Protein- depending on who you talk to is your saving grace or simply overrated. Truth is, like all the macronutrients (and micronutrients) we need it and it does play a huge role in how we feel and function everyday. I can also tell you from almost 7 years of practicing as a dietitian, protein intake is low for almost all of the clients I meet with initially. And that’s understandable! It takes longer to cook, doesn’t keep as well as other meal components that you prep, and sometimes we can get in a rut of the same types of protein over and over. With tried and true prep methods (marinades and an instapot are game changers), diversifying your types of proteins (and that can include plant based) and really understanding its importance, consistent protein intake is totally possible.
Protein from a Mental Health Lens
Neurotransmitters are your nervous system and body’s chemical messengers, and if they are dysregulated problems with mood, anxiety and concentration can arise. Truth is, there is a whole lotta chemistry that goes behind neurotransmitters, and amino acids (the building blocks of protein) are one piece of the puzzle. Research supports that one amino acid in particular, tryptophan, has a role in serotonin (the feel good neurotransmitter) production. Tyrosine is another that has a role in dopamine and norepinephrine production. The link between amino acids and brain health is important and often overlooked.
Protein from a Longevity Lens
Most clients I work with are fairly active (or aspiring to be). Strength training and honing in on protein intake are great ways to not only feel great and empowered everyday, but also prevent sarcopenia, or age related muscle loss. This can really help with mobility and overall quality of life, and keep us living an active and fulfilling life as we age.
Protein from a Metabolic Lens
Protein can really help you feel full and balance blood sugar (something that I, and most dietitians, talk about on a regular basis). In turn, this can help with cravings and maintaining steady energy throughout the day. Blood sugar balance is a major priority in overall metabolic function, and maintaining healthy cortisol levels throughout the day. It is one way to put YOU in control of your stress response. Amino acids also play a major role in liver support and detoxification. This is especially helpful with clients experiencing hormonal irregularities.
Putting it all together
Steady protein intake at each meal is a habit that can really help you fine-tune your health in so many areas. This is also an area where I see a lot of inconsistencies with intake. I would recommend diversifying your protein sources for not only enjoyment, but different nutrient profiles, keep to simple but flavorful prep methods, and add in quality protein snacks. There are so many components of mental and physical health, but this habit if done consistently can go a long way.