Protein is in many of the foods that we eat every day.
What is protein?
Protein is a vital nutrient required for building, maintaining, and repairing tissues, cells, and organs throughout the body. Every cell in your body contains protein and it is a major part of the skin, hair, and nails. Protein forms body chemicals, such as enzymes, that are responsible for the many metabolic processes that sustain life. When you eat protein in food, it is broken down into the 20 amino acids that are the body’s basic building blocks for growth and energy.
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. By eating a variety of plant-based sources of protein each day you can ensure your body gets all the protein and 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 chronic conditions, eating the right amount of high-quality protein keeps your immune system functioning properly, maintains heart health and your respiratory system, and speeds recovery after exercise.
Protein is vital to the growth and development of children.
Protein is an essential element of a healthy, balanced diet that can improve your mood and boost your resistance to stress, anxiety, and depression.
As well as being imperative to feeling healthy and energetic, protein is also important to the way you look.
Eating high-quality protein can help maintain healthy skin, nails, and hair.
If you’re looking to lose weight, eating high-quality protein can help you maintain lean body mass while dieting.
The key to ensuring you eat sufficient high-quality protein is to include different types in your diet. Rather than relying on red meat, processed meat, and whole milk dairy products, which are also high in saturated fat, nutrition experts suggest you opt for these sources of high-quality protein:
Fish. Most seafood is high in protein and low in saturated fat. Fish such as salmon, trout, sardines, anchovies, and herring are also high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Experts recommend eating seafood at least twice a week as part of a balanced diet.
Poultry. Removing the skin from fresh chicken and turkey can substantially reduce the amount of saturated fat. In the U.S., though, non-organic poultry may also contain antibiotics and hormones.
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. Almonds, peanuts, walnuts, cashews, flaxseed, sesame and sunflower seeds are also full of “good” fats that can help lower cholesterol. Add to salads or keep handy for snacks.
Low-fat dairy. Fat-free cheeses, skim milk, and Greek yoghurt all pack a lean protein punch.
Tofu and soy products. Tofu and soy are excellent red meat alternatives, high in protein and low in fat. Try a “meatless Monday” each week—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.