I suggest a daily intake of 30 percent lean protein. Good sources of protein are chicken breasts, all types of fish, beef with a low fat content (in moderation), soy products, and whey products. Protein is a stabilizing food that assists in insulin management, the building of lean muscle, and immune function. For men, ingesting adequate amounts of protein daily helps stop the decrease in testosterone levels that they experience as they age. An article in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism states, "Diets low in protein lead to increases in sex hormone-binding globulin in older men, potentially reducing the availability of testosterone and causing loss of muscle mass, red cell mass and bone density." Getting adequate protein also helps avoid or slow bone loss in women, especially after menopause.

Because protein is not stored, three balanced meals and two or three snacks per day that include protein are required to suppress hunger and burn body fat during physical exercise. When choosing protein sources, always choose lean meats and low-fat dairy. First-choice protein sources include skim milk; fat-free cheese and cottage cheese; yogurt made from skim milk; 95 percent lean ground beef, turkey, or encased meats (sausage, bologna, etc.); skinless chicken breasts; white-meat tuna in water; egg whites; and nonfried fish and seafood.

I always suggest that clients eat cold-water fish such as salmon and halibut at least twice a week, or even once daily if they really love fish. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating fish daily decreases insulin levels, increases glucose production, lowers triglyceride (bad fat) production, and increases the level of HDL (good) cholesterol, reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Many people are concerned about the dangers of mercury in fish. This is something you should pay heed to, especially if you are pregnant or nursing, or if you have children in your family. Generally, you should avoid eating swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel more than once a week, since these larger oceangoing fish have accumulated larger concentrations of mercury in their bodies. When it comes to tuna, the type that has the highest level of mercury is albacore. Therefore, if you want to give your family a tuna fish sandwich, choose light tuna, which has very low mercury concentrations. Freshwater mackerel, cod, and sardines are also safe bets.

Another tip that can help lessen your risk of mercury exposure is to eat several tropical fruits every week. Mangoes, bananas, pineapples, and papayas may help to reduce the amount of mercury that your body absorbs. When a study was made of a group of women from a predominantly fish-eating community, it was discovered that those who ate the largest amount of tropical fruits had the lowest mercury levels.

Soy products have always been a part of my nutritional programs because of their many benefits. Research studies have shown that an overabundance of the amino acid lysine increases the level of bad cholesterol in the body, while the amino acid arginine decreases it. Compared to animal protein, soy has a more favorable ratio of arginine to lysine. This lower ratio decreases the body's production of insulin and increases its production of glucagon. So, eating soy frequently helps you shift your metabolism from fat storage to fat mobilization.

Soy products may also lower the risk of coronary disease. And when used in conjunction with a properly balanced nutrition and aerobic exercise program, they are an important tool for lowering your body fat and cholesterol levels. Studies have shown that soy foods also lower the risk of hormone-related cancers.

Besides soy-based powders, there are many delicious soy food products available, including soy burgers and hot dogs, as well as many varieties of tofu, soy cheeses, and soy milk. Since one of the challenges faced by vegetarians is getting sufficient protein in their daily diet, soy products can be a nutritional mainstay.

Whey Protein Powder: The Perfect Between-Meal Snack

I encourage my clients and the professional athletes with whom I work to drink a whey protein shake as a snack between meals. I also recommend that all of my clients have a whey protein drink immediately before doing resistance exercise. The reason is twofold: to decrease the amount of muscle tissue broken down during an exercise session and to aid in the synthesis of protein as muscles are being rebuilt and strengthened. A recent article in the Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews states that ingesting foods (such as whey powder) that contain both carbohydrates and amino acid-rich proteins causes "a substantial increase in muscle protein synthesis and a lesser inhibition of muscle protein breakdown, the net result being an increase in muscle protein accretion."

A wide range of excellent whey powders is available in health food stores. Rich in glutamine and essential amino acids, whey protein is a superior protein choice for many reasons.

• Whey stimulates the metabolism. The amino acid profile of whey enhances recovery from exercise by stimulating muscle protein synthesis.

• Whey is derived from calcium-rich milk products. Foods with a high calcium content increase fat loss, especially if you are on a low-calorie diet.

• Whey helps the body to recover more quickly from the stress of exercise.

• Whey gives strong support to the immune system.

• Due to its high amino acid and glutamine content, whey supports gastrointestinal health and offers relief from digestive distress such as cramps, bloating, and diarrhea.

• Two major proteins in whey, lactoferrin and lactoferricin, function as antioxidants due to their iron-binding capacity. Whey also contains cysteine-rich proteins, which are pivotal in the synthesis of glutathione, a major intercellular antioxidant.

Always read the label carefully and avoid brands with higher amounts of sugar. One excellent product is American Whey Protein by Jarrow, which has 18 grams of protein and 3.7 grams of glutamine per scoop. You can purchase this product at a local health food store or on the Internet.

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