As a dietitian, I work with clients to help them determine their specific nutrition needs and how best to meet those needs. For some, it’s about training for marathons and triathlons. For others, it’s about preventing heart disease or diabetes. Some are trying to lose weight, some are trying to gain weight, and some just want to maintain.
One thing I’ve found that many clients have in common is their inconsistent protein intake. Sometimes they get too much at one meal and not enough at another meal. Sometimes they don’t get enough in the entire day.
Why is this important? Protein is made up of amino acids. When you eat protein foods, such as lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, tofu, cheeses, legumes or beans, those amino acids are released, and like building blocks, they reconnect with other amino acids. Some are used to repair and strengthen muscle tissue, some make hormones and red blood cells and enzymes. All of these functions are vital to good health.
As we age, we lose muscle mass, close to 1 percent a year for people older than 40. This slows your metabolism, increases your risk of gaining weight and puts you at risk for health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
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So what do you do? First, find out how much protein you need. On average, if you don’t have any specific health issues, you can safely consume about half your body weight in grams of protein. For example, a 150-pound person could take in 75 gram of protein. That’s about the equivalent of 8 to 10 ounces of protein foods. The key is to spread it throughout the day. If you eat your protein all at once, your body will excrete the excess, and that’s just a waste of good protein. You can see a registered dietitian to help you determine your exact protein needs, as they may vary depending on your medical concerns.
Second, get strong. Do some strength training. I’m not talking about becoming a body builder, unless you really want to, but rather about preventing or delaying the loss of muscle. Strong muscles mean a faster metabolism, which means more lean body mass and less body fat.
When you sit down for your next meal, fill half your plate with vegetables, one-quarter of your plate with carbohydrates from starchy vegetables, fruits or whole grains, and one-quarter with lean protein.
Try a spinach and feta omelet for breakfast, add some grilled shrimp or tofu to your salad for lunch, or make a quinoa and chickpea salad for a light dinner. Snack on a handful of nuts or nibble on some edamame for a quick protein boost.
Shelly Wegman is a registered dietitian at Rex Wellness Centers in Raleigh and Garner. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.