Our first super-star nutrient in the spotlight is protein.
Protein helps build and repair almost every tissue in our bodies, including our muscles and bones. Worried about healthy aging and bone density? Protein is your friend.
Protein helps synthesize important hormones (including the ones that keep us happy and relaxed). It supports our immune system and boosts our metabolism, helping us lose fat and stay lean. And it helps us feel fuller, longer.
Know your sources: the foods highest in protein include lean meat (like beef, pork and wild game); poultry like chicken and turkey; fish and seafood; eggs and egg whites; dairy like cottage cheese or plain Greek yogurt; cooked lentils and bean; tempeh or tofu; and protein powders.
Most foods have some protein, so the combined foods in your meals will just add to your protein consumption for the day. You can get protein from veggies and grains; it just takes a little more planning to get all that you need in a day. Lentils and bean, and tempeh and tofu are the major contributors in the plant-based realm; other sources include peanut butter, pumpkin seeds, almonds and pistachios; quinoa, oatmeal and the ancient grain amaranth; and asparagus, artichokes and broccoli.
Dairy is a good source, if you can tolerate it. Milk has a complex make-up; it contains sugars and starches like lactose, and proteins like whey and casein, that can cause allergic or other milder reactions in some people. Plain yogurt should be on your list; read the labels, and watch out for added sugars and other crap.
Protein powders are a good option if you are on the run; they are convenient and portable and can make a healthy, complete “liquid meal” when mixed into shakes with fruit or veggies. Because these are packaged foods – read the label! Look for powders without junk, like added sugars, artificial colors and flavorings, and other additives you don’t need; look for digestive enzymes on the label, and look for a type you know you can digest – look for plant-based proteins if you know your gut has an issue with whey. Try some different options and brands to find a taste you like.
How much should you eat? For your basic high-protein sources (like meats and fish), look at your palm. 1 palm-sized piece of protein is a serving. Our bodies like a constant supply, so spread it out through the day by eating a serving at every meal. Having more protein early in the day will help you control your appetite all day, so make sure to get plenty at breakfast.
Eggs – scrambled, in an omelet or hard boiled; stir frys of meat or seafood or tofu; on the grill or in a wrap; make it easy and convenient with pre-prepped options like rotisserie chicken or canned tuna. Get creative and enjoy the protein you need – at every meal!
Information for this post is sourced from my nutrition coaching program, powered by Precision Nutrition's ProCoach platform.