Protein, like carbohydrate and fat, is a macronutrient that our bodies need to provide energy to our cells and muscles. It’s found in bone, skin, muscle, and hair; in other words, in every part of our bodies. While it is important to achieve a proper balance of all three of these nutrients in your diet, not getting the right balance of protein in our diets can be harmful. Too little protein in our diets can lead to loss of muscle mass and growth retardation while eating too much protein can stress your kidneys and can promote bone loss. Always check with your physician before modifying your diet for any of the macronutrients.
Proteins provide four calories per gram and are made up of amino acids, also referred to as “building blocks.” Our bodies can make thirteen of these amino acids but the other nine must come from our diets. These nine are called “essential” amino acids.
Protein is found in both animal and vegetable-based foods. Protein from animal sources, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy, is referred to as a complete protein because it contains all nine of the essential amino acids. Protein from vegetables, grains and nuts is an incomplete protein because it lacks one or more of the essential amino acids. It is for this reason that it is important to understand how to maintain a vegetarian diet, if that is the direction someone takes. Selecting the right protein, or combination of protein, will ensure the nutritional adequacy of your diet.
While animal products contain the same amount of protein per serving size, they vary in the amount of fat they contain. It’s best to choose leaner cuts of beef like eye of round, sirloin, extra lean ground beef or flank cuts. Poultry breast and pork tenderloin are also lean protein choices. Cold water fish, such as salmon and swordfish, are excellent sources of complete protein, while providing Omega 3 fatty acids, beneficial anti-inflammatory agents that can protect against heart disease. Soy and tofu, also referred to as meat alternatives, are becoming a popular selection. In addition to being high in protein, soy based foods contain less saturated fats and are good sources of fiber.
Powdered protein supplements, such as whey are also becoming popular, as are sports bars. These are fortified with soy or whey proteins and should not be used as meal replacements.
The bottom line is to achieve an appropriate mix of protein in your diet. Eating a variety of foods will ensure that you get all of the amino acids that your body needs. The following is a list of protein containing foods for comparison.
|Food||Serving Size||Grams of Protein|
|Cottage cheese||½ cup||14|
|Cheddar Cheese||1 ounce||6|
|Rice or pasta||½ cup||2|