Protein and the pyramid |

Protein and the pyramid

Henry Kliebenstein
For the Health of It

This week’s health column continues a discussion of the Food and Drug Administration’s recent restructuring of the food guide pyramid, reportedly undertaken to help users better understand their nutritional needs and suggestions for how to eat right. Previous columns have addressed new FDA information on carbohydrates and fruits and vegetables, and here we will look at the next level of the food pyramid: sources of protein.

The next major change in the restructuring of the FDA food pyramid from meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts, with a recommended two to three servings per day, includes recommendations for poultry, fish, and eggs with recommended servings from zero to two times per day. I have failed to list red meat here, but since it is filled with saturated fat and cholesterol, I feel other sources of healthier protein should be addressed. Red meat will be mentioned at the top of our pyramid in weeks to come.

For years now fad diets have been highlighting protein as the most important nutrient over all others in the quest to lose weight. The Atkins diet is just one of many that can be cited here to make my point. To stop eating all carbohydrates and increase protein intake simply robs your body of the necessary nutrients that we all need to stay healthy. As you have seen over the past few weeks there are much healthier ways to eat in order to achieve the same results.

Poultry and fish are great sources of protein and, if prepared correctly, can be extremely low in fat. For example, a three-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breast contains a whopping 26.7 grams of protein with just a trace of saturated fat. The same size turkey breast contains 25.4 grams of protein with a trace of fat. A fresh three-ounce salmon filet is packed with 32.2 grams of protein but in addition contains vitamin B12, niacin, thiamine and heart healthy omega-3s. Eggs have been given a bad rap for years now, but the bad news is not true. A great snack food ” a large hard boiled egg ” contains 6.3 grams of protein. Eliminating the yolk eliminates the fat and cholesterol.

One common question is how much protein do you need in a day? Many trainers (not all but some) are still recommending about a gram per pound of body weight, which is not exactly correct. There are many opinions on what is needed depending on who you talk to or what you read. Let’s just say that a healthy average is eight grams of protein per 20 pounds of healthy body weight. This amounts to approximately 50 grams for an adult woman and about 65 grams for an adult male. Remember this is for Mr. and Mrs. Couch Potato, in order to keep their bodies healthy, and should be used as a reference point only. Given the amount of protein found in fish and poultry, eating recommended amounts of protein is very easy to achieve each day. As we have already discussed, protein can also be found in tofu and various nuts (nuts and legumes group), and in cottage cheese which will be discussed in next week’s column to address dairy products.

On the other side of the coin too much protein may cause problems. The body secretes calcium and other buffering agents in the blood that handle the acids that form from digesting the protein. When higher levels of protein are ingested, extra calcium is needed to neutralize these protein-related acids. This calcium comes from your bones. In recent tests performed by the Nurses’ Health Study, women who ate 95 grams of protein a day suffered more broken wrists than those who consumed about 68 grams a day, not to mention experiencing trouble with weak liver and/ or kidneys. Although the complete studies are yet to give us definite results, this should give us something to think about, especially when you may be contemplating a high protein weight loss program.

As we near the top of the pyramid, it’s evident how a balanced eating program is important for optimum health. Taking care of your body is as simple as eating right, exercising and getting plenty of rest. Stay Hydrated.

Henry Kliebenstein is an International Sports Sciences Assoc. certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Therapist, and Specialist in Performance Nutrition, training in his private studio in Truckee, and can be reached by calling 587-3886 or by e-mail at

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