprouted wheat contains more protein.
  • frittata wedge in a whole grain wrap with spinach.  I often times make this frittata recipe for dinner and then save the rest for a quick breakfast.  The saturated fat is reduced by substituting egg whites for some of the eggs.  I also boost the protein by adding Greek yogurt.  Look under ingredients for words, “whole” or “100% whole” to find out if it is whole grain.  I like La Tortilla’s wraps and also Valley Bread Whole Wheat Lavash wraps.
  • A cup of plain, fat-free Greek yogurt topped with a half cup of fruit and 2 tbsp of chopped walnuts.  This Greek yogurt will deliver 23 gms of protein and you get some nice fiber and heart healthy omega 3’s with the fruit and nuts.  Try to move away from the flavored and fruited Greek yogurts since they have much more sugar and far less protein.
  • Leftovers from the night before!  Why not eat some left over salmon or chicken?  Put it in a wrap with some greens and you have a perfect breakfast.  Why not think out of the box.

I believe in eating “whole” foods that have not been processed, recreated or enhanced with added protein or fiber or some other doctoring.  If there are enhancements to be made, I want to do them myself in my kitchen.  I have not always eaten this way but as I have learned more about nutrition I believe the less handling and “re-creating” of what goes into my mouth, the better I feel, the more energy I have.

Protein = Muscle Power + Healthy Weight

So what’s the scoop on protein?  You go to the grocery store and you see labels bragging about being “a good source of protein” or how it “satisfies hunger longer.”  In the past, eating low-fat foods was the best way to lose weight. Then came the Adkin’s diet that was all about eating an ultra low carbohydrate diet in order to go into ketosis and force the fat to melt away.  Now the focus is on protein and making sure you are getting enough of it – whatever enough is. Why is protein so important and how much is enough?

Protein Plays A Big Role In Our Body

Protein on a food label

You’ll find protein listed last on every food label

Protein is a food nutrient used to build and repair every cell in our body and to make hormones, enzymes and hemoglobin.  One of the biggest roles protein has as we age is to build and maintain our muscles.  This is important because as we age, we lose muscle mass.  According to Nathan LeBrasseur, a researcher at the Muscle Performance and Physical Functions Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic in a June 23, 2014 article in the Wall Street Journal, most people will lose about 30% of their muscle mass over their lifetime due to inactivity and inadequate nutrition.  And it is our muscles that determine our metabolism – how many calories we burn at rest.  When muscle mass deteriorates, not only do we get weaker which can lead to falls, but we burn fewer calories at rest as well.  Muscle loss usually leads to weight gain.  Most people do not decrease their caloric intake as they age to compensate for the drop in metabolism, so over time their weight gradually increases putting even more strain on the body and creating more difficulty with mobility.

How Much Protein Do We Need?

The USDA recommends 0.8 grams per kilogram of protein per day, but there has been a growing body of evidence to support consuming a larger amount as one ages.  In order to slow down sarcopenia, or the loss of muscle mass, the Society on Sarcopenia, Cachexia and Wasting Disorders recommends in a 2010 article that protein intake for the over 50 age group be as high as 1-1.5 grams per kilogram per day, divided over all three meals.  To convert pounds into kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2.  For example a 200 pound individual weighs 91 kg.  For someone less than 50, the recommended protein intake would be about 72 grams per day.  For someone over 50, the recommendation would be 91-140 grams of protein per day.  Furthermore, the society recommends 20-30 minutes of strengthening and aerobic exercise three times a week to prevent sarcopenia.  Just increasing protein intake alone without exercise will only slow down the destruction of muscle mass but will not prevent sarcopenia.  It is also advised that Vitamin D levels be in adequate range and may require supplementation.  As we age Vitamin D levels decline and low levels are associated with low muscle strength as well as other chronic diseases.

