Protein: Common or Missing Link?
Most of us equate the word diet with calorie reduction. This is understandable, since most diet marketing is relentlessly focused on offering consumers low-calorie options.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking is categorically wrong. The simple fact that any nutritionist will verify is that everyone is on a diet. Even those who do not wish, or do not need, to lose weight are on a diet, as are those who are increasing their weight. Dieting has nothing to do with calorie reduction, and everything to do with calories choices. The foods you ‘choose' to eat determine the type of diet you are on.
Indeed, to the digestive system and the intestines, a candy bar and a stalk of celery are neither seen as junk food nor diet food. They are both seen as simply food. The candy bar leads to a rapid glycemic reaction and the production of fat cells. The celery does not. Still, the body does not label one as junk and the other as diet food. In fact, everything that the body ingests, it tries to use in the best way that it can.
However, outside the neutral intelligent internal body systems, the term diet persists in our often rather misguided external world of advertising, marketing, and diet plans. As such, we can group diets into two categories: deliberate and accidental.
Deliberate diets are designed with specific requirements, such as those engineered to lose weight, to gain weight, and to maintain weight. Deliberate diets are typically what people refer to when they use the catchall term "diet." This is in contrast to the other kind of diet that is called the "accidental diet." Accidental diets have no requirements, and march to a simple chant: eat whatever, whenever, and the body will take care of itself.
However, despite the fact that there are two terms for diets - deliberate and accidental - there is a denominator that unifies them both: protein. All diets, even those that are accidental, require protein.
Protein, and the amino acids that comprise protein, are essential for life itself. Every system within the body depends, directly or indirectly, on protein. In fact, because protein regulates hormones, some cases of depression or anxiety are actually instigated and perpetuated by either a lack of protein, or the body's inability to fortify its neurological system with this critical macronutrient.
Yet for those on a diet -- and that includes everyone -- the importance of protein is more pragmatic. Many deliberate diets such as the Atkins diet and the South Beach Diet restrict carbohydrates, while other restrict fats. That leaves protein. Protein is the common link between all nutritionally-sound diets. But is it also the missing link? Or, is protein readily accessible and readily present in the foods we eat?
Oddly, most American meals and snacks are protein deficient. Indeed, complete protein is absent from 6 of the top 10 foods eaten in the US, and absent from all 10 of the most popular snacks (see chart at end of article). This shortage of protein in the American diet refers both to the absolute amount of protein, which is recommended to be a minimum of 50 grams per day, and the kind of protein as well. The healthiest protein is a "complete protein", which includes all 19 amino acids. However, even people who are ingesting 50 grams of protein may not be eating complete protein. As such, these people are sometimes unwittingly suffering from some form of protein malnourishment, and experience symptoms that include drowsiness, digestive problems, emotional disorders, and other adverse physiological effects.
So to achieve a balanced diet -- regardless of the diet regimen - an appropriate level of complete protein must be present in each meal. This, of course, is easier said than done for most time-starved people. Regrettably, these people are more than time-starved; they are oftentimes macronutrient starved, as well.
A truly healthy diet must also understand how to properly eat the other members of the macronutrient kingdom, including fats and carbohydrates. Actually, since so many diets revolve around the fluctuation of carbohydrates and fats, it is essential to understand how to properly consume these two sources of body fuel in order to achieve optimal health. Yet which fats and which carbohydrates reign supreme? Which ones add weight, and which ones actually help the body's metabolism function more effectively? The answers to these questions will be eye opening to most dieters, and they will form the dieting cornerstone for many consumers.
Top 10 Most Popular Foods in the US
1) Fresh Produce & Processed Vegetables
2) Milk & Cream
3) Flour, Bread & Cereal Products
4) Meat, Poultry & Fish
5) Sugar & Other Sweeteners
8) Oils & Fats
10) Ice Cream & Frozen Yogurt
Top 10 Most Popular Snacks in the US
1) Chocolate Bars
2) Potato Chips & Pretzels
4) Non-Chocolate Bars
6) Filled Crackers
9) Granola Bars