A balanced diet requires all of the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and protein, says Amy Kimberlin, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Miami and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Whatever diet or eating regimen you follow, protein is essential.
“Protein specifically helps support many functions of the body — such as cell maintenance, muscle building and contraction and tissue repair,” Kimberlin says. It helps maintain the balance of body fluids. Really, any time our body is growing or repairing itself, we need protein. Plus, protein can help keep us full for longer and help stabilize blood sugar levels. Getting enough protein is essential to our overall health.”
What is the adequate amount of protein?
It is important to keep in mind that the amount of protein an individual needs depends on factors such as size, age, and level of physical activity. The current recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for adults is 0.8 grams per kilogram of an individual’s body mass — or 0.36 grams per pound of body weight). This is the minimum daily intake to prevent deficiency.
For example, for a man between the ages of 25 and 50 who weighs 174 pounds, the RDA is about 63 grams of protein. He may need more if he is physically active. For a woman in the same age group who weighs about 139 pounds, the RDA would be about 50 grams of protein, which can be higher if she is exercising a lot.
For a sedentary person who does little or no exercise, consuming about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight may be enough, Kimberlin says. For someone who weighs 174 pounds, that means about 63 grams of protein. However, if that person walks 30 minutes a day, five days a week, they might benefit from eating about 79 grams of protein per day; That’s one gram of protein per kilogram of weight.
“If we’re talking about endurance-type athletes, they’re going to be up to two grams per day (per kilogram of weight). It all depends on their daily exercise,” Kimberlin adds.
The federal government defines lean proteins as protein sources with less than 10 grams of total fat, including four and a half grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol — based on three and a half ounces. “Another way to say this is a protein source that has two to three grams of fat per ounce,” Kimberlin says.
Red meat contains the highest levels of saturated fat. For example, a 4-ounce serving of T-bone steak will contain about 5.44 grams of saturated fat. Beef typically contains about 1.36 grams of saturated fat per ounce.
LDL cholesterol is known as “bad” cholesterol because it collects in the walls of blood vessels. This buildup can increase the chances of health problems such as stroke and heart attack. Most of the cholesterol in your body is LDL, and the rest is high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is important because it directs LDL to the liver, which flushes it out of the body. Foods that can boost your HDL levels include avocados, beans, legumes, fatty fish, and whole grains.
“Lean proteins are important as part of a healthy diet due to their heart health (their properties) and their effect on lowering cholesterol and blood pressure,” says Emily Favor, a registered dietitian with Long Island Jewish Forest Hills, part of Northwell Health in New York. .
Good vegetarian sources of lean protein
There are several ways to consume protein from both animal and plant foods. Animal protein has the most protein, says Kayla Cobb, R.D. Cleveland Clinic Human Nutrition Center. “One ounce of animal protein contains about seven grams of protein,” she says. “If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it’s hard to get enough protein — but it is possible by consuming plant sources.”
- Bean. A cup of pinto beans contains 15 grams of protein.
- chickpeas. A cup of chickpeas contains about 14.5 grams of protein.
- edamame A cup of edamame contains about 18 grams of protein.
- hemp hearts. A cup of hemp contains about 10 grams of protein.
- lentil. A cup of lentils contains about 18 grams of protein.
- nuts. Almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts and pine nuts are especially useful. A cup of almonds contains about 30 grams of protein. A cup of Brazil nuts contains about 19 grams of protein; A cup of cashews contains about 25 grams of protein; A cup of peanuts contains about 30 grams of protein; A cup of pine nuts contains about 20 grams of protein.
- quinoa; A cup of quinoa contains about 24 grams of protein.
- tofu; A cup of firm tofu contains about 44 grams of protein.
“It’s ideal to stick to lean protein sources rather than high-fat protein sources,” Cobb says. “Red meat should be eaten once or twice a week.”
In contrast, high-fat proteins contain specific animal proteins that are rich in fat:
- bacon. A slice of bacon contains 3.5 grams of saturated fat.
- pork meat. A 3-ounce serving of pork contains 2.5 grams of saturated fat.
- Sausage. One hot dog contains 5.3 grams of saturated fat.
- Pepperoni. An ounce of pepperoni contains 4.2 grams of saturated fat.
Good sources of lean protein
At meal time, it’s a good idea to “keep protein high, consuming at least 20 to 30 grams of protein per serving,” says Favor. “Ways to make this easy on yourself are to make extra portions of chicken, breast, fish, or any other lean protein, and keep it in the fridge to add to meals throughout the week.”
Kimberlin agrees that paying attention to your protein intake can be beneficial. “The main goal is to incorporate protein into every meal, while balancing healthy carbs and fats,” she says. “(From talking to people), breakfast tends to be the biggest challenge with incorporating lean proteins. I like to make oats out of skim milk (which has protein). As a whole grain, oats also contain protein, so by Combine them and you get two sources of lean protein.”
Lean protein sources include:
- Chicken (without skin).
- Low-fat cheese.
- Low-fat Greek yogurt.
- Pork (light cut).
- Milk cream.
- Turkey (white meat).
Tips for eating protein-rich foods
Cobb says good sources of protein at breakfast can include eggs, low-fat milk, turkey sausage, Greek yogurt or a smoothie made with protein powder. When planning lunches and dinners, always try to take a healthy plate approach by including one cup of vegetables, three to four ounces of protein, and one and a half to one cup of whole grains.
Kopp offers these tips to make sure you always have protein on hand, especially if you don’t have much time to cook:
- Store cans of tuna in the pantry to use on salads or in rolls.
- Keep frozen fish or shrimp in the freezer to defrost quickly and use it for stir-frying or in whole-grain bowls.
- Cook a pound of lean ground turkey or beef at a time to store in the refrigerator and reheat for different recipes throughout the week.
- Buy high-protein pasta made with chickpeas or lentils.
Protein rich meals and snacks
Working protein into every meal and snack shouldn’t be too complicated or difficult, Cope says.
Here is a daily meal that includes protein-rich meals and a snack:
breakfastScrambled eggs with spinach, a slice of whole wheat toast, and ½ cup of berries. One egg usually contains six to seven grams of protein.
lunchA whole wheat roll with sliced turkey, low-fat cheese, lettuce, tomato and balsamic dressing. Whole wheat products usually contain more protein than their white flour counterparts. Cobb says this serving has about 35 grams of protein.
Dinner: A brown chicken rice dish with black beans, sauteed peppers, onions, lettuce and sauce. Try adding 1 teaspoon of plain, non-fat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream for more protein.
SnackFor a protein-rich snack, try 1/3 cup of dry roasted edamame with 1 piece of whole fruit, such as an orange, apple, pear, or peach. “This can be a great snack on the road because it doesn’t need refrigeration,” Cobb says. One serving contains 14 grams of protein.
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