What Sugar Addicts Should Know about Protein

Dietary protein is essential for maintaining the structure of your body and beating your sugar addiction. All the soft tissues in the body — muscles, ligaments, tendons, organs, and even skin and hair — are made of protein. Most enzymes are proteins, and your body uses proteins to catalyze almost all the reactions in living cells, so proteins control virtually every cellular process.

The major neurotransmitters are proteins, and your immune cells and antibodies all have proteins attached to them. Protein is ubiquitous in the body and thus is a fundamental part of human dietary requirements.

Most of the high-quality sources of protein are sugar-free, but be advised that dairy sources of protein are often higher in carbohydrates than meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. Some protein is present in grains and legumes too.

You digest protein more slowly than carbohydrates, so it slows blood sugar release and helps you feel satisfied for a longer period of time. Eating protein also boosts your metabolic rate more than eating fat or carbohydrates.

Protein quality

So why are some proteins better than others? What makes a good protein? Proteins are made up of strings of amino acids. Nutrition scientists have identified 22 specific amino acids that are found in the human body. These amino acids combine in different ways to synthesize proteins that the body uses for building structures and for various chemical and enzymatic processes.

Your body can actually manufacture many of these 22 amino acids if it’s supplied with 9 specific amino acids that are termed essential amino acids. They’re essential because the body can’t manufacture them — they must be obtained through food. One criteria used to determine the quality of a protein is its content of essential amino acids.

If your food doesn’t supply enough of even one of the essential amino acids, your body will begin to break down its protein structures — muscle and organs — to obtain the missing amino acids. The human body doesn’t store excess amino acids for later use. Amino acids must be present in the food, so it’s important to try to eat a quality protein source to avoid muscle tissue breakdown.

Sources of protein for sugar addictions

The best protein sources come from animals in the form of meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy. Plants like soy, nuts, and legumes can also supply you with some dietary protein. Following is a summary of these protein sources, in descending order of biological value (protein quality).

The healthiest foods come from organic, natural sources. That means you’ll ideally use pasture-fed, hormone-free meat, poultry, and eggs and wild-caught fish and shrimp (not farmed) whenever possible. Choose organic vegetable proteins to steer clear of pesticides and genetically modified food.

Protein from animal sources for sugar addictions

All proteins from animal sources are complete proteins, meaning that they contain all the essential amino acids you need for creating structural and functional proteins. You can get protein from the following sources (the highest-quality sources are at the top of the list):

  • Whey: Powdered whey protein, which is derived from dairy but is lactose-free, scores highest in all the protein efficiency ratings and tops the list as the highest-quality protein per calorie.

  • Eggs: Eggs provide protein and healthy fat, along with vitamins and carotenoids that can reduce your risk of developing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Eggs also contain choline, a nutrient that’s essential to normal cell structure and proper signaling of nerve cells. The egg white contains most of the protein, and the yolks provide the other healthy nutrients.

  • Fish: Fresh, wild-caught fish is a good source of protein, B-vitamins, selenium, and omega-3 fats.

  • Lean meats: When choosing beef, pork, or lamb, buy from local farmers who raise grass-fed, hormone-free livestock. Bison and venison are other popular meats that are relatively low in fat, and they’re typically free from antibiotics and hormones.

  • Poultry: Don’t get stuck in a boring chicken or turkey rut — duck, ostrich, goose, quail, and Cornish hens are all yummy, too!

  • Dairy: Milk, cottage cheese, and Greek yogurt can be decent sources of protein, although the carbohydrate content of many dairy products starts to get high. Cheese is mostly fat, so it’s not a great protein source unless it’s low-fat or nonfat. You can also experiment with other, more exotic dairy proteins, like goat’s milk or kefir if you’re feeling adventurous.

Protein from plants for sugar addictions

Soy is a complete protein, so soybeans, soy milk, tofu, and powdered soy protein are at the top of the list for quality vegetable proteins. Soy reliably lowers cholesterol and triglycerides, and there’s good evidence that the isoflavones in soy can help prevent breast cancer.

Most plant sources of proteins — beans, nuts, peas, and lentils — are generally lacking in one or more essential amino acids. Because of this, you need to combine different plant proteins every day to provide a complete spectrum of the essential amino acids. One bonus of plant protein is that it’s an excellent source of fiber and phytonutrients that you can’t get from animal proteins.

Grains combined with legumes form complete proteins, as do legumes with seeds/nuts. Although dairy foods are complete proteins, they contain extra amino acids to complete the missing profile in grains:

  • Grains with legumes: Rice and beans, pea or bean soup and whole-grain crackers, peanut butter on whole-grain bread, pasta fagioli (pasta and beans), hummus and pita bread, pinto beans and corn bread, couscous and black beans, lentil curry and rice, tortillas and refried beans, lentils and bulgur

  • Grains with dairy: Cereal and milk, oatmeal and milk, granola and yogurt, macaroni and (real) cheese, grilled cheese sandwich, cheese tortellini

  • Legumes with seeds/nuts: Mixed green salad with kidney beans and slivered almonds and sunflower seeds, lentil soup with walnut loaf, chickpea trail mix with nuts and seeds, tahini with peanuts

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