We all know how important protein is in a healthy diet, but what is it? How much protein do we really need and what are the best sources for protein.
Protein is an absolute necessity for any healthy diet. A protein deficiency can lead to growth failure and muscle loss, decreased immunity, and a number of other serious conditions. It is a part of every cell in our bodies and is required by the structure and functioning of the body’s tissues and organs. These proteins are constantly being broken down and are regenerated when the protein in the food we eat is digested into different amino acids which combine into structures that replenish the proteins in our bodies. Depending on the specific combination of amino acids, these proteins take on various jobs from carrying oxygen throughout your body, to creating cardiac muscle or antibodies.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. The recommended daily allowance of protein is 46 grams per day for women over 19 years of age, and 56 grams per day for me over 19 years of age. It's very easy to reach these targets. For instance, five ounces of cooked salmon, a cup of cooked beans, an avocado and a handful of seeds fills all the RDA of protein for a man over 19!
However, not all protein has equal health benefits. A 6-ounce broiled steak has about 40 grams of protein, but it also comes with about 12 grams of saturated fat! Research conducted at Harvard School of Public Health found that eating even small amounts of red meat, particularly when processed, on a regular basis leads to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Additionally, the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study followed 120,000 men and women for more than two decades. They found that for every additional 3-ounce serving of unprocessed red meat the study participants consumed daily, risk of dying from cardiovascular disease increased by 13 percent. That means that finding alternative sources for protein is vital for a healthy diet.
What are some good sources of protein?
It's true ... protein does build strong bones ... and much, much more!
- Salmon. Five ounces of cooked salmon has about 240 calories, 36 grams of protein and is full of heart-healthy fats.
- Turkey. Five ounces of turkey comes with 264 calories and approximately 40 grams of protein.
- Beans and Lentils. Beans have 12 to 14 grams per cooked cup, while lentils have 18 grams per cooked cup.
- Nuts. A one-third cup serving has from 3-7 grams of nuts, depending on the type. Almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, cashews, and pine nuts are all good vegetarian protein sources. Almonds have 6 grams of protein per ounce, cashews have 5 grams, and pistachios have 6 grams per ounce.
- Oatmeal. Get a start on you daily protein needs with a serving of oatmeal, which will give you 7 grams of protein, before you add the milk!
- Avocados. Most vegetables contain between 1 and 2 grams of protein per cup, so avocado is an absolute superstar with 4 grams... and it comes packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid!