If you’ve ever looked at a fitness magazine or talked to a physical trainer, you’ll know that protein is pretty important stuff. But, how important is it really and how much do you need in your diet?
Protein: The basics
Proteins are the building blocks of life, made up of chains of amino acids. They are extremely important for human growth and development during all phases of life, from pregnancy to adolescence. Protein can also be found in every human cell in the body and is used to repair and create cells every day. It is also imperative as it is used to break down the food we eat, along with numerous other bodily functions.
When proteins are digested, amino acids are left over in a broken-down form and can be used to create other needed proteins for a healthy body. This is especially important as the body cannot produce many kinds of amino acids and must rely on a health daily balance of the nine essential amino acids from the foods we eat.
A few big benefits of a protein-enriched diet include:
- Speedier recovery after exercise
- Reduces muscle loss
- Builds lean muscle
- Helps maintain a healthy weight
- Curbs hunger
- Can reduce many forms of chronic pain
Protein is, simply, critical. Having a protein-rich diet could have a drastic effect on pain and making just a few simple changes in your diet can make a big difference.
So… just eat more meat?
While a lot of media attention has focused on eating more protein, it is more important than ever to make sure that a protein-rich diet is carefully crafted. This is especially true for those who suffer from chronic pain as a new study found that consuming certain amino acids could lower blood pressure and reduce arterial stiffness. To add some perspective, the study states that it could be as beneficial as quitting smoking or getting more exercise. How can you argue with results like that?
Caution is advised, however, when adding certain foods to your diet as inflammation contributes to numerous medical issues, such as cardiovascular disease and arthritis. This inflammation can have other deleterious effects as well so it is always smart to monitor your intake and make sure your diet is right for you.
Red meat heavy diets can actually cause greater inflammation, especially when compared with other sources of protein. Lean cuts of meat are much better for avoiding these issues (such as sirloin or tenderloin steak), as are poultry and fish. Vegetarian sources of protein can also be a very effective alternative to meat altogether.
What should I be eating if I have chronic pain?
When eating protein, it is most certainly a matter of quality over quantity. Avoiding fatty and processed meat products will go a long way in in warding off other health risks, like an increased risk of diabetes, colorectal cancer, and joint pain. It can also be very beneficial from a weight-loss perspective as lean meat, poultry, and seafood can provide high amounts of protein and other vitamins and minerals without the added calories. The U.S. Department of Agriculture constructed a quick reference table to help consumers get the most protein bang for the caloric intake buck.
Here are a few high protein food groups to focus on:
- Poultry is one of the most popular protein-rich foods and for good reason. If eaten without the skin, a 100g chicken breast has 4.5g of fat, but also includes a whopping 33g of protein, far surpassing a standard cut of red meat in terms of protein versus fat.
- Seafood is an excellent alterative to red meat and perfect for countering chronic pain as it provides many different nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce inflammation and help depressive symptoms. Just eight ounces a week can help reduce heart disease. Some great seafood options in the United States that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines, Pacific oysters, and trout. These fish also have the added benefit of being low in mercury compared to other fish.
- Nuts and seeds like peanuts, walnuts, and almonds can also reduce the risk of heart disease as they can help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. They are also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and fiber: two substances that can also bolster heart health. It’s important to note that seeds and nuts are high in calories so you should use them to replace other protein foods and limit your portions.
- Beans and legumes are another excellent source of protein as they are high in minerals and fiber without the added saturated fat found in animal protein. This is another healthy choice that can improve blood cholesterol and have the added effect of making you feel full for longer.
- Whole grains are rich in fiber and great for maintaining a healthy body weight. Another big plus for those in pain is that this food group is high in magnesium, a mineral that has been shown to fight muscle pain in other animals. With a food group that ranges from whole wheat bread to easy-to-cook quinoa, how can you not want to eat more?
- Yogurt is a food that sneaks into the list because, even though it is a dairy product, in smaller portions, (eight to sixteen ounces) it can make big strides in reducing stomach pain. How you ask? The bacteria that is present in yogurt, especially B. infantis and L. acidophilus, can reduce pain, bloating, and inflammation. Make sure you eat the right kind of yogurt though. Only those containing probiotics have this effect, but it is well worth the search in your local grocery store.
What protein-rich foods help you combat chronic pain?