Healthy Hollywood: Ask Keri Glassman -- How Much Protein Is Enough?

Nutritionist Keri Glassman, who regularly shares her expertise on Access Hollywood and Access Hollywood Live, is answering your nutrition, diet, and health questions.

Want to know which foods to curb sugar cravings? Or, what should you eat before a workout? Ask Keri anything! Keri will choose one great question a week to be answered Thursday in our Healthy Hollywood column.

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To submit questions for Keri, click HERE !

This week's question -- Megan W. from Tuscaloosa, Ala., asks, "I exercise most days a week. Does that mean I need to be eating meat to get enough protein in my diet?"

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Keri says...

Way back before anyone even uttered the word gluten, meat was a hot "do or don't" trend in nutrition. There have been diets created around animal protein, like the Atkins Diet, and there are diets that shun it, like the classic vegetarian and vegan diets. Chances are you have dabbled in both pools, finding a certain amount of success with either. With these two opposite-end-of-the-spectrum diets, it is easy to be confused about what place meat and protein in general has in your world. Not all protein is created equal, so let me guide the way for you to choose a protein path that is right for you!

The Power of Protein: In order to live, or at least really live, you need protein. When you think protein think building -- you need it to build muscles, build hormones and enzymes, and even build antibodies for a healthy immune system. Protein is even important in the world of weight loss, as it is one of the most satisfying types of nutrients, meaning it makes you feel the fullest for the longest period of time. Ever wonder why your belly rages in hunger shortly after that morning muffin but stays calm and quiet after a hearty omelet? The answer is protein.

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Meat or Vegetable: It takes nine essential amino acids to make a complete protein that satisfies our dietary needs. Meat sources, as well as milk, eggs, cheese, and fish, are mostly made of complete proteins, meaning they have the nine essential amino acids, so your body can efficiently use them to build protein, and thus carry out all the building processes mentioned above. Plant sources, like legumes and grains, lack certain essential amino acids to stimulate the building of tissues, hormones, and antibodies mentioned above the same way animal protein does. Therefore they are often called incomplete proteins. Don't turn your nose up to these sources yet. Read on...

Protein Precautions: Don't run to only steak just yet, there is still a way around the incomplete protein situation. Pairing two sources of incomplete proteins will -- you guessed it -- form a complete protein. Match a bit of grains with a handful of legumes, like the popular Spanish dish rice and beans, and you have compensated for the short comings of plant proteins. That's a pretty tasty trade off, don't you think? As with most rules, there is the one exception and in this case it is soy. Soy is one of the only plant foods that has all nine essential amino acids. This means it's a complete protein without the saturated fat and cholesterol -- edamame anyone?

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Since all animal sources of protein, including milk and other dairy, contain some amount of saturated fat, it is important to stick to the lean sources, like turkey, poultry, and grass-fed beef. As you may already know, saturated fat has a pretty bad rap for being the type of fat that raises cholesterol and can lead to heart disease when eaten excessively (makes you rethink piling on the bacon at breakfast). However, some new research may counter this claim and actually suggest that a limited amount of saturated fat has a role in a healthy diet (stay tuned for more on this topic). You can avoid this, for the most part, by eating fish, which contains very minimal amounts of saturated fat, if any at all (more so in the fatty fish, like mackerel and salmon). Fish does contain very high amounts of unsaturated fat, which is a cholesterol lowering, heart healthy, and all around great for you type of fat.

Protein Per Serving: Now that you know where to get your protein, you're probably wondering how much protein you get per serving of food. Here is a quick guide:

- 3 ounces of meat, such as turkey or chicken, has about 21 grams of protein.

- 1 cup of milk or one small container of yogurt has about 8 grams ( Go Greek and get double the amount! )

- 2 cups of dried beans has about 16 grams of protein.

As a point of reference, the average woman needs about 46 grams and the average man needs about 56 grams of protein each day, so plan your sources accordingly. The recommended amount of protein for adults is around 10 - 35 percent of your diet (or multiply 0.8 by your weight in kg to get the exact amount of protein in grams you need to eat daily). I recommend devoting about one third of your daily calories to protein.

Bottom line: Whether you're a die-hard carnivore or a veggie lovin' vegan, you can easily maintain a healthy diet with adequate amounts of protein by simply knowing where to find and how to create complete sources -- even if you exercise every day. Whichever category you fall under, you have to be responsible with your protein eating. Remember: choose whole grains to get the extra nutrients and pair them with beans to make complete proteins and/or be accountable for how much fat (saturated or unsaturated) you eat by choosing lean cuts of meat and fish.

-- Terri MacLeod & Keri Glassman

Copyright 2012 by NBC Universal, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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