General Health

Why You Need Protein In Your Diet

Leading a healthy diet is a common goal in modern society. As children become obese and cardiovascular risk rises, people are starting to consider dieting.

Organizations promote this dieting movement, and even the fitness industry has joined. More people than ever follow a vegan diet while others eat a lot of meat to gain muscle.

It’s a common belief that you should eat meat to get a muscular body. But this myth falls apart when we see a vegan bodybuilder. How is this possible? Because, other than meat, there are plenty of foods high in protein. But why is protein so important? And what sources do we have available?

What is protein?

There are thousands of nutrients we can obtain from food. However, only three of them are considered macronutrients. They are carbohydrates, proteins, and fat.

They are macronutrients because the body needs them in a higher proportion—even more than vitamins. Protein intake is fundamental because this macronutrient creates new structures in the body. For example, it is crucial to build muscle mass.

For this reason, protein consumption is a popular topic around bodybuilders. Muscle protein synthesis is one of the most celebrated functions we all know about. They tend to eat meat and other animal products to obtain their share of protein. But it can be found in plants as well. All living beings use proteins, and they are made up of amino acids.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Before absorbing proteins, they are transformed into amino acids. Then, they are incorporated into different cells and create new proteins. They are fundamental for the immune system and metabolism as a whole (1). 

The benefits of protein

Protein is beneficial for many reasons. They create body structures, enzymes, and help to replicate DNA. That’s why protein deficiency is associated with low weight and constitutional problems. In short, this is why proteins are vital for us (1):

  • Enzymes in the digestive tract are made out of protein, and they are important for digestion

  • Proteins are essential to build and protect critical structures of the body such as bones and muscles

  • Proteins increase strength and muscle mass

  • Eating more protein increases satiety and reduces cravings and the sensation of hunger

  • Protein consumption promotes the metabolism of the body

  • An appropriate share of proteins may lower your blood pressure levels

  • It is an excellent aid for weight loss

  • Contributes to the repair of body structures after injuries.

  • Prevents serious problems related to aging, such as muscle wasting and sarcopenia

For all of the above, protein should be an essential part of every meal. Regardless of your diet, we recommend consuming the right amount of protein to remain healthy.

How much protein should you consume?

As noted, protein intake is associated with many health benefits. But not everyone needs to increase their protein intake. Moreover, if you have an excessively high intake, the excess will go to waste.

If you have a kidney condition, it may make your problem worse. So, it is essential to know what you’re doing if you decide to use protein powder or a similar product.

According to the Institute of Medicine, up to 35% of our daily intake of calories should come from proteins. You can also calculate the appropriate level for you by multiplying your body weight in kilograms per 0.8.

The result will be the number of grams of protein; an average person requires every day. If you’re an active athlete, your requirements may go up to 2 grams per kilogram. More than that won’t provide any additional benefit.

In most cases, that’s around 20 to 30 grams for every single meal. But the reality is that most of us do not consume as much protein as we should. With that in mind, let us review a few high-protein foods and how much protein they have (2, 3).

18 High-protein foods

There are many protein foods besides meat. We can get our share with protein shakes and protein bars, but the most natural way to do it is through a high protein diet with animal foods and plants.

Here’s a list of foods you can try:

1) Eggs

Eggs are one of the best sources of complete protein. They have a very high-quality protein with all of the essential amino acids. One large egg contains 6 grams of protein, and the best way to prepare them is boiled instead of fried. For many years, it was thought that eggs increased our levels of cholesterol in the blood. But now we know that’s not the case, and we can eat two or three eggs daily without a problem (4).

2) Chicken breast

One of the problems with red meat is that we don’t get as many lean cuts. They have saturated fat, and excessive consumption may lead to cardiovascular disease. But that’s not the case with chicken breast. It is a lean portion of chicken that provides up to 24 grams per one serving of 3 ounces.

3) Nuts

There are many sources of plant-based protein in nature. One of them can be found in nuts. A bowl of nuts (2 ounces) gives you around 6 grams of protein. And two tablespoons of peanut butter have around 8 grams. Additional to that, peanuts and other nuts have fatty acids of excellent quality (5).

4) Oats

Oats are an important source of protein and dietary fiber in the occidental diet. It is useful to maintain healthy body weight. And the dietary fiber may also improve blood sugar levels. One cup contains 6 grams of proteins, which is a decent amount. Just be sure to avoid processed and instant oats. They do not have the same nutrients or health properties (6).

5) Greek yogurt

No other type of yogurt has as much protein as Greek yogurt. This type of yogurt is made after taking out other macronutrients. Thus, the protein content is more concentrated. You can get a whopping 23 grams of protein in each serving of 8 ounces. However, this high protein content may become spoiled when Greek yogurt is served with added sugar (7).

6) Cottage cheese

If you’re looking for a type of cheese with extra protein, that’s cottage cheese. It is very similar to Greek yogurt and has more protein in proportion. In this case, you can get around 14 grams of protein for each half cup. This is not excessive, but it’s a lot compared to other foods.

7) Milk

Milk is the source of the famous whey protein. Whey is simply the protein part of milk, which can be separated from carbohydrates, fat, and water. One cup of two-percent milk will give you around 8 grams of protein. Soy protein is also an alternative if you are vegan or vegetarian.

8) Broccoli

This vegetable is popular in many weight-loss diets. Many of us would believe it only has vitamins and minerals. But it also has an important share of proteins. 100 grams of broccoli has almost 3 grams of protein. This makes broccoli an interesting companion if you want a plant-based meal high in protein.

