Archive for the tag - protein

Why Do We Drink Cow’s Milk?


Maybe we should just cut out the middleman and go right to the source!

A year ago, I took a trip to Thailand. It was a beautiful country full of amazing sights, friendly people and delicious but interesting food. From chicken feet to red ants with their eggs to duck mouths, much of the Thai food we encountered seemed quite adventurous.

So when I asked for a glass of milk, I was surprised by the response. Many of the Thai waiters and waitresses seemed repulsed by my request. This caused a good deal of introspection on my part, and - after careful consideration - I realized that it’s actually really strange that we drink the breast milk of cows. And moreover, why don’t we drink the mammary gland secretions from other animals like horses or even humans?

Milk is weird. Of course, just because milk is weird, it doesn’t mean that it’s unhealthy or that we shouldn’t drink it. So let’s dig deeper.

In a recent paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, Harvard professor David Ludwig questions the role of milk in our diets. Indeed, the government recommends three servings of milk per day to promote a healthy lifestyle - but is that really necessary, wise or even true?

It’s true that milk is rich in calcium, vitamin D and has some protein. But that’s not all you’re getting. Most people are surprised by the amount of sugar in milk. A cup of 1% milk, for example, has 13 grams of sugar. It’s not added sugar, but still sugar nonetheless. Most guidelines recommend no more than 40 - 50 grams of sugar per day, and three servings of skim milk would almost reach that limit. And we’ve all seen the link between sugary drinks and obesity demonstrated time and time again.

Ludwig also cites a lack of evidence that reduced fat milks are any less likely to result in weight gain or other health outcomes when compared to whole milk. In fact, Ludwig speculates that when individuals drink reduced fat milk, they feel less full - and then consume more calories in other food. For example, if you’re drinking a glass of whole milk, one cookie may be sufficient. But if you’re drinking a glass of reduced fat milk, you feel less satisfied and may reach for a second cookie.

Yes, milk has some important nutrients - but it’s also entirely possible to get those nutrients from other foods and without all that sugar. And there are plenty of delicious and rich non-dairy alternatives that can serve as healthier replacements to dairy milk.

Questioning what we eat is a good thing and it’s important to occasionally take a few steps back from our diet for examination. While milk may not be as unhealthy as cake, candy or a glass of Coca Cola, it’s also not necessarily the wisest nutritional choice.

Are Protein Bars Good for Building Muscle?

pure-protein-barsYou’ve probably seen countless rows, boxes and packages of protein bars at your neighborhood gym or health food store. They’re convenient, easy and loaded with as much as 50 grams of protein. As such, they’re a popular choice for gym-goers and exercise enthusiasts - especially after a hard workout. But are they really healthy? Are they good for building muscle? And is there a better alternative?

First things first, it’s important not to paint all protein bars with the same broad brush. Indeed, there’s a full spectrum of options available - and the nutritional content varies greatly from product to product. BUT, for the most part, protein bars are highly processed and loaded with added sugar, unhealthy fats and several hundred calories. Whether stuffed with nougat or dipped in chocolate, eating a protein bar isn’t that unlike consuming a high-protein candy bar. It’s like a Snickers bar on steroids. Which is probably why they taste so good.

Though most Americans get more than enough protein, additional protein supplementation is sometimes necessary for individuals that lift often and hard. Especially after a good workout, ingesting protein is important so that your body can rebuild and repair the damaged muscles. In fact, it is by this process that our muscles grow larger. The quicker this post-workout protein is absorbed into your body, the better. Added ingredients - and fats, in particular - can really slow down the body’s absorption of protein. Because many protein bars are rich in fats and thus slow to absorb, they’re not the best post-workout protein option.

So what’s a better alternative?

Most exercisers opt for a shake made of powdered whey protein mixed with water. Pure whey protein, especially in the absence of other nutrients, gets absorbed quickly and gives the body exactly what it needs. Though a whey protein shake isn’t as delicious as a chewy, gooey protein bar, it’s a definite nutritional upgrade—and has less than half the calories. And from a cost perspective, protein powders are significantly cheaper.

The bottom line: Save those protein bars for the occasional treat—and resist the temptation to make them a regular part of your diet.

High Protein Breakfast Prevents Unhealthy Snacking.

slide05-healthy-eggsIf you’re looking to upgrade your diet, one of the easiest ways to start is with a protein-rich breakfast - at least, according to the latest study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. And yet, up to 60% of young Americans skip what is arguably the most important meal of the day.

