Protein is essential to a healthy diet. Are you getting enough?
There’s been a lot of hype the past few years about protein – and for good cause. A vital element for your health and ability to function, protein is the building block for every cell in your body from your muscles and bones to your cartilage, blood, and skin. In fact, your nails and hair are composed mainly of protein. On top of that, your body needs protein to make hormones, enzymes, and other chemicals.
When you think of protein, you may think only of meat. But protein is actually found in a number of different foods, and it’s important to choose a variety of protein-rich without eating too much fat or cholesterol. How much protein does your body need, and what are some good protein sources? You’re about to find out.
Since your body doesn’t store protein like it does carbohydrates and fats, you need to replenish your protein supply each day. Protein malnutrition can lead to failure to grow, a suppressed immune system, muscle loss, and a weakened heart and lungs. In developed countries, most people generally consume enough protein, many eating more than twice what they need. However, this protein isn’t always from the best sources.
Depending on your age and sex, you should consume the following amount of protein each day:
Infants: approximately 10 grams
Teenage Girls: 46 grams
Teenage Boys: 52 grams
Adult Women: 46 grams
Adult Men: 56 grams
Pregnant or Lactating Women: 71 grams
Where Is It?
Meat. While beef is a good source of protein (a six-ounce steak provides 38 grams of protein), it is also high in saturated fat, so you should eat red meat only occasionally. Skinless chicken breasts and turkey are the leanest protein-heavy options for poultry. A chicken breast the size of a deck of playing cards provides 23 grams of protein.
Fish and Shellfish. Because of the traces of mercury found in fish, the recommended allowance for consuming all fish is about 12 ounces or two meals a week. Tuna, however, should only be eaten once a week. The good news is that while fish shouldn’t be eaten all day every day, a small can of tuna contains 42 grams of protein, and a six-ounce piece of salmon provides 34 grams.
Eggs and Dairy. Other excellent sources for protein are eggs and dairy products. Just remember that eggs, or at least the yolk, should be eaten in moderation, since they contain cholesterol that may increase your risk for heart disease. Yogurt, cheese, and low-fat milk are also healthy choices for including protein and calcium in your diet. A serving of yogurt provides 14 grams of protein, cottage cheese gives your protein intake a 28-gram boost, and a cup of milk has eight grams of protein.
Plant Sources. Another great source of protein comes from plant-based sources such as beans, lentils, peas, and soy. A serving of kidney beans will fill you with about 15 grams of protein.
Nuts and Seeds. Though nuts and seeds are often high in calories, they are also rich in protein, nutrients, and essential fatty acids. They’re so rich, in fact, that a third of a cup of nuts contains the same protein levels as an ounce of meat. Flaxseed is also fiber-ific, and is also filled with fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids.
Whole Grains, Fruits, and Vegetables. Lastly, protein is found in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Grab a plain-old slice of whole-wheat bread, and you’re looking at three grams of protein. Grab a handful of cherries, avocados, leafy greens, prunes, or dried apricots, and you can add even more fiber to your daily diet.
Foods rich in protein are a crucial part of a healthy diet. But remember that when choosing your protein sources, consider the unhealthy factors that come with a particular food. Watch out for saturated fats and cholesterol and processed meats such as sausages, hot dogs, and deli meats. They may contain protein, they up your risk for cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, and type 2 diabetes.