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Benefits of a Protein Rich Diet

March 25, 2016

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High quality proteins are present in eggs, milk, rice, beans, meats, fish, poultry and corn. Combining foods like rice and beans or rice and corn improves the quality of the proteins. 

Dr. Nagi B Kumar
Nagi B Kumar,  Ph.D. Professor, Senior Member, Director, Cancer Chemoprevention Recipe for Halibut Tacos

Proteins and Quality

Proteins are critical to maintain the structure and functions of our body. They are important part of every cell’s structure and function- for repair and maintenance, to maintain fluid balance, to make antibodies (soldiers that defend our body), ingredients of every enzyme, hormone, parts of muscles-large and small, transportation of iron and oxygen to every cell and for vision. 

Goal:  Include 6-8 oz of these proteins of high quality including frequently food sources of protein rich in omega-3 fats.

Balancing your proteins- the alkaline vs. acidic foods principle:

There has been a growing body of evidence from our team of researchers at Moffitt and others that balancing the selection of foods to achieve an acid-alkaline balance can contribute to fewer cancers and overall good health. Western diets have favored a higher content of proteins (dairy and meat) and a lower content of fruits and vegetables to create a more acidic environment in the body. There is evidence that a more acidic diet is detrimental to bone health and can contribute to diabetes, mellitus, hyperuricemia and gout or restricted renal function. Research is focusing on using alkalizing nutrients (fruits and vegetables) or other supplements to intervene with these conditions. In the meantime, it is only logical to eat a variety of foods to provide balance of protein-rich foods along with a colorful mix of vegetables and fruits.

Why is fish a better protein?

Here are some fish facts...fish is an excellent source of protein. In fact, fish has higher protein content than most meats and poultry and is lower in fat. Seek out cold-water species, such as salmon, halibut, tuna, and sardines, which are rich sources of Omega-3 fats. Studies show that eating fish containing Omega-3 fats protects blood circulation and reduces risk of stroke and heart attack. The first studies to show heart protective effects of fish came from Eskimo populations who had a low incidence of heart disease, attributed to eating diets high is fish containing these fats. In a study of nearly 80,000 American nurses, women who ate fish five or more times a week had about half the risk of stroke than women who ate fish less than once a month. 

Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant within a year and young children in particular should be aware of the mercury levels of their fish. Shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish contain the highest levels. Eat an average of two meals per week in fish with lower mercuric levels, such as light tuna, shrimp, salmon, catfish and Pollock. Going beyond this recommended amount may have damaging effects on developing nervous systems of the fetus.

Does omega-3 fats in proteins like fish, nuts and eggs help retain muscle?

Recent research, including the work of our team at Moffitt is examining if omega-3 fats help maintain weight by improving muscle mass in the body and slowing down muscle breakdown that occurs as we age or in conditions like cancer, Parkinson’s disease as well and muscular dystrophy. Food rich in fish oils -- salmon, cod, halibut, flax seed, walnut, pumpkin seed oils and omega-3 rich eggs -- make excellent additions to the diets of individuals who want to keep or improve their muscle mass.

I love my red meats- tell me how I can justify eating  my steaks and burgers at least a few times a week?

Meats and poultry are rich in iron, several vitamins and other minerals. In addition to proteins, iron is an important mineral needed for transporting oxygen to every cell in our body and maintaining energy. The best of iron that is absorbed in our body is the form of “heme” iron that is found in shellfish, beef, poultry and organ meats. This is the best form of iron the body can use. However, these meats rich in iron and other nutrients also come with a price- they are high in fats (triglycerides and cholesterol) which when consumed in excess can increase your risk of heart disease. Limit intake of lean red meats to 2-3 times a week. Combining lean cuts of meats and poultry (without skin) with “non-heme iron” –rich foods – like spinach, kale, mushrooms, legumes and enriched grains – can not only reduce the absorption of cholesterol and triglycerides, this will significantly increase iron absorption from both the “heme” and “non Heme” sources. In addition, orange juice and Vitamin C-rich foods like orange or grapefruit juice improve absorption of iron and how efficiently it is utilized.

What are the best ways to cook my proteins? 

Cancer researchers have learned that certain cooking and processing methods produce chemicals in red meats, poultry, and fish that have the potential to cause cancer. As fat drips onto the embers as meat or poultry is char-grilled, the resulting smoke containing compounds called heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons settle onto the meat. These are known carcinogens that increase the risk of several cancers.

The best methods to cook meats and poultry are oven roasting, stewing (even if it is with BBQ sauce), boiling, and baking at lower temperatures. Other techniques to get moist poultry or meats is to marinate these in a combination of herbs like parsley, coriander, mint, rosemary, garlic, ginger, onions and other spices for a few hours and slow cooking at low temperatures.

What are the perils of processed meats?

The sizzle of bacon and hot dogs can be alluring, but these foods have gone through preservation processes that link them (no pun intended) to increased colorectal cancer risk. So, too, with ham and cold cuts. The likely suspects for the carcinogenic effect are nitrites and nitrates, compounds introduced into meats through processes such as smoking, curing, salting or the addition of other preservatives. We may need to food a classification for these items! 

How much proteins do I need a day?

As a rule of thumb – sorry palm- the size of the meat or poultry at lunch or  dinner should be about the size of your palm.

Halibut Tacos