For the study, a group of women ages 18 - 20 either skipped breakfast, ate breakfast cereal or consumed a protein-rich breakfast of eggs and meat. Regardless of the food type, all the breakfasts were matched for calories, fat, fiber, sugar and energy density. Only protein varied - with the high-protein breakfast containing some 35 grams.

Throughout the course of the study, participants completed questionnaires, provided blood samples and underwent an evening brain scan. After reviewing the data, researchers found that eating a high-protein breakfast led to increased fullness and a decrease in brain activity associated with food cravings. In addition, eating a high-protein breakfast was associated with reduced evening snacking on high-fat and high-sugar foods - as compared to skipping breakfast or eating a cereal.

According to researchers:

These data suggest that eating a protein-rich breakfast is one potential strategy to prevent overeating and improve diet quality by replacing unhealthy snacks with high quality breakfast foods.

If you’re looking for a high-protein breakfast, eggs, protein shakes, Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are all protein-rich choices to upgrade your early morning meal.

What do you usually eat for breakfast? Let me know in the comments below.

Does Whey Protein Make You Lose Weight?

picking-protein-scoopAfter you’ve finished a grueling workout, your body needs protein - and it needs it fast. When it comes to speed, nothing beats whey protein. Because it’s absorbed so quickly into your system, it has become a popular post-workout snack.

Other types of protein like soy or casein can also be effective, but they’re absorbed slowly over time. As such, they’re better choices for general protein supplementation or take before going to bed.

But a study by the USDA takes things a step further. For the study, overweight and obese individuals were divided into various groups. One of the groups was given 56 grams of whey protein per day while another group was given 56 grams of soy protein. The proteins were ingested through smoothies given twice daily.

Beyond the protein supplementation, the participants were given no nutrition advice and were allowed to eat whatever else they wanted.

Approximately six months later, researchers found that the whey protein group had lost both weight and body fat relative to other groups - and that their waist was nearly an inch smaller compared to the soy protein group. Participants in the whey group also showed lower levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin.

Because participants had lower levels of ghrelin, researchers speculate that whey protein may lead to increased satiety. In other words, including whey protein as part of your diet - in addition to fueling your muscles - may help curb your appetite.

While more research is needed to further understand the connection between whey, hunger and weight loss, it seems that whey protein could play an important role in weight management.

Protein Blueberry Muffins.

For those of us who spend a lot of time lifting weights and engaged in strength training, it’s not always easy to get your recommended daily protein intake.

I, for example, aim for about 140 grams of protein per day - and, short of eating a half dozen chicken breasts, it’s not always easy to reach my quota. (Find out how much protein you should be eating each day.) Even after drinking a protein shake or two, it becomes necessary to find creative ways to sneak in a little extra protein.

I’ve always heard that adding protein powder to baked goods is an easy trick. The other day, I decided to give it a try with a healthy, butter-free blueberry muffin recipe that I’ve always enjoyed. (For my healthier muffins, I mix one bag of frozen blueberries into a package of Dr. Oetker’s organic oatmeal muffin mix.)

Turns out, it takes a little practice to get the proper ratio of protein powder to muffin mix. Too much protein powder and your muffins will taste dry and chalky. Too little protein powder, and it’s not really worth your effort. For me, the magic ratio was one scoop or protein per every three muffins - which works out to about 10 grams of extra protein per muffin.

The best part is, the muffins taste great!

If you’ve ever tried a protein shake, then you know that, unless they’re loaded with lots of unhealthy fat and sugar, they rarely taste good. In fact, the unpleasant taste of protein supplements is a common complaint about which folks email me. Though I often remind people that protein supplementation is about function more than taste, I’ve discovered that protein muffins are a great way to combine a little of both.

If you are challenged to reach your daily protein intake and balk at the taste of protein powder, I’d encourage you to give this tip a try. And if you have any other creative ways to get some extra protein (keep it clean!), let me know in the comments below!

Best Protein Shake Alternatives.

Dear Davey,

What is a good alternative to protein powder shakes? I can drink them, but I’d rather walk on hot coals. If they’re isn’t a good alternative how do you make them less disgusting?


Hey Jordan,

It’s true: Protein powder and protein shakes almost never taste good. And when they do, it’s usually because they’re loaded with unhealthy ingredients to mask their chalky taste.

When people consume protein drinks, it’s not for flavor. It’s to fuel results.

