When ordering a sandwich, have you been asked to choose your “protein” when all the options available are meat? Meat, milk, and eggs are widely known protein sources. However, protein is a nutrient found in many types of animal- and plant-based foods. Protein quality is also affected by its food sources.
Protein plays an important role in our body to make and repair cells. Muscle, organs, hair, and eyes are all primarily made from protein. The nutrient also helps fight infection, clot blood, carry fats, vitamins, and minerals around the body. The recommended protein intake for both males and females aged 19 and above is 0.8 g/kg/day.
Some protein sources are considered healthier than others due to their influence on heart health. For example, skinless poultry, low-fat dairy products, fish, lentils, beans, and soy foods such as tofu and tempeh may help improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Here are some nutritious protein food sources:
- Meat, poultry, and eggs: lean cuts of beef, skinless chicken and turkey, pork loin
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy foods: milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese
- Fish: salmon, tuna, cod, shrimp
- Legumes: beans, lentils, soy, split peas
- Nuts and seeds: walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds
Some protein sources contain high saturated fat. High intakes of saturated fat may increase the risk of heart disease. So, it is recommended to limit protein foods that are high in saturated fats, such as:
- Meats and poultry: fried chicken, bacon, lunch meats, sausage, hot dog, organ meats
- Fish and shellfish: breaded and fried options
- Whole-fat dairy: whole milk and other whole fat dairy products
For your reference, one-ounce equivalents of protein foods include:
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter
- One ounce of cooked meat, poultry, or fish
- ½ ounce nuts or seeds
- ¼ cup cooked beans
There is no % Daily Value (%DV) for protein in the Nutrition Facts table. This is because most people get enough protein from a mixed diet. However, it is a good idea to be mindful of the quality of your protein sources. Try to enjoy beans and lentils more often. Choose fish such as sardines, salmon, and trout. Select lean meat, skinless poultry, and lower-fat milk products.