Pick The Right Proteins

By: proctor - February 28, 2012
They may not be on the covers of every single magazine now, but low-carb/high-protein diets are still popular. Athletes need a lot of carbohydrate energy to fuel their workouts and aid in post-exercise recovery so as to avoid a sluggish workout the next day. Sedentary people may not need as many carbohydrates but that doesn't mean they need zero. Needing more protein does not mean you need to eat fatty meat, however; the right kind of protein will affect your immediate and long-term health. Harvard Medical School published an informative article about picking the right proteins in their newsletter "HealthBeat" that you may want to read:

Going low-carb? Pick the right proteins

Low-carb eating plans like the Atkins diet were once so popular that they graced the covers of Newsweek and other magazines. Some experts championed these diets as the best way to lose weight. Others scorned them as the heart-clogging way that might help you shed pounds but put your health at risk. Now several large randomized controlled trials — the gold standard of medical research — have shown that low-carb diets are as good as low-fat diets for losing weight, and may even be better. But how do they fare for long-term health?

Most low-carb diets deliver more protein and fat than “regular” or low-fat diets. We know there are good and not-so-good fats and carbohydrates. Could the same hold true for protein sources? If so, then the type of protein that dominates a diet can influence health as much as the kinds and amounts of carbohydrates or fats.

The evidence

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have been following 85,000 female nurses and 45,000 male health professionals since the mid-1980s. Every few years, the participants fill out questionnaires detailing what they eat and provide other information on their health. This wealth of data is offering some insight into the long-term effects of different low-carb diets.

In one study, the researchers created scores for each nurse’s intake of protein from red meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts, and beans. The findings:

The more protein from red meat, the higher the chances of developing heart disease.
Women who averaged two or more servings of red meat a day had a 30% higher risk of developing heart disease than those who had one or fewer servings a day.
Replacing one serving of meat with one of nuts reduced the risk by 30%.

In a separate study, the researchers created scores that reflected both the amount of carbohydrate in the diet and the main sources of protein. Among the nurses and male health professionals, those with a low-carb diet heavy in animal protein were 23% more likely to have died over 20-plus years of follow-up than those with “regular” diets, while those following a low-carb diet rich in plant protein were 20% less likely to have died.

Protein sources

Good sources of protein deliver different amounts of saturated fats, carbohydrates, and fiber. Here’s what 3 ounces of different protein sources contain.

Roasted chicken, white meat
-130 calories, 23.1 g protein, 0 g carbohydrate, 0.9 Saturated Fat

Roasted leg of lamb-184 calories, 22.7 g protein, 0 g carbohydrate, 3.9 g Saturated Fat

Cooked ground beef (85% lean)-197 calories, 20.9 g protein, 0 g carbohydrate, 4.5 g Saturated Fat

Baked coho salmon-151 calories, 20.7 g protein, 0 g carbohydrate, 1.7 g Saturated Fat

Roasted chicken, dark meat
-151 calories, 19.8 g protein, 0 g carbohydrate, 2.1 g Saturated Fat

Baked ham-151 calories, 19.2 g protein, 0 g carbohydrate, 2.7 g Saturated Fat

Boiled green soybeans-127 calories, 11.1 g protein, 10 g carbohydrate, 0.7 g Saturated Fat

Cottage cheese, 1% milk fat-61 calories, 10.5 g protein, 2.3 g carbohydrate, 0.6 g Saturated Fat

Boiled black beans-114 calories, 7.6 g protein, 20 g carbohydrate, 0.1 g Saturated Fat

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database

Putting it all together

To your body, protein from pork chops looks and acts the same as protein from peanuts. What’s different is the protein “package” — the fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that invariably come along with protein. The two Harvard studies add to a growing body of evidence that emphasizing plant protein sources is a better bet for long-term health.

If you are overweight, shedding pounds can improve everything from your blood pressure to the way you feel. Do it the wrong way, though, and shrinking your waistline could also shrink the number of birthdays you get to celebrate. Instead of having bacon and eggs for breakfast, a burger for lunch, and steak for dinner, getting more of your protein from plants may help you steer clear of heart disease and live longer.

About the Submitter


I have been an ACE certified personal trainer since 2000 who has trained over 3000 hours. I specialize in pre- and post-natal fitness, stretching, running, and weight loss. Yoga is also a passion for me and a way of life. I received my Yoga Alliance Teacher Certification in India and love to share the calmness, strength, and openness that yoga offers to people of all ages and abilities.

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