As we age, kidney function can decline, particularly if someone has diabetes or hypertension.  If someone has any of these conditions or has been told that they have kidney disease, then before you increase your protein intake discuss your kidney health with your doctor.  If you have any kidney disease, protein intake should be determined by your provider and a registered dietitian who can make other recommendations to preserve kidney function.  You should ask your healthcare provider about your kidney function and learn about your GFR or glumerular filtration rate.

Getting Enough Protein

As our bodies age, how we utilize the amino acids from the protein we consume also changes.  When protein is eaten, it is broken down in the gastrointestinal tract into amino acids which are then absorbed in the blood stream.  It’s the rapid change in concentration of amino acids in the blood stream that then triggers a chain of metabolic reactions that stimulate the formation of new protein.  However, according to research done at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston as well as at Arizona State University and mentioned in the Staying Strong article in the April 2011 Nutrition Action Healthletter, older adults need a larger amount of amino acids to stimulate protein synthesis.  According to Douglas Paddon-Jones, a researcher at University of Texas, giving 30 grams of protein to a young or older adult will stimulate the same kind of protein synthesis.  Paddon-Jones states that if you give only 15 grams of protein to each age group, the younger age group will synthesize about half the protein, while the older age group will not synthesize any or a very minimal amount.  The older adult needs to get about 30 grams of protein in each meal to stimulate protein synthesis and preserve muscle mass.  This is why cereal for breakfast is not as good for the older adult as a large egg white omelet, with a side of lean Canadian bacon and a piece of whole grain toast.  Most cereals only have about 5-7 grams of protein in a serving size and a cup of milk has 8 grams of protein.  If someone were to boost the serving size in order to get the recommended protein they would be greatly increasing the carbohydrates and calories that can lead to weight gain and not muscle mass protection.

Types of Protein

Protein is made up of amino acids – 9 of them are “essential”, meaning we must consume them because our bodies can not make them like the other amino acids.  Amino acids are the building blocks for repairing our body.  Some proteins are considered complete, meaning they have all 9 of the essential amino acids, and some are incomplete meaning that they lack some of the essential amino acids.  Complete protein sources include meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy – but also include soybeans and quinoa as well.  Choose lean sources like poultry, fish and plant-based or very lean beef and reduced fat dairy since animal proteins can be high in saturated fat.  And if it’s in your budget, buy organic where the type of fat is higher in heart healthy omega 3’s.  Incomplete sources are those from plants like beans, grains and legumes.   A vegetarian diet can get all the essential amino acids needed as long as a variety of plant foods is consumed.  Of all the 20 amino acids, leucine is the amino acid that does the majority of protein synthesis and is a good one to focus on.  It is found in animal proteins but in the article, Staying Strong from the April 2011 issue of the Nutrition Action Health Letter, there is a list of good food sources of leucine.

How Much Protein Is In My Food?

Become aware of the protein in your foods.  Three ounces of cooked chicken breast has about 26 grams of protein.  Three ounces of cooked salmon has 21 grams.  A cup of plain fat-free Greek yogurt has 23 grams of protein.  A large egg has 7 grams of protein and a cup of edamame has 14 grams.  But remember that you don’t have to get all your protein from animal based foods.  A good breakfast for someone under 50 might be a cup of plain fat-free Greek yogurt mixed with some berries and topped with a couple of tablespoons of walnuts.  A good breakfast for someone over 50, particularly if they are getting daily aerobic exercise combined with some strengthening exercises, might include my smoothie recipe(email me for my recipe) along with a good source of protein powder.  Look for my upcoming article on good sources of protein powders.  In the meanwhile, put away the cereal unless you are using a small amount as a topping on your Greek yogurt or smoothie and consider a large egg white and veggie omelet for breakfast, or heck, even some of that leftover chicken from dinner last night!

Is Your Smoothie Harming You?

Smoothies are all the rage. They are touted to increase energy and be low in calories,
but are they really as healthy as they are cracked up to be?  It really depends on the ingredients, how they are made and whether or not they are consumed as a meal or a supplement.

