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April 28, 2000
Put Protein in Perspective
About Jane Kirby

Let me be perfectly clear: I'm not a fan of The Zone, Carbohydrate Addict's, Atkins or any other low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet. But with all the buzz they've created, I've been forced to take another look at the way I eat -- which is probably similar to the way you do.
       A diet based on carbohydrate is recommended by just about every mainstream nutrition and medical organization. What's more, the folks on the planet who weigh the least and have the lowest risk for the diseases that kill Americans eat mostly carbohydrates. I'm thinking about people in Asian countries and all those who live along the Mediterranean. They have less heart disease, less obesity and fewer diet-related cancers. Their diets are not based on protein; rice, pasta, grains and vegetables predominate at their tables, not steaks.

      Many of my female friends have adopted this carbo-based eating style. Yet, they feel slow, pudgy and are always hungry. I can identify. I too ate that way. Here's what I mean:
      Breakfast was a bowl of cereal with low-fat milk. By 10 o'clock, I needed a bagel, which I had with jelly, no butter, no cream cheese. Lunch was usually a garden salad and yogurt. By 3 I faded and headed for the kitchen for a carbo-dense snack. (Is this beginning to sound familiar?) Dinner was a bowl full of pasta with a low-fat, tomato and vegetable-based sauce and either steamed veggies or another salad. By the 10 o'clock news I submitted to my cravings for ice cream.
       Sounds pretty healthy for the most part. So why couldn't I lose weight? Why I was always hungry? My diet was almost all carbohydrate and very little protein.
       I believed the statement, "Don't worry about protein, Americans eat too much of it already" applied to me. The fact is, I didn't eat enough protein, and a third of American women don't. We live on bagels and pasta, and pasta and bagels. And that's not OK.
       We need some protein at every meal, snacks included. Protein and the little bit of fat that usually comes with it gives a meal staying power, which means you don't need to head for the cookie jar or candy machine an hour after eating. Protein is also important to build and repair tissue. It also aids calcium absorption. Too little protein stunts calcium absorption (conversely, too much may cause calcium loss).
      So, I started to add a little lean protein back into my meals. Instead of thinking of a pasta bowl as ideal dinnerware, I now visualize a plate. Divided into quarters, it's a healthier way to portion a meal or snack: Fill a quarter of the plate with lean protein; a quarter with a starchy carbohydrate such as rice, cracked wheat, potato or pasta; and the remaining two quarters with vegetables or fruit. Plan snacks the same way, but visualize a much smaller plate.
       My new eating plan helped me get control over my appetite, and therefore, my weight.
      As for the kind of protein, fish, chicken, turkey, lean steak, burgers, eggs, beans, and tofu are all good. The trick for me though, is to find something fast and easy. That's why I like pork tenderloin. It's the leanest cut of pork, the most tender and the fastest cooking. It's delicious roasted in the oven or barbecued over a grill, and offers a lean alternative to the same old, same old. One tenderloin will serve two generously. And when balanced with an equal amount of brown rice and twice the amount of broccoli and carrots, it's a plate that puts protein into a healthy perspective.


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