For example, a post-workout shake of whey protein is specifically formulated to deliver protein to your muscles quickly - which is exactly what your muscles need. If, on the other hand, you consume protein through an actual food (i.e., chicken, eggs, fish, etc.), the protein won’t be absorbed as quickly.

If people can’t consume whey because of dietary restrictions or allergies, there are some alternatives like hemp, soy, rice, etc. Though these proteins aren’t absorbed as quickly, they can still be effective supplements.

Beyond using protein as a post-workout recovery drink, many people use protein powders as a general supplement to help them meet their daily protein requirements. For these individuals, absorption speed isn’t important - and so it’s totally possible to swap out protein shakes for actual food. Cottage cheese, yogurt, nuts, meat, fish, beans and many other foods are all high in protein.

You can also mix protein powder into other foods like smoothies, milk, peanut butter, oatmeal, cereal, pancakes, dessert mixes, pudding, juices, yogurt, pasta sauce (seriously!), bars, eggs and many more. Doing so disguises the less-than-desirable taste of the powder. Get creative!

But for people like myself who lift frequently and have high protein requirements, it’s hard to get one’s daily protein requirement through food alone. I’d be eating constantly, consuming too many calories and gaining weight. So, for me, supplementing my meals with protein powder makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t taste good, but it works!


When is the Best Time to Take Protein Supplements?

Last week, I wrote about the best type of protein to take before going to sleep for the night. After posting the article, I received a number of emails from exercise enthusiasts who didn’t realize the importance of consuming protein before bed. With that in mind, today’s post will cover the four times (including before bed) when protein consumption is most often recommended.

Obviously, protein requirements vary greatly from person to person. So, first things first, it’s important to calculate your daily protein requirements. For some people with high protein diets or lower protein needs, protein supplementation in the form of powders and shakes may be less important. For others, it can be crucial for success.

1. First Thing in the Morning

When you wake up, your body is in a catabolic state and hasn’t received proper nutrition for a good eight hours. It needs protein, and it needs protein quickly. I usually opt for a whey protein shake because the protein is absorbed quickly by the body. Just like brushing my teeth and flossing, protein consumption is part of my morning routine.

2. Before Your Workout

Some trainers recommend protein consumption 30 minutes before exercise. This will set up your “anabolic window” to help repair and rebuild the damage done during lifting. Again, a fast-acting whey protein works well here.

3. After Your Workout

After exercise is the most important time to consume protein. If you only take one protein supplement a day, this is the time to take it. Research has shown that sooner is better, so you may even want to take your protein powder or shake to the gym. Whey protein, due to its fast absorption, is the best choice.

4. Before Bed

Because your body will essentially be fasting during sleep, it’s important to consume a protein that’s slow to absorb. Before going to bed, I recommend casein protein because it takes 5 - 8 hours to fully breakdown.

Obviously, protein supplements are really just that - they supplement the protein that we get through a proper diet. The extent to which you’ll need to supplement depends on your fitness regime and diet, so just use this advice as a general guideline.

And, keep in mind that more protein isn’t always better! Too much protein can result in weight gain, kidney problems and even heart disease. So don’t overdo it!

Which Protein is Best to Take at Night?

Muscles like these need are built by protein - but not all protein sources and supplements are created equal.

We know that protein is essential for muscle growth - and that not all types of protein are created equal. If you go to a nutrition store, you’ll see protein supplement varieties including whey concentrate, whey isolates, casein, soy, etc. Moreover, protein can be found naturally in foods like meat, fish, eggs, nuts and more.

So, which type of protein is best to take at night or before bed?

Each type of protein has it’s advantages. For example, whey isolates are a good value and very quick to be absorbed by the body. For this reason, they’re a great post-workout protein source when your body needs nutrients quickly. But when considering a protein to consume before bed, you’ll want something that will be absorbed slowly throughout the night.

Casein protein is the best slow-digesting protein - and it’s the perfect protein supplement to take before bed. Since casein takes anywhere from 5 - 8 hours to fully breakdown, you’ll fuel your body and your muscles throughout the night. Casein is derived from milk, so it may not be suitable for individuals with lactose sensitivities - and it’s not vegan.

Most bodybuilders or athletes get their casein as a powdered protein from nutrition stores. But, if you prefer, casein can be found naturally in foods like milk, cheese and cottage cheese. A single cup of cottage cheese, for example, can have 30 grams of protein - and much of it is casein.

