Protein is an essential nutrient that helps us build and maintain muscle, as well as carry out a wide variety of body functions. We don’t store protein like we do carbohydrates, so we need to eat a minimum of 0.8 grams per kg of body weight per day in order to stay healthy.
Most Americans easily reach the minimum requirement for protein, but they often get this from heavy, meaty foods that also provide too much fat and calories. So, it’s good to review what healthy foods are high in protein so that we can focus on getting most of our protein from those.
How much protein do you need? Between 15-25% of your daily calories should come from protein, depending on how active you are, your sex, and how much you weigh. Find out how much you need here. Eating significantly more than this is not only excessive, but can also lead to health problems.
If you’re trying to lose weight, it is helpful to replace some of the refined carbohydrates in your diet with lean protein sources, because protein is more satisfying than carbs (both nutrients have 4 calories/gram, but one gram of protein satisfies longer than one gram of carb). You may find that you don’t get as hungry if you eat a little more protein, even if you keep your calorie intake the same. In general, make sure that your meals and snacks are a combo of carbs, protein, and fat, as opposed to just heavy on one of these and not the others.
Unexpected Sources of Protein
You don’t have to load up on meat, eggs, and tofu to get enough protein. Some other easy options…
|1 cup low-fat yogurt (plain)||13 grams|
|1 cup skim milk||9 grams|
|1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese||14 grams|
|1 oz mozzarella cheese (part-skim)||7 grams|
|1 oz soft goat cheese||5 grams|
|1 cup cooked oatmeal||5 grams|
|1 cup cooked quinoa||5 grams|
|1/2 cup black beans||8 grams|
|1/2 cup garbanzo beans||7 grams|
|1 cup plain soy milk||7 grams|
|2 Tbsp peanut butter||8 grams|
|1/4 cup walnuts||7 grams|
|3 oz canned salmon||23 grams|
What Should My Day of Eating Look Like?
For an average 150-lb woman, this would be a healthy day with plenty of protein (65-75 grams)…
|Breakfast||Whole grain cereal with 1 cup low-fat milk, 1 piece fruit|
|Lunch||Large green salad with mixed veggies & 4 oz fish or chicken; 1 piece whole grain bread with butter|
|Snack||6-oz container Greek yogurt with 2 Tbsp nuts and 1/2 cup berries|
|Dinner||Black bean tacos with crumbled feta, cabbage, and lime (see recipe here)|