Let’s break down the macronutrients.
Protein is one of three important macronutrients that our bodies need daily. The others are fat and carbohydrates.
What is protein?
Proteins are large molecules made of amino acids that help us build and repair muscle. It’s essential for the body to function properly. If we don’t get enough, our bodies will use what we already have and break down our muscles.
What is a complete protein?
A food is considered a complete protein if it contains equal parts of all nine essential amino acids. Animal proteins, like meat, fish, eggs and dairy, are all considered complete proteins because they contain all the essential amino acids.
Some plant-based proteins, like quinoa, buckwheat, hemp seed and soy, are also complete proteins.
You also have the option of combining two incomplete plant-based proteins, like rice and beans, to create a complete protein. If you do follow a plant-based diet, a good rule of thumb is to include a wide variety of plant-based protein sources to ensure you are meeting your needs.
How much protein should you have?
The average person should have 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. (To convert your weight from pounds to kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2.) So someone who weighs 150 lbs should have 54.6 grams of protein each day.
Depending on your lifestyle, you may need more protein. Athletes, body builders, pregnant women, cancer patients and those preparing for surgery typically need more. Talk to your health care provider or dietitian about your protein needs.
Get your protein from plants when possible:
Eating legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, whole grains, and other plant-based sources of protein is a win for your health and the health of the planet. If most of your protein comes from plants, make sure that you mix up your sources so no “essential” components of protein are missing. The good news is that the plant kingdom offers plenty of options to mix and match such as legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grains.
Be mindful when consuming animal protein:
Considering the protein package is particularly important when it comes to animal-based foods:
- Generally, poultry (chicken, turkey, duck) and a variety of seafood (fish, crustaceans, mollusks) are your best bet.
- Eggs can be a good choice, too.
- Red meat—which includes unprocessed beef, pork, lamb, veal, mutton, and goat meat—should be consumed on a more limited basis. If you enjoy red meat, consider eating it in small amounts or only on special occasions.
- Most processed meats, such as bacon, hot dogs, sausages, and cold cuts should be avoided. Although these products are often made from red meats, processed meats also include items like turkey bacon, chicken sausage, and deli-sliced chicken and ham. If you do choose to consume them, I recommend the Applegate brand.
- Protein powders are a great way to ensure protein needs are met. Getting protein from the diet, however, is most ideal due to the other essential nutrients that come along with eating whole foods. If you choose to consume protein powder, it is important to read the nutrition and ingredient labels beforehand, as products may contain unexpected ingredients and large amounts of added sugars and calories.