9) Lean beef

Red meat has a bad reputation, but it shouldn’t if we choose lean cuts. It is also recommended to reduce its consumption, but not stop consuming it. It is a great aid if you want to increase your muscle mass. Protein proportions vary, but we can give you an example with round steak. 3 ounces of steak has 23 grams of protein—definitely a vital amount (8).

10) Tuna

Tuna is another healthy protein source. Just keep in mind varying your fish intake and avoiding canned tuna with oil. Always prefer canned tuna in water. With that in mind, yellowfin tuna gives you 25 grams for each 3-ounce serving. That’s even more than lean beef, which may be an unexpected finding for some.

11) Quinoa

There are many grains with a very high proportion of proteins, and quinoa is one of them. One cup serving gives you 8 grams of protein. It is also a powerhouse of nutrients and fiber, and a very versatile food (9).

12) Lentils

Animal protein is not the only high-quality protein. Pea protein is not an incomplete protein, as some people say. It is complete and can be used as a principal source. In the case of lentils, they have an excellent share. You get up to 13 grams per quarter of a cup.

13) Pumpkin seeds

Similar to nuts, seeds also have important protein content. Not only pumpkin seeds but also chia seeds, and others. 10 grams of pumpkin seeds have almost 2 grams of protein. This is not excessive, but it may be enough if we take it as a healthy snack.

14) Turkey

Out of many different types of meat, turkey meat is probably one of the healthiest. It is a source of lean meat, and 3 ounces of skinless chicken breast contains up to 24 grams of protein. Consider a healthy preparation of turkey, always taking out the skin. Also, avoid all types of cooking that involve fat and vegetable oils.

15) Ezekiel bread

Ezekiel bread is known as a very healthy type of whole bread. It is famous not only because of its fiber content but the whopping levels of protein it has. Only one slice of Ezekiel bread contains up to 5 grams of protein. It is a very high-quality protein with all 9 essential amino acids. Thus, it is a great source of complete protein and dietary fiber.

16) Fish

Fish is not only an important source of protein but also omega 3 fatty acids and other nutrients. It is recommended to eat fish at least two times a day. Preferably fatty fish this time because they have essential fatty acids. Fish can feed your protein needs with 23 grams for every 3 ounces if you eat salmon and the same concentration in tuna (10).

17) Brussel sprouts

Plant protein is heavily underrated. But the type of protein found in Brussel sprouts is very high quality. It is similar to that found in broccoli because they are the same family of vegetables. For every 100 grams, you can get around 3.5 grams of protein, which is significant. If you lead a vegan diet, Brussel sprouts are a good source of protein intake and other nutrients.

18) Shrimp

Seafood is an excellent source of protein. The recommendation is consuming fish or seafood at least twice a week. You can actually have more seafood and fish if you want. And you will get an excellent source of protein and high-quality fat. Only 100 grams of shrimp contains 24 grams of protein. This is a significant proportion, compared to beef and other traditional sources.

Conclusion

Protein is very important for different body functions. It is one of three macronutrients. Thus, we should always include a high-quality source of protein in each meal.

The best proteins contain essential amino acids used to synthesize enzymes and new proteins. Whey protein powder and protein supplements are popular sources, as well as meat. But there are high-quality sources we may not know about.

Peas, nuts, seeds, and some vegetables are a great source of proteins. Fish do provide not only high-quality protein but also omega 3 fatty acids. Milk and dairy are also good sources, but there are a few things we should avoid. For example, lean meat is better than processed meat. And you should be careful around yogurt, always avoiding added sugars.

Sources

  1. Pesta DH, Samuel VT. A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2014;11(1):53. Published 2014 Nov 19. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-11-53
  2. Hoffman JR, Falvo MJ. Protein – Which is Best?. J Sports Sci Med. 2004;3(3):118–130. Published 2004 Sep 1.
  3. Rogerson D. Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:36. Published 2017 Sep 13. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0192-9
  4. Murray, R. K., Granner, D. K., Mayes, P. A., & Rodwell, V. W. (2014). Harper’s illustrated biochemistry. Mcgraw-hill.
  5. Hurt, R. T., McClave, S. A., Martindale, R. G., Ochoa Gautier, J. B., Coss‐Bu, J. A., Dickerson, R. N., … & Paddon‐Jones, D. (2017). Summary points and consensus recommendations from the International Protein Summit. Nutrition in clinical practice32, 142S-151S.
  6. Campbell, B., Kreider, R. B., Ziegenfuss, T., La Bounty, P., Roberts, M., Burke, D., … & Antonio, J. (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition4(1), 8.
  7. Gray, J., & Griffin, B. (2009). Eggs and dietary cholesterol–dispelling the myth. Nutrition Bulletin34(1), 66-70.
  8. Alper, C. M., & Mattes, R. D. (2003). Peanut consumption improves indices of cardiovascular disease risk in healthy adults. Journal of the American College of Nutrition22(2), 133-141.
  9. Rebello, C. J., O’Neil, C. E., & Greenway, F. L. (2016). Dietary fiber and satiety: the effects of oats on satiety. Nutrition Reviews74(2), 131-147.
  10. Kilara, A., & Chandan, R. C. (2013). 13 Greek-style yogurt and related products. Manufacturing yogurt and fermented milks, 297.
  11. Li, D., Siriamornpun, S., Wahlqvist, M. L., Mann, N. J., & Sinclair, A. (2005). Lean meat and heart health. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition14(2), 113-119.
  12. Navruz-Varli, S., & Sanlier, N. (2016). Nutritional and health benefits of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.). Journal of Cereal Science69, 371-376.
  13. Dallongeville, J., Yarnell, J., Ducimetière, P., Arveiler, D., Ferrières, J., Montaye, M., … & Ruidavets, J. B. (2003). Fish consumption is associated with lower heart rates. Circulation108(7), 820-825.

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