Proteins 101: Everything You Need to Know

Article posted in: South Beach Diet South Beach DIY
lean proteins

Sirloin steak. Turkey bacon. Salmon. Chicken. Eggs. In your South Beach Grocery Guide, you’ll find a long list of Proteins that, when enjoyed as suggested, are 100 percent South Beach Diet approved. But what is protein, anyway, and why is it so important?

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Check out everything you need to know about Proteins on your South Beach meal plan:

What Is Protein?


Sure, you know that protein makes you strong. But you may not know that protein is literally the stuff of life. Harvard Health explains that the origin of the word comes from the Greek protos meaning first and reflects protein’s priority status in human nutrition. Your body is comprised of more than 10,000 different proteins and you must replenish your dietary supply daily to maintain proper health.

What Does Protein Do?

high protein

Protein is made of hundreds of amino acids, which are kind of like building blocks. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are two types: nonessential amino acids, which can be made by the body; and essential amino acids, which must be obtained from food. Each amino-acid chain determines protein’s unique structure and specific function. Protein is necessary for growth and development. It helps your body build and repair cells and body tissue. Your skin, hair, nails, muscles, bones, blood and internal organs are made of protein. And, protein is vital for virtually every bodily process from fluid balance and immune response to production of hormones and enzymes.

As we mentioned earlier, there are many Proteins listed in your grocery guide. Some (the eggs, meats, poultry and seafood) are considered “complete proteins” which contain those essential amino acids. Others (like beans, peas, grains and nuts) are “incomplete proteins,” which are missing some of those essential amino acids. The South Beach Diet and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming proteins from both plant and animal sources and using preparation methods (grilling, baking, broiling or steaming) that don’t add significant sources of extra (saturated) fat and calories.

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How Does Protein Fuel the Body?

lean protein meats

If you’re thinking that the body burns carbohydrates as fuel, you’re right. But after you reboot your body in week 1 of the South Beach Diet and reduce added sugars and refined carbs from your diet, your body begins to burn fat and protein as fuel. (Fun fact: One gram of protein supplies the body with four calories of energy.) It takes longer for our bodies to digest proteins (which contain NO carbs) so we feel full longer. And, because these foods won’t cause spikes in blood sugar, we’re given consistent energy to power us through the day.

How Much Protein Should I Eat?

lean proteins

The bigger you are, the more protein your body needs, according to Healthline. In fact, the National Academy of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day, or just over 7 grams for every 20 pounds of body weight. If you’re 140 lbs, you need about 51 grams a day; if you’re 200 pounds, you need about 72 grams a day. Also, if you’re physically active, you’ll need more protein than someone who rarely or never exercises. Older adults also seem to have higher protein requirements than the average adult.

Bottom line: Stick to the serving sizes we recommend and don’t confuse “eat protein” with “eat meat.” You need to eat a balanced diet complete with animal and plant-based proteins to supply your body with the accompanying fats, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates.