What is protein? Protein is a class of organic compounds that are made up of one or more long chains of amino acids and are an essential part of all living organisms. It makes up the structural components of body tissues such as muscle, hair, and collagen and as enzymes and antibodies. There are nine essential amino acids that we must get from our diet because our body does not make them. Bonus: there are some foods that are “complete” proteins which contain all of the amino acids. Proteins derived from animal foods including meats, fish, poultry, milk and eggs are complete. Complete proteins that are vegetarian are quinoa, buckwheat, hempseed, and edamame.
How much protein do you need? The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein/kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams of protein/pound of body weight. On average this equates to 56 grams of protein for men and 46 grams of protein for women.
There are four main categories of foods that are high in protein. Add these to your diet throughout the day and you’re well on your way to reaching your protein goals. There are some vegetables that are higher in protein than others, but this list contains the most bang for your buck.
One: animal protein. This includes beef, pork, chicken, turkey, game meat, seafood, and dairy and eggs. Choose lean cuts of these choices to decrease the fat and calories while getting the same amount of protein. Do use the egg yolk however you enjoy eggs because that is where most of your protein is! Two: legumes. This includes lentils, peas, beans, such as black beans, kidney beans, white beans, chickpeas, and edamame. One cup of black beans or lentils provides about 18 grams of protein! This is almost half the amount you would get from one cup of animal protein. Plus, as mentioned before, edamame is a complete protein containing all of the essential amino acids. Three: nuts and seeds. All nuts contain at least 4 grams of protein per 1 ounce. Pumpkin seeds have 8 grams per 1 ounce and sunflower seeds have about 5 grams of protein per 1 ounce. Also, hempseed is a complete protein that contains 9 grams of protein in three tablespoons. Four: grains. Quinoa, buckwheat, and wild rice top this list. Both quinoa and buckwheat are complete proteins and wild rice contains 7 grams of protein per one cup. Combine grains with animal protein or legumes to create a high protein meal.
How do you add more protein? Adding more protein throughout the day is essential. Being aware of adding more servings of protein at each meal and snacking smart is simple. Consider adding eggs, milk, or yogurt at breakfast. For lunch and dinner choose an animal protein plus legumes or a high protein grain. Sprinkle salads and other dishes with hempseed or nuts. When snacking think nuts and seeds, yogurt, or cheese along with your regular snacks. If exercise is a large part of your lifestyle consider using whey protein or vegan protein powder after a work out. For a quick and easy protein boost choose a protein bar that has less than 10 grams of sugar and at least 8 grams of protein. Adding one or two more servings of protein a day will help you reach your goal.