Keep in mind, you can slow the absorption of non-casein proteins by combining them with foods that are slow to digest. Foods that are rich in fat or fiber take much longer to digest. Making a peanut-butter and soy protein/soy milk shake, for example, will result in a suitable nighttime alternative for vegans or people with lactose sensitivities.

The bottom line: When it comes to nighttime protein consumption, casein is king.

Which Beans Are the Healthiest?

Legumes to love!

Beans - perhaps because of their gassy reputation - don’t always get a lot of love.

The truth is, beans are healthy, delicious and incredible inexpensive. As a complex carbohydrate, beans fall into the “good carb” category. Moreover, they’re a great source of fiber, antioxidants and protein. They truly are a powerhouse food.

But it doesn’t stop there. Researchers at Michigan State University reviewed 25 years of bean research and found that beans help people fight a whole slew of chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

It all begs the question: Which beans are the healthiest?

There’s no easy answer; each bean brings something different to the table. But, in general, nutrition experts agree that the following beans are among the best:

  1. Soybeans. These beans are a great source of protein and contain high levels of heart-healthy essential fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, minerals and more. Soybeans are often used as a meat alternative or for soy milk and soy cheese.
  2. Lentils. These beans are high in dietary fiber, folate, manganese, iron, protein, potassium and more. As an added benefit, lentils have been shown to help your cardiovascular system by lowering bad cholesterol, increasing energy and stabilizing blood sugar levels. These hearty beans are often used for soups and stews.
  3. Black beans. I love black beans; they’re very popular in Mexican dishes. Beyond being delicious, they’re a good source of folate, protein, dietary fiber, manganese, magnesium, vitamin B1, iron and more. They may even help lower the risk of heart attack - and are very high in antioxidants.
  4. Kidney beans. Rich in flavor, kidney beans contain lots of folate, protein, dietary fiber, manganese, iron, phosphorus, magnesium and more. Kidney beans may also lower your heart attack risk, increase energy, stabilize blood sugar levels - and even improve your memory!
  5. Navy beans. Navy beans got their name from being a staple food for the U.S. Navy. And, with tons of fiber, protein, folate, manganese, vitamin B1, iron and more, it’s easy to see why. They’re typically used to make baked beans but are also great in soups and chili.

Whether you opt for canned or dried beans, there isn’t a huge nutritional difference. However, pay attention to the amount of sodium in canned beans.

And, if you’re concerned about the “explosive” side effects of beans, try adding cilantro, turmeric, rosemary, fennel or anise to your beans. These spices may help curb the unwanted flatulence.

The bottom line: Beans, beans in a pot. The more you eat, the more you… start eating a balanced, nutritional diet. Beans are a great and inexpensive way to improve your diet.

Is Red Meat Really Bad for You?

A few days ago, I shared my New Year’s resolution. In 2012, I’ll limit my red meat consumption to two meals (or fewer) per week. I received a lot of interesting emails from blog buddies – mostly asking, “What’s so bad about red meat?”

In short, nothing. Lean cuts of red meat, when eaten in moderation, can certainly be part of a healthy diet. And red meat is definitely rich in muscle-building protein. But eating red meat each and every day can have a negative impact on the body’s health.

There is a clear link between red meat and heart disease. Depending on the cut and type, red meat can be high in saturated fat – and saturated fat raises blood cholesterol levels. High levels of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) increase the risk of heart disease.

(It’s worth noting that grass fed beef is lower in saturated fat than mainstream, grain-fed beef. It’s also higher in Omega 3s, vitamins and nutrients. Still, it’s not exactly healthy.)

Beyond heart disease, red meat has also been linked to increased cancer risk in some studies, including one by the National Institutes of Health and AARP. Researchers examined 500,000 participants and found that red meat eaters had a 30% increased chance of dying during the 10-year study. Not surprisingly, these findings have been rejected by the beef industry.

And then there’s the environment. Red meat isn’t just a little bit worse than other food sources in terms of carbon dioxide and other factors that impact the environment, it’s substantially worse. Just look at the attached chart; eating red meat is the culinary equivalent of driving down the highway in a Hummer. According to one study, although beef only accounts for 30% of meat consumption in the developed world, it’s responsible for 78% of the emissions.

When you consider the impact that red meat has on the human body – and the world as a whole – it’s easy to make a good case for eating less of it. And besides, there are plenty of delicious, healthy and environmentally sound alternatives like chicken and turkey.

But since it’s still December 28 and I have a few days until my New Year’s resolution, it’s time for a burger.