Tips for Getting High-Quality Protein in Your Diet

 

Tips for Getting High-Quality Protein in Your Diet. Protein provides energy and supports your mood and cognitive function. While it’s in many of the foods that we eat every day, for something so familiar it’s often a misunderstood part of our diets. Think of protein and you might think of steak sizzling on a grill, an energy bar touting to banish fatigue, or a protein shake promising extreme muscle growth.

Yes, these foods are all packed with protein, but when it comes to making the best protein choices to keep your body and mind healthy, quality is just as important as quantity.

What is protein?

what is protein?

Protein is a vital nutrient required for building, maintaining, and repairing tissues, cells, and organs throughout the body. When you eat protein, it is broken down into the 20 amino acids that are the body’s primary building blocks for growth and energy. The amino acid tryptophan influences mood by producing serotonin, which can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve overall cognitive function.

Most animal sources of protein, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy, deliver all the amino acids your body needs, while plant-based protein sources such as grains, beans, vegetables, and nuts often lack one or more of the essential amino acids. However, that doesn’t mean you have to eat animal products to get the right amino acids. By eating a variety of plant-based sources of protein each day, you can ensure your body gets all the essential amino acids it needs.

The health benefits of protein:

Protein gives you the energy to get up and go—and keep going. While too much protein can be harmful to people with kidney disease, diabetes, and some other conditions, eating the right amount of high-quality protein:

  • Keeps your immune system functioning correctly, maintains heart health and your respiratory system, and speeds recovery after exercise.
  • Is vital to the growth and development of children and for maintaining health in your senior years.
  • Can help reduce your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  • Can help you think clearly and may improve recall.
  • Can improve your mood and boost your resistance to stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • May help you maintain a healthy weight by curbing appetite, making you feel full longer, and fueling you with extra energy for exercising.

As well as being imperative to feeling healthy and energetic, protein is also essential to the way you look.

Eating high-quality protein can help:

  • Maintain healthy skin, nails, and hair
  • Build muscle
  • Maintain lean body mass while dieting
  • While most people eating a Western diet get sufficient quantity of protein each day, many of us are not getting the quality of protein we need.

High-quality vs. low-quality protein

  • Distinguishing between industrially raised meat and organic, grass-fed beef is only part of separating low- and high-quality sources of protein.
  • While some processed or lunch meats, for example, can be a good source of protein, many are loaded with salt, which can cause high blood pressure and lead to other health problems.
  • Processed meats have also been linked with an increased risk of cancer, likely due to the substances used in the processing of the meat.
  • The key to ensuring you eat sufficient high-quality protein is to include different types in your diet, rather than relying on just red or processed meat.

How much high-quality protein do you need?

  • Adults should eat at least 0.8g of protein per kilogram (2.2lb) of body weight per day. That means a 180lb man should eat at least 65 grams of high-quality protein per day. A higher intake may help to lower your risk for obesity, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and stroke.
  • Nursing women need about 20 grams more of high-quality protein a day than they did before pregnancy to support milk production.
  • Older adults should aim for 1 to 1.5 grams of protein for each kilogram of weight (think 0.5g of protein per lb. of body weight if that’s easier).
  • Try to divide your protein intake equally among meals.
Source: Environmental Nutrition

Good sources of high-quality protein:

high-quality protein
good sources of protein

Fish.

  • Most seafood is high in protein and low in saturated fat. Fish such as salmon, trout, sardines, anchovies, sablefish (black cod), and herring are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Experts recommend eating seafood at least twice a week.

Poultry.

  • Removing the skin from chicken and turkey can substantially reduce the saturated fat. In the U.S., non-organic poultry may also contain antibiotics and been raised on GMO feed grown with pesticides, so opt for organic and free-range if possible.

Dairy products.

  • Products such as skim milk, cheese, and yogurt offer lots of healthy protein. Beware of added sugar in low-fat yogurts and flavored milk, though, and skip processed cheese that often contains non-dairy ingredients.

Beans.

  • Beans and peas are packed full of both protein and fiber. Add them to salads, soups, and stews to boost your protein intake.

Nuts and seeds.

  • As well as being rich sources of protein, nuts and seeds are also high in fiber and “good” fats. Add to salads or keep handy for snacks.

Tofu and soy products.

  • Non-GMO tofu and soy are excellent red meat alternatives, high in protein and low in fat. Try a “meatless Monday,” plant-based protein sources are often less expensive than meat so it can be as good for your wallet as it is for your health.

Tips to increase your protein intake:

  • To include more high-quality protein in your diet, try replacing processed carbs with high-quality protein. It can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, and you’ll also feel full longer, which can help you maintain a healthy weight.
  • Reduce the number of processed carbohydrates you consume—from foods such as pastries, cakes, pizza, cookies, and chips—and replace them with fish, beans, nuts, seeds, peas, chicken, dairy, and soy and tofu products.
  • Snack on nuts and seeds instead of chips, replace a baked dessert with Greek yogurt or swap out slices of pizza for a grilled chicken breast and a side of beans.

    Pure Protein bars

Not a seafood fan? Make fish more palatable:

  • If you’re not a fan of seafood, but want to include more in your diet, there are ways to make fish more palatable.
  • Always buy fresh fish. Some say tilapia, cod, or salmon have the least “fishy” taste.
  • Disguise the taste by adding a flavorful sauce.
  • Marinate fish with Creole or Cajun seasoning.
  • Add shellfish or white fish, such as cod or tilapia, to a curry.
  • Combine grilled fish with fresh salsa or your favorite chutney.
  • Mix canned salmon or tuna with low-fat mayonnaise and chopped onion for a tasty sandwich filling.

To avoid problems when increasing protein intake:

  • Choose unsalted nuts and seeds, to reduce your daily sodium intake.
  • When shopping for canned beans, choose the low sodium versions.
  • Adding more protein to your diet can increase urine output, so drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Increasing protein can also cause calcium loss so make sure to get plenty of calcium (1,000 to 1,200 mg per day).

Protein powders, shakes, and bars:

In most cases, consuming the right balance of whole foods each day will provide you with all the nutrients you need, negating the need for protein supplements.

However, you may benefit from supplementing your diet if you’re:

  • A teenager who is growing and exercising a lot.
  • An adult switching to a vegan diet—eliminating meat, chicken, fish, and even dairy and eggs from your diet.
  • An older adult with a small appetite who finds it difficult to eat your protein requirements in whole foods.
  • Starting or increasing a regular workout program, trying to add muscle, recovering from a sports injury, or find you feel weak while exercising or lifting weights.

Using protein supplements:

high-quality protein
Optimum Nutrition protein supplement

Protein supplements come in various forms including powders you mix with milk or water, pre-mixed, ready-to-drink shakes, or in bars. The most common types of protein used are whey, casein, and soy. Whey and casein are milk-based proteins, while soy is the better choice for vegans or anyone with a dairy allergy.

Protein supplements may not be safe for older people with renal disease or people who have recently undergone surgery on the digestive system. Some ingredients may even interact with prescription medication, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before using.

Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and make sure you’re getting enough calcium in your diet.

Look out for extra ingredients. Many protein bars are packed with carbs and added sugar.

I hope you found this article helpful. If you have anything that you’d like to share or any opinions on any of the content on my site, please do speak up. I look forward to your comments, questions and the sharing of ideas.

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Resources and references:

Protein: general information

Protein – Nutritional information on protein, including protein and weight control. (Harvard School of Public Health)

Optimal Dietary Protein Intake in Older People – New evidence that shows older adults need more dietary protein than do younger adults. (JAMDA)

Protein and red meat:

Red Meat Consumption Linked to Increased Risk of Mortality – Details research that found that red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality. (Harvard School of Public Health)

Protein and Heart Health – Discusses the ways that the amounts and types of protein we eat impacts our health. (American Heart Association)

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20 thoughts on “Tips for Getting High-Quality Protein in Your Diet

  1. I love seafood, apparently seafood don’t really feel mutual. I am very allergic to seafood so I have no choice but to eat red meat or vegetables.

    1. Hello Charlene, most animal sources of protein, such as meat (I choose grass feed lean meat), poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy, deliver all the amino acids your body needs, while plant-based protein sources such as grains, beans, vegetables, and nuts often lack one or more of the essential amino acids. However, that doesn’t mean you have to eat animal products to get the right amino acids. By eating a variety of plant-based sources of protein each day, you can ensure your body gets all the essential amino acids it needs. I hope this helps and thanks for sharing, Robert

  2. I usually get my protein from fish and chickens.I’d like to try protein shakes and protein bars but I find it rather expensive.

  3. I read the article and was surprised to know proteins do help in stress. How is that possible? Anyway, there lot more benefits of proteins which actually means anyone should include a protein in meals.

    1. Hi David, some research studies suggest that protein, may help reduce levels of cortisol while simultaneously increasing production of serotonin. Protein reduces cortisol levels, improves serotonin production, and ultimately helps to mitigate conditions such as stress, depression, and immune suppression that are detrimental to the mental and physical health of the body. I hope this helps you to understand more and thanks for sharing, Robert

  4. Very interesting post, I didn’t know how to calculate the diary needs of protein I was always wondering if I was taking less than I should, I take the protein shake couple minutes after I finish my work out, if I don’t take it i loss wait very fast cause I have a fast metabolism and I still don’t understand how it works.

    1. Hi Sidney, protein provides the energy your body burns for fuel. I used to have a fast metabolism and struggled to maintain my weight. When I ate a high-protein diet I was able to maintain my weight easily. Thanks for sharing, Robert

  5. I know fish is a great source of protein, always at the top of the list. But aren’t fish big sources of dangerous heavy metals too? Like mercury?

    1. Hi Kevin, most adults can safely eat 12 oz. (two 6 oz. or 170 g servings) of cooked seafood a week. For women who are pregnant, nursing mothers, and children under 12 choose fish lower in mercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, or catfish. You can also protect yourself by varying the types of fish that you include in your diet. Thanks for sharing, Robert

  6. i did not know that protein could help with anxiety and stress. that was pretty cool to read. as someone who has been constantly trying to gain more muscle mass for quite a few years. i intake .8 gram per lb. that was a cool fact. thanks

  7. Great article. I drink soy-bean milk almost every morning. And here in my country we have ‘tempe’ a source of protein.

  8. Proteins are good for the body. I eat non-organic meat everyday and so ensure I get good protein. Beans is also a cheap source of proteins. Taking proteins everyday ensures a good function of the body and good health.

  9. Unfortunately, I don’t have much access to organic milk, eggs or meat. But I guess eating regular ones, even if they they can’t be as good as organic, is still better than nothing, right? I always prefer to include protein in the form of food, rather than supplements – as you said, they can be dangerous for some people.

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