Protein is considered the building block of life, making it a vital nutrient for everyone to eat daily. However, up to 85% of people with Crohn's Disease (CD) may not getting the protein they need (1).
Why is Protein Important?
Protein is found in bones, skin, hair, organs, and almost every other part of the body. It plays a role in the body's chemical messaging system and is crucial to maintaining muscle mass. Protein also is important for tissue repair and healing from an injury or surgery.
Poor appetite and the impaired ability to digest and absorb high protein foods can make it very challenging for people with CD to get enough protein daily. When the body doesn't get enough protein, many complications can happen, such as hair and muscle loss, fatigue, and poor wound healing.
Which Foods are high in Protein?
Your protein choices may vary based on diet limitations you may have. For those who are able to eat animal-based protein, lean meats such as skinless chicken, pork loin, 93% (or higher) lean beef, fish, and seafood are great options. Vegetarian options such as eggs and low-fat dairy products are also ideal choices. These sources are considered complete proteins, as they contain all the necessary building blocks (or amino acids) that the body needs to survive and thrive.
Those who aren't able to tolerate animal sources can get their protein from nuts, seeds, soy, whole grains, lentils, and beans. Unlike animal products, these high protein foods don't contain all the necessary building blocks that the body needs by themselves. They can be considered a complete protein when eaten in combination with one another, such as peanut butter on whole wheat bread or brown rice with beans (2).
Protein supplements such as protein bars and shakes also make a great way to add extra protein to your day. Especially when a flare-up of symptoms occurs, these supplements can be a quick and simple way to get in a little extra protein. This also includes meal replacement shakes, such as Boost or Ensure. If your doctor prescribes a nutrition supplement, be sure to always take it as prescribed. Otherwise, any other protein supplements can be incorporated into recipes or can be taken as a snack.
How Can I Increase My Protein Intake?
One the biggest ways to give your body the protein it needs is to include protein in some form at each meal and snack. This works much better than trying to eat all your protein at dinnertime. Research shows that the body can only absorb about 20-30 grams of protein at a time (3). So spreading it out throughout the day is crucial for the best absorption.
Think of fueling your body with protein like fueling your car to drive across the country. If you tried to put all the gas you need for the whole trip into your tank before you left, your car could only hold so much. After a few hours of driving, you'd be stuck along the side of the road with an empty tank. You'd get a lot farther if you stop to refuel every few hours along the way.
To keep your body fueled all day long, small amounts of protein every few hours can go a long way. Here's a simple example of a protein-packed day:
• A hard-boiled egg with breakfast (6 grams)
• A handful of nuts mid-morning (6 grams)
• 6 oz of Greek yogurt with lunch (14 grams)
• 3 oz grilled chicken with dinner (26 grams)
• A chocolate protein powder smoothie for dessert (15 grams)
• Daily Total: 67 grams
While CD can make getting enough protein difficult, giving yourself little protein boosts throughout the day can help keep your body fueled and well-nourished.