“You’re not getting enough protein.” Does this sound familiar to you? This statement is being increasingly told to us from a variety of sources. Maybe you’re trying to lose weight and you’ve heard it from a weight loss coach, maybe you’re recovering from surgery and your doctor told you this, or maybe you’re trying to build muscle mass and your personal trainer gave you this advice. Although these are very different scenarios, each one of these health professionals could end up at this same conclusion. The reason behind the wide-reaching nature of this statement is because of the importance of protein in so many bodily processes.
When considering weight loss, protein plays a huge role in a couple of different areas. The most substantial effect is in its ability to keep you satiated (feeling satisfied and not hungry) longer. According to newer studies, protein does a better job than carbohydrate and fat making you feel fuller, longer. The enzymes that allow you to digest your foods and the hormones that your body produces to regulate your internal environment are also proteins. A lesser benefit of protein for weight loss is the fact that it causes your internal body temperature to increase during metabolism more than carbohydrate and fat do. This phenomenon is called the thermic effect of food and accounts for a small percentage of the calories you burn on a daily basis without exercising.
The surgery scenario is mentioned to show protein’s importance in immune function. The lymphocytes and macrophages that are responsible for the immune response are proteins and when these cells are functioning properly, the body can accomplish pretty miraculous levels of healing. When immune function is depleted however, a simple virus can become a nightmare. It’s relatively commonplace for a doctor to advise a strict vegetarian/vegan patient to consume more high quality protein during times of severe illness, injury, or post-surgery to help speed up healing times.
When protein is added to the diet alongside a strength training regimen, it can help you avoid muscle catabolism. The major plus side to this (besides increased strength of course) is that the more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body is able to use to maintain its increased energy requirements. Another way that protein assists you in your physical pursuits is by allowing for oxygen to be delivered to your muscles to keep you going. Oxygen is transported throughout the body in red blood cells which are proteins.
We have established that protein is a very important component to a healthy diet, great, so now what?
The next step is to provide you with a list of high quality protein sources that are widely available so that you have the knowledge to improve your protein intake.
Boneless/skinless chicken breast is a staple of the weight training success toolkit, and for good reason. Dark meat also provides a hefty amount of protein, but it also contains more fat per serving. Your best bet is to choose breast meat, go skin-free, and avoid the breaded and deep-fried situation. Besides offering a great hit of protein and very little fat for the caloric buck, boneless/skinless chicken breast responds extremely well to spices. Something wonderful happens when you spice or marinade a chicken breast and bake or grill it.
Serving size: 4 oz.
Protein: 37 grams
Fat: 2.3 grams (0.7 grams of saturated fat)
Turkey breast falls under the umbrella of healthy poultry along with chicken breast. Again, just as with chicken breast, your always better off to choose skinless and avoid weighing it down with breading and deep-frying. Turkey breast has a very similar nutrient profile to chicken breast, however it’s slightly lower in Calories, sodium, and also in cholesterol.
Serving size: 4 oz.
Protein: 36 grams
Fat: 3 grams (1 gram of saturated fat)
Every now and then, nothing beats the taste and texture of rich, red meat. However, it’s very easy to go overboard and end up consuming out-of-whack serving sizes and the glut of saturated fat that accompanies them. Lean, muscular cuts of beef like loin or flank are a great way to get a substantial amount of protein while keeping fat and cholesterol numbers in check. The reason grass-fed beef is on this list instead of conventional beef is because of two reasons: Grass-fed cows are able to be in pasture consuming the appropriate diet for their entire lives (grasses are what bovine stomachs are meant to digest) instead of only their first six months to one year of life. Farms that ranch this way produce cows that are able to move more, remain healthier (and not require antibiotics), live longer before processing, and offer meat that has a better nutritional profile. Grass-fed beef is lower in saturated fat and higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is a beneficial fat that has been studied for its role in weight loss. The other reason to consume grass-fed beef is that the cattle are treated far more humanely than in conventional factory farms and feedlots.
Serving size: 4 oz.
Protein: 26 grams
Fat: 8 grams (2.8 grams of saturated fat)
When I think of high quality sources of protein that are also extremely cost-effective, canned tuna is the first item on my list. Tuna is a great source of protein, a good source of omega-3 fat, and tastes great- all without a hefty caloric price tag. When shopping for canned tuna, I suggest reaching for chunk light tuna over albacore (or chunk/solid white tuna) because although the nutritional profile for both varieties is pretty similar, albacore varieties like yellowfin and bluefin are more often contaminated with mercury and are becoming overfished and therefore are not (generally) sustainably caught. Albacore tuna also costs nearly twice as much per can, so a switch to the dark meat version of tuna is much more wallet-friendly.
Serving size: 1 can
Protein: 42 grams
Fat: 1.4 grams (0.4 grams of saturated fat)
When thinking about the bioavailability (how much of a nutrient the body is able to absorb and utilize) of protein in food, eggs are historically the gold-standard to which all other sources of protein are measured against. Eggs taste great and their amino acid profile is a perfect complement to what our bodies require to assist in tissue maintenance and growth. Eggs are also a very reasonably priced protein source.