Too Much Fruit In Your Smoothie Can Lead to Weight Gain

smoothieIf you are choosing lots of fruit to put in your smoothie –  especially strawberries and bananas – and a much smaller ratio of vegetables, then you could be doing yourself a disservice.  First of all, strawberries are second on the list of the dirty dozen fruits and vegetables high in pesticides if you are not buying organic.  Do you really want a heavy dose of pesticides when you are drinking these to be healthy?

Secondly, fruits are nature’s candy, so they are naturally high in carbohydrates.  If you are making your smoothies with bananas then be aware that they are naturally high in carbs, especially if they are really ripe – the riper the banana, the higher the sugar-raising glycemic index.  One large banana can have as many carbs as a large McDonald’s french fry.  Even though you may be getting lots of vitamins A and C, you are also getting a lot of natural sugar that can spike your blood sugar.  Depending on what else you are adding or having with your smoothie your blood sugar rise could be causing your pancreas to release extra insulin.  The presence of too much insulin makes our bodies store the extra sugar as fat.  Over time, this could lead to weight gain and even diabetes if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes and tend to carry your weight around the middle.  Smoothies made this way are not “free” calories and they do not make a complete balanced meal.

Other Components to a Balanced Smoothie if it is a Meal

If you are making your smoothie as a meal then be aware it should contain some protein as well as some healthy fat.  According to Douglas Paddon-Jones of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in an interview with David Schardt from the Center of Science in the Public Interest, people should aim for about 30 grams of high quality protein per meal.  In the April 2011 article on Staying Strong, this should come from good quality protein sources like fish, poultry, meat, eggs and dairy.  If you are making your smoothies from just fruits and vegetables and intend them to be a meal, then you are not getting all the nutrients your body needs and your are probably starving two hours later.

Your smoothie should also contain a little bit of fat in order to help you absorb all those nutrients and to help keep you fuller longer.  Fat helps with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.  fruits and especially vegetables like kale and spinach are really high the antioxidant vitamins A, C and K some you wouldn’t want to just eat your kale and not absorb all those antioxidants!

What Does a Balanced Smoothie Look Like As A Meal?

The right smoothie should contain about a 3:1 ratio of vegetables to fruit and aim for about 25-30 grams of protein as well as some heart healthy fat that you can find in seeds and nuts.  It should contain organic ingredients depending on your choices using the dirty dozen list as a guide.  So if you are going to use strawberries, you should buy organic – same with spinach. Obviously this could get quite expensive unless you have your own source!  When I can’t pick fresh veggies from my garden I like to use frozen veggies and berries – they are flash frozen immediately after picking maintaining most of their nutrients and lasting several weeks in the freezer.  I like to use broccoli and kale since they are much lower on the pesticide list, not requiring me to buy organic, and they are good sources of antioxidants, fiber and potassium.

I would also choose fruits that are lower in carbs like berries, especially raspberries since they are also low on the pesticide list. If you are going to use a banana then keep it to half a banana if you are adding other carbs to your smoothie or consuming some along with your smoothie.

Next, you want a good protein source. You could add a good organic protein powder like GNC whey protein powder that is made up of whey protein concentrate and isolate, delivering 24 grams of protein per serving and only 4 grams of carbs.  Or, if you are more of a purist then you could use plain, fat-free Greek yogurt that delivers 3 times more protein than regular yogurt which is much lower in carbohydrates and has healthy probiotics.

Lastly, for balanced nutrition in your smoothie you need some healthy fats.  I like to add ground flax seeds since they are a great source of Omega 3’s but you could also add some walnuts or peanut butter depending on your tastes.  I have experimented with several combinations and I think I have the right balance now that delivers about 350 calories, 45 grams of carbs, 5 grams of fat, 31 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber – and it tastes delicious!  I have this for breakfast several days a week, it’s very portable and I’m getting 2 cups of super healthy veggies, a cup of super healthy fruit along with a good amount of protein and fiber.  Now that’s how to make a smoothie!  If you want my recipe, email me at barbarahgroth@gmail.com