By Dr Tony Vendryes
THERE ARE three major types of foods, scientists call them the macronutrients. These are proteins, carbohydrates and fats. All three are important and play different roles in providing balanced nutrition.
In general, the proteins are critical for repair of tissues and cells, the carbohydrates are our main source of energy while the fats are the building blocks for important substances and the main way the body stores energy.
Why is protein important?
Protein is made up of units called amino acids. Some amino acids our bodies cannot manufacture and they must be obtained from our food.
Protein is essential for building and maintaining muscles, as well as repairing the muscle damage that occurs during exercise.
Protein is also needed to make red blood cells, produce hormones, boost your immune (disease-fighting) system, and help keep hair, nails and skin healthy.
Individuals who are protein deficient may complain about hair loss and nails that grow slowly and break easily.
A low-protein diet may create hormonal imbalance and affect fertility in both men and women.
Some weight-loss programmes have focused on the fact that it is not just how much you eat that creates excess fat but, very importantly, the proportions of these three food groups, particularly protein, in your diet.
Unfortunately, many of these diets are not based on the most recent scientific information. Let us look at the facts about protein and weight loss.
Protein burns fat
Carbohydrates are the body's primary energy foods that are converted into blood sugar (glucose) in the body.
However, if we eat more carbohydrates than we need, the excess is stored in the body as fat, usually around the waistline. You can get very fat from eating carbohydrates even if you have little or no fat in your diet.
If we restrict our intake of carbohydrates, then the body will begin burning up excess body fat as the alternative source of energy. One major reason for this is the hormone insulin.
Carbohydrate foods increase the body's production of insulin, which causes any excess calories to be stored as fat. Protein foods tend not to stimulate insulin production and encourage the body to burn fat instead of making it and storing it.
Choose healthy protein
Protein does not mean just meats. I do not promote eating a lot of animal products. The healthiest sources of high-quality protein would be soy, whey, fish, organic poultry and eggs, beans, peas and nuts.
Unlike the Atkins dietary approach, I suggest avoiding fatty meats as those fats are highly saturated (the least-healthy fats) and are also heavily contaminated with chemicals like hormones and pesticides.
Whereas high meat consumption can be burdensome to the kidneys, research has repeatedly shown that soy protein enhances kidney function. In addition, soy is good for the heart, the circulation, the cholesterol levels, hormonal balance and bone health as well as being protective against many cancers.
Soy is one of my preferred proteins and I use it in tasty shakes, drinks, protein bars and soy nuts as an integral part of my weight- and health-management programmes.
Using protein for fat loss
There are four main nutritional principles that govern this approach to weight and shape management:
Customise your protein intake:
Each individual has an ideal level of daily protein consumption. This is based on weight and their lean body mass. The formula is one gram of protein daily for each pound of lean body mass. We have simple instruments that perform a body scan to determine a persons lean body mass.
Eat healthy carbohydrates
Most of you carbohydrates should be complex, coming from fruit and vegetables. The optimal intake is seven servings daily for women and nine servings daily for men of fruit and vegetables.
One medium-size fruit, a cup of raw vegetables or half cup of cooked vegetables constitutes a serving.
Drink lots of water
Aim to drink one half ounce of healthy fluids per pound of your body weight. The best fluid choices include pure water, herbal teas, coconut water and fresh vegetable and fruit juices. This enhances your metabolism and improves detoxification.
Take vitamin supplements
Our modern food supply has become woefully deficient in many important nutrients while being laden with other unhealthy ingredients.
Supplementing with a high-quality vitamin/mineral tablet prevents those imbalances and optimises weight loss.
Other benefits of optimal protein
Successful selective fat loss, even for the chronically obese, especially from the abdomen, without loss of muscle mass.
Significant improvement in blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride control.
Appetite control with increased energy and freedom from hunger.
You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at firstname.lastname@example.org or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. His new book 'An Ounce of Prevention, Especially for Women' is available locally and on the Internet.