Protein from just meat is NOT the only option. There are many options to get protein from different sources.
Getting consistent and solid amounts of protein each day is one of the most striking similarities between all of the ‘diets’ out there. For reasons ranging from giving the feeling of being full, muscle gain, maintaining a balanced diet and more.
Even for vegetarians and vegans ‘guidelines’ emphasise the importance of protein. One can see this clearly through the surge in popularity of vegan protein powders (pea protein) these last few years in conjunction with the increasing popularity of the vegan lifestyle (or diet or whatever one would call it).
Meat is great protein no doubt, but it is not the only option. It is good to be aware of the different sources and types of protein you need for a healthy body as there are numerous different nutrients the body also needs from numerous different foods. Sounds confusing but its not really.
I’ll breakdown below a bit about protein and what that means. Then I’ll lay out a selection of sources for you to consider adding into your eating plan.
WHAT IS PROTEIN ANYWAY
(guess this is the boring bit – skip it if you just want to know sources of protein)
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which important for nearly all physiological functions. Most skeletal tissues, cells, organs, and muscles are made of amino acids. They help make the proteins that allow our bodies to grow, repair tissue, break down food, and perform many other essential biological processes.
There are 22 amino acids and 9 of them are called “essential” because our bodies can’t produce them, so it’s essential that we include them in our daily diet.
Animal based protein sources are considered ‘complete proteins’ as they are rich in all of the 9 essential amino acids while soy beans are the only plant based protein that includes them all. Although, eating a variety of non-meat protein will provide ‘complete protein’ easy enough.
These are options that I think are interesting and worth knowing about. It is not a comrehensive list and it is not a list of only ‘healthy options’ but I hope it helps you with your food choices if you are wanting to know more specifically about protein sources.
Be aware evidence nowadays is stacking up against eating red meat too often not only for certain health reasons (debatable, like most things in the nutrition world of course) but also for the environment.
Chicken and turkey are low calorie and high protein, these are staples of many many diets.
About 6g per egg and you don’t have to worry about cholesterol now we have science!
Lots to say about this (also a controversial category) but I’ll keep it short to say my favourite is Plain Greek Yoghurt.
Fish and Seafood
Fish is loaded with important nutrients, and tends to be very high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Protein content is variable.
Beans (any type) – my not so secret ‘superfood’
About 20%-25% protein these nutritious nuggets are loaded with fibre to keep you feeling full for hours.
Lentils and peas including chickpeas
Could be included in beans above under the heading ‘pulses’, but separated as these are just too good. 1 cup (198g) of boiled lentils contains 18 grams of protein (also my superfood of the century). Awesomely high in protein, fibre, and other nutrients. Also inexpensive, easy to find and great in lots of recipes.
Spinach, greens and other legumes
Surprising to note for many is that green veg in particular weighs in at a solid 5-10% protein and of course so many of the essential nutrients we need. Do NOT forget to eat your veg!
Nuts, seeds and grains
Protein content; Almonds 21%, peanuts 24%, sunflower seeds 19%, flax seeds 18%, pine nuts 14%. Mostly these are between 10-30% protein and of course most have nice good fats.
Protein powder / bars
Easy option… but beware as quite a few contain massive amounts of sugar (and other things) which should be avoided. Read the label as always.
Other – Quinoa, tofu, bread, oats etc.
You’d be surprised where you find protein as macronutrients are spread out in all real food. Quinoa has about 9g per cup for example and is rich in essential amino acids.
Did I miss any that should have been highlighted? Let me know what good ones I’ve missed in the comments.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN SHOULD I EAT?
It depends on you…. Your goals, your lifestyle, your habits, your preferences. You’ll have to dig a lot deeper or simply ask me to get that one answered.
It’s a good idea to change up your protein sources, mix and match especially if you aren’t into meat. For instance, you could have salmon or other fish that’s rich in omega-3s, beans or lentils that give you fibre as well as protein, walnuts on your salad, or almonds with your oats. That way you get lots of other good nutrients as well as cover all protein requirements.
WHAT DO I DO NEXT?
Ever used a food diary to record what you’ve eaten, see how much protein you consume, see where the calories come from?
Those that are trying to sell their ‘fad’ diets steer clear of asking for a food diary from clients as it is perceived to be difficult to do (so they would sell less of their plans). It is also extra work for the person who should be analysing the clients food diary on an individual basis in order to help reaching the individual goals (because everyone is unique – duh). Diets fail for a bunch of simple reasons which can only be avoided by getting personalised advice.
From my experience keeping a food diary is one of the most effective ways to raise awareness of what you eat and subconsciously change your habits for a better life and better health. It also makes working with nutrition clients on a personalised basis so much more effective.
Try to incorporate a mix of protein sources into your diet. I would especially recommend having a consistent amount of beans, lentils and greens so that you not only get the benefits of protein in the diet but also excellent nutrients and a super amount of fibre for health and leanness… all despite whatever genetics you have, you’ll feel nice and full you won’t binge on crap.
Being aware that protein can be found from different food sources is super important. Hopefully now you know a few more.