Today’s post will focus on the what, why, and where of protein. You may be wondering what I mean by this so let me explain! For this post, I will break down what protein is and why it’s important for your body and overall health. For the purposes of this post, I thought it would be a good idea to provide you with alternative sources of protein since the majority of us know that the typical animal sources (i.e. meat, dairy, eggs, seafood, poultry) tend to be the largest source of protein, but there are other ways to consume protein as well!
Our diets are broken down into three macronutrient categories: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Throughout many of my posts, I typically discuss the importance of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), but macronutrients are extremely critical for the overall functioning of the body as well. They’re deemed ‘macro’ nutrients because we need to consume them in large quantities.
Proteins, specifically, are the building blocks of the cells within our bodies (i.e. skin, nails, hair, brain cells) and play a role in pretty much every major function within the body.
While proteins are the building blocks of cells, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. When we eat protein, our bodies break it down into amino acids, which in turn, play their own role in making new proteins to help our bodies in a variety of different processes such as:
- Muscle Growth and Development
- Tissue repair
Proteins are comprised of 20 amino acids with nine of those amino acids termed ‘essential’ in that the body does not make them, and, therefore, must be obtained from food. The remaining amino acids are called ‘nonessential’ since they are produced within our bodies.
In regard to dietary intake, we consume essential amino acids in the form of complete and incomplete proteins. Complete proteins are sources that contain all essential amino acids (i.e. animal sources) in an adequate quantity, whereas incomplete proteins (i.e. plant based sources) simply lack a significant amount of amino acids to be deemed a complete source. These protein sources can often be paired with other incomplete proteins to form a complete source. This is another reason why it’s important to eat a well-balanced diet to ensure you’re providing your body with the adequate amount of fuel it needs to function properly. Pairing incomplete protein sources doesn’t actually have to occur at the same meal, but rather can be eaten throughout your daily food intake to aid in your body functioning at its best.
Remember the MyPlate guidelines for vegetables and fruits I mentioned here? Well, according to the USDA (source), most Americans typically do not have a problem with consuming enough protein. The problem lies in a lack of variety in protein sources, which is why I’ve listed below some excellent alternative sources below:
Quinoa: often times referred to as a grain, but actually a seed, cooks similarly to rice and is an excellent source of protein (roughly 8grams/1cup). Why not try this quinoa & black bean salad recipe instead of one of your typical pasta or rice dishes this week!
Legumes (a class of vegetable):
- Beans: there are a wide variety of beans to choose from that can supply you with a healthy amount of protein. Some of my favorites include garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans, white beans, and black beans. Try making a homemade vegetarian chili with beans, and you have yourself a delicious protein-packed meal!
- Peas: a half-cup of peas supplies you with roughly 4.5grams of protein so try adding peas to your pasta dishes, salads, or soups. If you don’t like peas, you may like this green pea hummus instead.
- Lentils: 1 cup supplies about 17 grams of protein- if you’re new to trying lentils, perhaps this recipe is for you!
- Edamame: Your typical appetizer to sushi actually has an adequate amount of protein with about 8 grams per cup! Another popular way to enjoy these soy beans is roasted until browned at 400 degrees in the oven with your favorite seasonings and a touch of olive oil!
–Nuts & nut butters (i.e. almonds, cashews, peanuts, pistachios): another great source of protein AND healthy fats, especially when you choose nut butters with as few ingredients as possible.
-Greens: surprisingly, greens like spinach (and broccoli (about 4grams/1 cup) also contain a good amount of protein, so not only are you fueling your body with protein, you’re reaping the benefits of the vitamins and minerals that leafy greens supply as well!
I hope you were able to learn something new from this post and will try a new protein source in your diet!
*As always, I encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns with your physician regarding your health, as the information I provide should not replace any medical advice. I write based on my own personal research and experiences.
Better Health Channel (2014). Protein. Retrieved from: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Protein
Ebert,Alison. (2013) Amino acids. Retrieved from: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002222.htm
Harvard School of Public Health. (n.d.). Protein. Retrieved from: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/
NIH. (2008). News in Health. Retrieved from: https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2008/March/docs/01features_01.htm