The Power of Protein

I’ve talked a lot about the importance of including carbohydrates in the past. The truth is, without quality protein to balance out carbohydrates, they aren’t as powerful to the body. That’s why today we are focusing on utilizing the power of protein for healthy hormones.

When we aren’t pairing protein and carbohydrates together, it’s like we are taking out a loan for energy for the body. We are asking out body to use a back up energy source all of the time, which is only meant to be used in small amounts. When we pair protein and carb together, we provide our bodies with the nutrients they need to thrive.

Protein has A LOT of uses in the body. The five below are the main functions relating back to hormone health, but is not exhaustive for everything we use amino acids for in the body.

  1. Liver Function: Protein provides amino acids that power liver function. Our liver requires adequate protein in order to function optimally. A minimum of 75-100g of animal protein daily helps to support this.
  2. Digestive Capacity: Amino acids are used to make enzymes that help us break down our food. Our pancreas releases digestive enzymes while we are eating. We need adequate levels of amino acids from the food we eat in order to build up these digestive enzymes. Otherwise we take these amino acids from stores in the body (aka muscle).
  3. Muscle Growth & Retention: We need adequate protein to put on muscle and to maintain it. This also requires carbohydrates, but when it comes to building up muscle tissue, we require complete protein sources. Why is muscle important for hormones? It supports a healthy metabolism, which supports proper thyroid function. Since every cell in the body requires thyroid hormone, this would support balanced hormones.
  4. Thyroid Conversion: In order to convert thyroid hormone in the liver, we need adequate levels of amino acids. Research has shown that low protein diets lead to poor thyroid hormone conversion. Remember, we need adequate thyroid hormone to ovulate and produce enough progesterone. Without this, we can have excess estrogen, which leads to PMS, mood swings, acne, painful/heavy periods, etc.
  5. Blood Sugar Balance: When we pair protein with carbohydrates, we support balanced blood sugar. This allows the body to break down carbohydrates at a slower speed instead of rushing them into the bloodstream leading to a significant release of insulin. Protein from animal foods also increases satiety and helps regulate our hunger and fullness hormones. 

Not All Protein Is Created Equally

This is very important. Diana Rodgers, RD, and founder of Sustainable Dish, does a great job of breaking down the differences between animal proteins and plant-based proteins in this post.

When I say protein, I am referring to animal proteins. I do not recommend plant-based forms of protein. Why?

  • We don’t absorb as much protein from plant foods (40-50% vs. 80-100% from animals).
  • We don’t absorb all of the minerals from plants–many are bound to anti-nutrients that prevent this. You can improve this is soaking and fermenting.

Animal proteins have a higher amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals and are easier to digest and absorb. Plant-based proteins also contain a higher amount of carbs, making it challenging to balance protein and carbs for optimal blood sugar.

When I think eating for hormone health, I think of making things easier on the body. Including animal protein does this since they are easier to digest and absorb nutrients from and are a complete nutrient source, meaning, you won’t need to worry about specific nutrient deficiencies when eating them. When eating a vegan diet that doesn’t contain any animal proteins, you typically make digestion harder, eat foods that don’t meet 100% of nutrient needs and tend to have a hard time balancing blood sugar. This pushes the body further into stress and is not ideal for hormone balance.

My Favorite Proteins

When I think about recommending proteins for clients to prioritize, I factor in the quality, amount of other nutrients like vitamins and minerals, and other healing properties (supporting digestion, reducing inflammation). With all of that in mind, these are my favorite proteins to include:

  • Grassfed beef
  • Organ meats
  • Eggs
  • Organic dairy
  • Bone broth, collagen, gelatin
  • Shrimp, oysters, white fish
  • Bison
  • Lamb
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Pork

I know this can go against a lot of what you’ve learned about nutrition, but I hope you keep an open mind when learning from the information I share.

Want to learn more about how to build nourishing foundations for hormone health? Check out my podcast episodes Nourishing Nutrition Foundation and How to eat to support your hormones.

reminder: i’m currently taking on 1:1 clients. if you’d like to explore what it would be like to work together and if we are a good fit, fill out this form to get more details!​

Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

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