High-protein diets may conjure up images of ready-made smoothies, steak and eggs for breakfast, but many of us are increasingly looking for ways to ensure we consume enough protein, to aid in our digestion. Plant-based diet, vigorous exercise regimen. , either simply to maintain our energy levels or to provide support during menopause.
Protein is an important macronutrient needed to build the structure of our bodies, explains registered dietitian Rosemary Martin. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of tissues such as bones, muscles and skin, as well as important substances we need to survive, such as enzymes, hormones and immune cells.
Menopause nutritionist Charlotte Hunter adds that, unlike carbohydrates and fats, our bodies do not store protein, so we must consume it regularly to meet our nutritional needs. . This becomes especially important during menopause, when women experience significant hormonal changes and metabolic shifts.
How much protein should we eat?
The recommended daily amount of protein is different for each person. Current guidelines suggest we aim for around 0.75 g per kg of body weight. However, I typically recommend rounding this number up to 1-1.2 g/kg for most women to provide cushioning and ensure optimal health, says Hunter.
Most women I work with barely or regularly eat half the amount of protein they need. Although they are not deficient in the usual way, they are still not in optimal health. With the rise of fast food and the trend toward processed foods, people often prioritize convenience over nutrition.
Because protein is essential for the growth, recovery and overall health of our bodies, she adds that individual requirements may vary based on activity level and overall health status. your body. For example, if you engage in regular strength training (recommended for all women, especially during menopause), increasing your protein intake alongside this may be beneficial.
Similarly, Martin points out, certain groups such as athletes, the elderly, and people with specific diseases or injuries need more protein than average.
Menopause and protein
As we age, our muscles become less efficient at using protein effectively, so our protein intake becomes more important for maintaining muscle mass and maintaining maintain healthy bones. Menopausal women in particular are at risk of losing lean tissue and muscle mass, Hunter said. Protein also plays a role in maintaining strong bones, which is important during menopause, when the risk of osteoporosis increases.
In general, protein plays a key role in maintaining health during menopause, she continues. As women enter perimenopause and beyond, their bodies undergo hormonal changes that can lead to various metabolic changes and more severe menopausal symptoms.
Optimal protein intake can also support weight management by helping you feel fuller for longer. Improving metabolic balance can help prevent muscle loss. Lower levels of healthy lean tissue can slow metabolism.
We need protein to make hormones, which are vulnerable and disrupted during menopause. Amino acids are important in the production of hormones, neurotransmitters and enzymes important for optimal cognitive function, so we need a steady supply to support sustained energy levels, focus and concentration. and concentrate. Protein-rich meals can also help stabilize blood sugar levels by preventing the insulin spikes and drops that are common during menopause when our glucose tolerance is much lower.
Protein and plant-based diet
Martin, who specializes in vegan diets, says many people believe it’s difficult to get enough protein on a plant-based diet and that you’ll lack specific essential amino acids, but this isn’t true. If you’re consuming enough total energy and including a variety of plant foods, such as grains and beans, protein is rarely a problem for people following a plant-based diet.
She continues: “Plants contain all the essential amino acids we need and they are also packed with fiber, phytochemicals, antioxidants and low levels of saturated fat.” Swapping even a small percentage of animal protein for plant protein in the diet often improves health and reduces the risk of disease.
If you follow a vegan diet, making sure your meals include plenty of plant-based sources of protein, including beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables, is important to ensure you Consume adequate amounts of amino acids.
What happens if you don’t get enough protein?
Protein deficiency is rare, Martin said, but it can lead to muscle atrophy and weakness, fluid buildup, anemia and developmental delays in children. Protein is present in so many foods that it is difficult to be deficient in protein without also being deficient in other vitamins and minerals. Therefore, this condition is most common in people who are malnourished or generally not eating enough.
However, Hunter identifies some telltale signs that your body could benefit from more protein such as brittle nails and hair, feeling cold and hungry a lot, blood sugar spikes, moodiness erratic and exhausted.
The best sources of protein
Typically, the highest protein foods available are animal products like eggs, meat and fish, although it’s important to look for quality sources, especially when it comes to meat, research shows us also don’t want to eat in large quantities. frequently because it is linked to a number of other poor health outcomes, including cancer. As a 48-year-old postmenopausal woman and menopause nutritionist, Hunter says, “I do not advocate a vegan diet, I prefer to incorporate animal and plant-based foods as part of of the Mediterranean diet.
Meanwhile, for Martin, who follows a plant-based diet, her favorite sources of protein are beans and soy products like tempeh and tofu, she recommends experimenting with the latter. in stir-fries, colorful Buddha bowls or simply grilled tofu slices. in sandwiches or spread on toast as an egg substitute. Other good sources of plant protein include peas, peanuts, quinoa, seeds and grains.
Easy ways to add more quality protein to your diet.
Eat protein at every meal
Hunter suggests that not everyone wants to be careful to make sure they’re eating enough protein, so a simple way to keep your intake steady is to aim to include a source of protein at every meal. . This can be lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy or plant-based options like tofu, beans and nuts.
For anyone following a plant-based diet, Martin recommends including one or two high-protein plants in each of your meals. This could be chickpeas in a curry, lentils in a Bolognese or hummus in your sandwich.
Aim for about a quarter of your plate to be filled with these protein-rich plants, and include whole grains, which often contain more protein than refined alternatives, in each of your meals, which also accounts for about 1/4 of your plate. 1/4 serving plate. You can also boost protein by sprinkling hemp seeds on salads or a little peanut butter on porridge.
Start your day with a protein-rich breakfast
Adding protein to your breakfast has the added benefit of making you feel fuller longer, helping you get ready for the day. Hunter recommends replacing cereal or toast with a cooked breakfast of eggs, lean meat or plant-based protein sources like mushrooms.
For something filling on the go, try her delicious spinach, feta and prosciutto breakfast muffins recipe here. Cheese and Greek yogurt are also great sources of protein for breakfast.
Incorporate protein-rich snacks
Martin suggests that including nuts, hummus or roasted edamame beans in your snack will provide additional protein. Snacks high in protein are more likely to promote feelings of fullness and give you the energy you need if you’re prone to sluggishness at 3 p.m.
Think about how you feel
Most importantly, research shows there is no universal approach to protein, and the amount of protein you need to function optimally will depend on a number of factors, including your lifestyle, age, and health. If you are experiencing symptoms such as brittle hair, weak nails, hunger or persistent fatigue, Hunter recommends consulting with a nutritionist or healthcare professional to evaluate your protein intake and your overall nutritional needs.
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