Serving size: 1 large egg
Protein: 6.2 grams
Fat: 5.3 grams (1.6 grams of saturated fat)
Plain Greek yogurt
Yogurt in general finds its way into many healthful eating plans because of its protein, beneficial bacteria, and calcium content. Plain Greek yogurt is on this list because for roughly the same number of Calories per serving it offers nearly twice the protein and less sugar than regular plain yogurt. Greek yogurt suffers from elevated sugar numbers when you start getting into the mixed fruit or dessert flavors in the same way as conventional yogurt, so your best bet is to stick with plain and 2% or 0% fat content and add fresh or frozen fruit if you’re craving a more dessert-like treat.
Nutrition info: (I’m using 0% fat yogurt for this profile)
Serving size: 175 grams
Protein: 18 grams
Fat: 0 grams
Vegetarianism to varying degrees has always been a part of the human diet for health benefits and/or ethical reasons, so I wanted to make sure I included high quality animal-free protein choices as well. Tempeh is a fermented soy product and is a great alternative to meat in a variety of dishes. Soybeans are the only vegetarian source of complete protein (there are other sources of vegetarian protein, but these are limited in one or more amino acids and require protein combining to make a complete protein). The bacteria used in the fermentation process are beneficial for our GI tract and tempeh also contains a good amount of calcium, fibre and iron to go along with the protein content. Another benefit of soy products are compounds called flavonoids, isoflavonoids and phytosterols that have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. Tempeh may not be something you have personally tried, but you should sometime.
Serving size: 4 oz.
Protein: 21 grams
Fat: 12.2 grams (2.5 grams of saturated fat)
Beans are great because they’re loaded with stomach-filling fibre, they’re extremely cost-effective, and they contain a good amount of protein per serving. One consideration with beans is that they are low in the amino acid methionine (which makes them an incomplete source), but an easy way around this is to eat beans with rice (which is high in methionine). This is an example of protein combining to achieve the required amounts of all 9 essential amino acids. Protein combining does not have to be done at every meal as studies have shown that complementary proteins function in the same way if they are consumed in the same day.
Serving size: 50 grams (black beans, dry)
Protein: 10.8 grams
Fat: 0.7 grams (0.2 grams of saturated fat)
Lentils are on this list because for the same reasons as beans being included. Lentils are very inexpensive, dried lentils are shelf-stable for what seems like forever, they are packed with fibre, and have more protein per serving than the same serving size of dried beans. Since lentils belong to the legume family (just like beans), they are also low in the amino acid methionine. Also like beans, simply combining lentils with a member of the grain family will give you a complete vegetarian protein. Lentils are a hearty and versatile legume that should become a staple in your pantry if they aren’t already.
Serving size: 50 grams (dry)
Protein: 12.9 grams
Fat: 0.5 grams (0.1 grams of saturated fat)
Whey protein isolate
Although protein powder is not a whole food, it still deserves it’s place on this list because whey powder is an extremely bioavailable source of high quality protein and is quite possibly the easiest way to increase your daily protein consumption. One consideration with whey protein is that it is a milk-derived protein, which means it is not lactose-free. However, a way around this is by choosing a hydrolysed (pre-digested) whey protein, which uses enzymes to make the protein easier to digest. One of the enzymes utilized in this process is lactase, which breaks down lactose and makes it possible for people with lactose intolerance issues to be able to consume. Adding whey powder to oatmeal, shakes, or just mixed with water is a great way to get a quick and easy shot of high quality protein.
Nutrition info: (for an average whey protein powder)
Serving size: 1 scoop
Protein: 24 grams
Fat: 1.5 grams (0.5 grams of saturated fat)
There are other good and great sources of protein available to you, but the purpose of this list was to provide you with an easy jumping-off point that you could use to improve your nutrition. The easiest way to maximize the health benefits associated with this list is to vary your protein sources. Choosing a variety of different sources and preparing them with a variety of other healthy ingredients with allow you to obtain the most health bang for your caloric buck.
The nutrient analysis in this article was obtained using the eaTracker program from the Dietitians of Canada. It can be found at http://eatracker.ca.
Written by: Chris Carriere, CNC. Original September 2014.
In my quest for learning how to improve my eating and to minimize my joint pain and swelling I have figured out that gluten plays a big role in my life. I am currently not allergic to gluten but my body responds… Not in the best of ways to gluten. As I began my look into gluten free living I soon realized that there is so many names that gluten can be hiding under. To be honest I have a grandma who has celiac disease and I thought I had a good understanding of what I needed to be looking for when it came to the Gluten Free world. Man did I have lots to learn.
So today I share with you my cheat sheet when it comes to all the names that gluten cane hiding under.
Click here to open PDF —>All the other names for Gluten
P.S. I actually printed this out and took it with me for the first few months of trying to be aware!
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“You’re not getting enough protein.” Does this sound familiar to you? This statement is being increasingly told to us from a variety of sources. Maybe you’re trying to lose weight and you’ve heard it from a weight loss coach, maybe you’re recovering from surgery and your doctor told you this, or maybe you’re trying to [...]
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All the different names for Gluten
In my quest for learning how to improve my eating and to minimize my joint pain and swelling I have figured out that gluten plays a big role in my life. I am currently not allergic to gluten but my body responds... Not in the best of ways to gluten. As I began my look [...]