There are a lot of high protein food options out there these days and more and more people are choosing to get their protein from plants instead of animals for the impact that shift has on climate change. Whether you’re an athlete, a parent, older, younger, vegan, or a combination of these, we all need protein. It’s true that some of us need it more than others, but why do we actually need protein at all? What are the different types and how do they affect our health? We spoke with our Registered Dietitian, Hannah Meier, to learn more.
WHY DO WE NEED PROTEIN?
Protein is necessary for every function in our body to work properly. It’s in the enzymes that break down food, in the hormones that allow our body’s systems to communicate, and it helps build and repair our cells and muscles. The average adult needs to eat roughly 7 grams of protein per 20 pounds of body weight. However, extreme athletes may need as much as 18 grams of protein per 20 pounds of body weight.
WHAT IS COMPLETE PROTEIN?
“Complete protein” is a term often used to define which amino acids are in a food. Amino acids are what make up proteins. Each of the 20 amino acids has a different chemical makeup and structure and we need all 20 of these amino acids to create all of the different proteins our body uses on a daily basis. A protein is “complete” if it contains all 20. Of these 20, there are 9 amino acids that our body can’t make, so it is important that we get all of these “essential amino acids” from our food.
HOW ARE PLANT AND ANIMAL PROTEINS DIFFERENT?
The main difference between plant and animal proteins are which amino acids they contain. Animal proteins and some plant-based protein, like seeds, contain all 20 amino acids, including the 9 essential amino acids. However, not all plant-based protein, like beans or rice, contain all 20 amino acids.
There are also major differences in how plant and animal proteins affect our health and the environment. Animal proteins tend to be higher in saturated fat while some plant-based proteins like seeds are higher in unsaturated fat and fiber. While every individual plant and animal protein has a unique impact on the environment, plant-based proteins tend to produce fewer carbon emissions, require less land, and use less water to produce.
WHAT IS A PROTEIN ISOLATE?
There are many ways we can get protein in our diets, but most packaged foods with a high protein content achieve this by using a protein source that has been isolated from its whole food form by being chemically extracted into a powder. Protein isolates are stripped of almost everything except the protein. Eating protein in an isolated form is similar to taking a vitamin A supplement instead of eating carrots. Isolates are therefore missing the active chemicals, antioxidants, fiber, and other beneficial components of whole foods that impact how our bodies function. One way to identify a protein isolate in your food is in the ingredients list, where protein isolates are listed as “whey protein,” “pea protein,” and “soy protein,” as opposed to being listed as “milk,” “peas,” and “soybeans.”
WHY DO WE NEED WHOLE PROTEIN?
When protein is eaten from a whole food source with other macronutrients, it’s absorbed more slowly and is therefore used more efficiently.
Protein from whole foods helps us feel fuller for longer, curbing our hunger and leaving us feeling satisfied after we eat. Eating the right amount of protein also helps to stabilize our blood sugar after a meal or snack, especially when it’s consumed alongside fat and fiber in particular. This is why you might be hungry an hour after eating a piece of fruit on its own, but will feel more satisfied if you pair that fruit with an 88 Acres Protein Bar or a serving of Seed Butter.
It is very rare in developed countries like the U.S. for someone to have a protein deficiency, but there can be risks to consuming too much protein. High protein diets are not dangerous for most people, but the biggest concern is that, in many cases, people turn to protein from protein powders and processed high-protein foods instead of fiber and nutrient-rich foods like fruits, veggies, beans and whole grains. Eating too much processed protein and too few whole foods may create or worsen digestive issues and gut health, may cause dehydration, and may increase the risk for other nutrient deficiencies, like calcium.
Most of us don’t need high amounts of protein in one snack or meal, nor do most of us need our bodies to absorb protein rapidly. Where the rapid absorption of protein does come in handy is for athletes whose bodies are in the mode of needing to rebuild and repair muscle tissue after an intense workout.
Generally, opting for protein from whole foods instead of isolated sources like powders is best for living an active and healthy life.
HOW ARE 88 ACRES PROTEIN BARS DIFFERENT?
Most other high protein bars contain protein isolates in order to pack a lot of protein into a small bar. Some of the most common isolated protein sources are egg white protein, whey protein, casein, brown rice protein, pea protein, and soy protein. Instead, 88 Acres Protein Bars contain 12 grams of protein from whole, roasted pumpkin seeds. We love pumpkin seeds because they contain all 20 amino acids and also come packed with iron, zinc, magnesium, and other beneficial micronutrients and antioxidants that help promote optimal wellness. Pumpkin seeds even contain more protein per serving than nuts. They also contain healthy unsaturated fats and dietary fiber that promote gut, heart, and brain health and also provide feelings of satiety.
Unlike most other protein bars on the shelf, 88 Acres protein bars don’t have any isolated fibers, so all of the protein, fats, fibers, and micronutrients come from whole food. This allows the protein to be absorbed more slowly in our body to keep us feeling full, satisfied, and strong throughout our busy and active lives.