What is protein?
Protein is essential in the diet, just like carbs and fat, but it also plays many roles in your overall health. From your hair, skin, nails, bones, muscles, and blood, the body uses protein in a variety of ways. Proteins are made from amino acids which are essentially the building blocks of life. The human body requires essential amino acids to survive, and these come from food specifically. It’s what also helps to prevent becoming hangry.
All Protein Isn’t Alike
Most people think of meat when they think of protein, but there’s quite a lot of different foods that contain protein. Think poultry, pork, seafood, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. I recommend all types of protein foods, but I care most about how a protein is prepared. This dietitian enjoys a good burger on occasion and is #teamdarkmeat on Thanksgiving Day. Speaking of poultry, did you know that the darker the meat, the more nutrients it contains? Dark meats contain more myoglobin proteins because they are the muscles the chicken or turkey use the most. Dark meats have more zinc, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, vitamins B6 and B12, and iron than white meat. Although they have more nutrients, darker meats often have more saturated fat. Simply peel off the skin, and you’ll get rid of more than half the saturated fat! Let’s take a look at the protein and saturated fat content of some common foods.
Steak – 6 oz. = 40 g protein, 12 g saturated fat
Chicken – Dark meat (1 cup diced) = 32 g protein, 3.4 g saturated fat
Chicken – White meat (1 cup diced) = 38 g protein, 1.5 saturated fat
Salmon – 6 oz. = 34 g protein, 1.7 g saturated fat
Lentils – 1 cup cooked = 18 g protein, 1 g saturated fat, 15 g fiber
To go along with my FoodBalance mantra, all protein foods can fit into a balanced diet. You can definitely get enough protein from plant-based foods like lentils and beans, and you’ll also get lots of heart-healthy fiber. If you choose a fattier cut of meat, go easy on dressings, remove the skin, bake/roast don’t fry, swap high fat condiments for lower fat options, and opt for leaner side dishes.
I thought you said I should start the day with about 20-30g of protein?
Yes, glad you remembered! Protein is very satiating and it prevents your blood sugar levels from rapidly rising then falling. This rapid rise and fall can also cause you to feel tired and most likely craving more food. Choose foods high in protein to start the day off right like Greek yogurt, nut butter on toast, cheese, leftovers of a protein from dinner, or my personal fave, EGGS. Economical and simple to prepare, these incredible edibles have about 6 g protein and 1.5 g saturated fat (large varieties). I always try to have eggs in my fridge for a quick meal addition, and my favorite way to prepare is hardboiled. You’d be surprised at how many people have told me they’ve never boiled an egg. It’s as simple as boiling water! Follow along with my fail-proof method for making hardboiled eggs.