Finding the Elusive Complete-Protein Source
Images of "protein powder" containers with accomplished bodybuilders on their labels help inform consumers that protein is a critical macronutrient in strength training success. Yet what is sometimes lost in this protein-bodybuilding link is that protein is an essential component for everyone, regardless of physical activity. Even those who live sedentary lives must ensure that their protein intake is complete and balanced.
The importance of protein in diet is undeniable. Protein creates digestive enzymes, transports other vitamins and nutrients, builds and repairs body tissue, and helps keep harmful bacteria at bay[i]. These are bodily system function that all people need - not just bodybuilders and other athletes.
Eating the appropriate composition of protein in meals is, however, proving to be an unusually difficult challenge for many Americans. To begin with, many protein sources are not considered "complete" because they do not provide all of the required amino acids necessary in order to build newer proteins. These incomplete proteins are often derived from fruit, grain, vegetable, and nut sources[ii]. However, the alternative to these incomplete protein sources - such as meats and dairy - present their own unique dietary challenges.
The first challenge with respect to these meat-based sources of complete protein is that they are not an option for vegetarians. While the number of US vegetarians is difficult to pinpoint, educated estimates suggest that there are about 6 million adult vegetarians in the US, and the number is growing annually[iii]. Therefore, 6 million adult Americans cannot access complete protein through meat sources.
The second challenge is that many meat- and dairy-based meals in the US are excessively high in saturated fat, calories, sodium, and other unhealthy elements. As such, while those who frequent fast food restaurants for their source of complete protein may not suffer from protein deficiency, a disconcerting number of these people will suffer from poor health. This includes: obesity, clogged arteries, high blood pressure, and other adverse consequences what medical experts call the "social irresponsibility" of the fast food industry[iv].
The clear challenge for nutritional experts is to identify a protein source that is both healthy and complete. The consequences of not finding a suitable protein source range from underperforming digestive systems and chemical imbalances to the ill effects of a condition called "Kwashiorkor". More frequent in developing countries but with reported incidinces in the US, Kwashiorkor occurs in extreme protein-deficiency situations when when the body cannibalizes itself in a desperate attempt to find a source of protein.
Several attempts have been made to find the ideal complete protein source: one that is healthy, accessible to all eaters, and convenient. Indeed, this last criterion of convenience is of particular importance, because many Americans in the 21st century evidently have less time to eat than ever before.
Some of these attempts to find the ideal complete protein source hearken back a few generations. The classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich has been adopted as a complete protein source by some, but rejected by many more. While peanut butter does provide a good source of protein, the sodium content of most grocery store peanut butter brands, and the high carbohydrate and fat levels of the average "PB&J on white" keep it from being an ideal choice[v].
Other proposed solutions are more recent inventions. These include the range of nutritional powders and "energy" bars available in most health food stores, and in a growing number of grocery stores. With respect to protein powders, while some of them do provide a decent source of protein, it is simply not a convenient source for most people. With respect to energy bars, many of them have been criticized for their high calorie and carbohydrate levels.
Another solution - and one that is garnering some serious acclaim from within the health community - is fluid nutritional supplements that are easy to transport, and offer a complete protein source suitable for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. At the same time, these products are specifically designed to be low-calorie (and therefore diet-friendly), and offer additional nutrients and vitamins that the body needs in addition to complete protein.
These innovative, complete protein products are a positive sign in a nutritional sector that has struggled with misinformation. Regrettably, many so-called energy bars and protein powders are laden with calories and carbohydrates. Some of them - in particular many energy bars - hardly offer any protein, which is a curious omission that most consumers do not realize as they ingest these products.
Fortunately, as noted above, there are scientifically engineered products on the market that deliver the complete protein and nutrition that consumers expect when they purchase something with the words "nutritional supplement" on the container.
Founded in 2001, Protica, Inc. is a nutritional research firm with offices in Lafayette Hill and Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. Protica manufactures capsulized foods, including Profect, a compact, hypoallergenic, ready-to-drink protein beverage containing zero carbohydrates and zero fat. Information on Protica is available at www.protica.com. You can also learn about Profect at www.profect.com.
 These products use "Actinase®" protein, which is derived from isolated animal sources that do not contain the lactose and fat normally associated with animal-based proteins.
[i] Source: "The Importance of Protein". OhioHealth.
[ii] Source: "Protein: Moving Closer to Center Stage". Harvard School of Public Health.
[iii] Source: "How Many Vegetarians are There? A 2003 National Harris Interactive Survey Question Sponsored by The Vegetarian Resource Group". Vegetarian Journal.
[iv] Source: "Supersized Nation: Bigger Burgers Still Rule". WebMD.
[v] Source: "How Nutritious is a PB&J?". About.
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