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How much protein do we need? What are the best sources? Can a vegan or vegetarian get sufficient protein from plant foods? Is protein overrated or underrated?

Those are the kinds of questions I hear all the time. Unlike carbohydrates or fat, our bodies can’t store protein. That means we need to get it—more specifically, the 9 essential amino acids from our food. This is critical because these essential amino acids are the raw materials we use to make all of our brain messenger chemicals, or neurotransmitters, and the receptors or docking stations on our cells on which they land to transmit their messages.

Simply put: If we don't eat adequate protein at every meal, our brains can't work. We will be sluggish, foggy, anxious, unfocused, tired, and depressed.

We all know food can harm—that drinking soda and eating junk food is bad for us. But how many of us believe the right foods—those that contain optimal amounts of protein and other nutrients—can heal?

Food is information. Eating the right foods can reduce inflammation, oxidative stress, and other factors that create a broken brain and a broken body.

That especially proves true with amino acids like tryptophan, tyrosine, histidine, and arginine that are crucial for our brains to synthesize various neurotransmitters and neuromodulators. Tryptophan, for instance, helps build our feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. Research shows low amounts of tryptophan and other amino acids can adversely impact brain function and behavior. Even though we understand protein is critical for vibrant brains and healthy bodies, it is important to avoid the confusion and choose the best sources, while undoing all the beliefs about food that are making us fat and sick and replace them with a new understanding that will lead to health and longevity. Optimal protein plays so many other roles in our bodies. Our liver can’t perform phase 2 detoxification—the phase where our bodies actually excrete toxins—without sufficient amino acids. We are seeing an increase in “fatty liver” among all ages, because we are eating increased amounts of “processed foods”, and less amount of pure sources of healthy protein.

It is important to know the very best protein sources, and how to choose the right animal sources of protein (and which ones to avoid), why certain foods contain superior protein profiles compared to others, and understanding what plant foods really contain optimal amounts of protein. And above all: we all have different nutritional requirements. Not one way of eating is good for all.

Your ideal protein sources include a 3 to 6-ounce serving of meat, chicken, or fish, from a grass-fed, organic, free range, and wild caught source.

As we age, we need more and higher-quality protein to maintain muscle mass and health, with a balanced ratio of carbohydrates and healthy fats.

Plant proteins contain low levels of leucine, the rate-limiting amino acid for maintaining and building muscle, whereas animal protein contains high levels of leucine.

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, the best plant-based protein sources are in quality, organic soy (but to a limited amount of 20g. per day). Oats, spinach, and legumes (eaten in moderation/due to digestive distress), are also good.

Ultimately, you don’t eat protein; you eat food. And the right foods can cure

depression, diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune disease, headaches, fatigue, and insomnia. They can prevent and reverse dementia and heart disease or a hundred other common diseases and symptoms. Getting FOOD right first is the answer to individual health and wellness. And, eating healthfully shouldn’t be confusing. Healthy U provides a road map based on the best and latest science of what to eat. Become a Monthly Healthy U Partner/member, and gather the information daily that has the power to change your health, and your life, from a trusted source.

References: Dr. Gabrielle Lyon

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