Updated: Mar 30, 2021
By Inder Ghrial, CNP, NNCP
I often notice when working with clients on customizing a meal plan that many of them stick to a select few sources of protein. I always encourage my clients to get protein from a variety of sources such as, lean protein from chicken, turkey and fish or plant-based protein from beans, peas and lentils as well as whole grains. Read on for the benefits of protein and why they matter!
What is Protein?
Proteins are made from amino acids. There are 20 amino acids, 11 of the amino acids are naturally produced by the human body and 9 are “essential”, meaning that the body does not make them, and they must be obtained through the food we eat. When all 9 “essential” amino acids are present in food they make a complete protein and can sufficiently support the body’s biological functions. Animal protein contains adequate concentrations of all 9 essential amino acids no matter which meat you eat. But keep in mind that not all plant-based proteins are complete so you will have to combine foods in order to achieve a complete protein. I will give you ideas on how to create a complete protein from an incomplete protein as you read more!
Why is Protein Important and How Much do I Need?
Protein is the building block of life! Some of the reason’s protein is important is that it is used for making enzymes, balancing and regulating hormones, and producing antibodies that protect the body from bacteria and viruses. Proteins are also needed for muscle building, tissue repair, healthy hair, skin and nails. A healthy individual can obtain approximately 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight (e.g. 0.8 x 50kg(110lbs) = 40g of protein per day) this may vary from person to person depending on your nutritional needs, level of exercise and other factors. It is always a good idea to work with a healthcare professional to determine your specific protein requirements.
Too Much Protein vs. Not Enough Protein
Too much protein can be harmful and put the body under extra stress, as excess protein cannot be stored in the body and must be eliminated through urination which puts the kidneys under a lot of stress. Because protein is a macro-nutrient it is important to consume some at each meal. Not meeting your body’s specific protein requirements can look like sluggishness, joint and muscle pain, swelling, and poor concentration-ii This is not a complete list of symptoms, but an idea of some things you can consider.
The Benefits of Getting Protein from a Variety of Sources
Protein from meat sources will give you all of the essential amino acids along with, in some cases such as lean beef, B12, iron and zinc.
Consuming protein from plant sources can additionally offer fiber, minerals, and vitamins.
Alternating between plant-based protein and meat sources can help you save money which you can use to spend on high quality animal protein.
If you are vegetarian or vegan it is important to get a variety of plant-based protein sources in order to make sure you are getting adequate amounts of complete protein within a day.
Pairing Plants to Make Complete Proteins
Combine Nuts or Seeds with Whole Grains – e.g. peanut butter on whole grain toast or almond butter on whole grain toast with hemp seeds
Combine Grains with Legumes – e.g. rice with beans, hummus with whole wheat pita, bean-based chilli with crackers, refried beans and tortillas, quinoa and red kidney beans
Combine Beans with Nuts and Seeds – e.g. chickpea salad with sunflower seeds
5 Sources of Complete Plant-Based Protein
Hemp Seeds and Chia Seeds
Soybean (edamame, tofu, tempeh, natto)
Great Sources of Animal Protein
For animal sources of protein look for antibiotic-free, organic, grass-fed and free-range varieties to ensure you are getting good quality meat.
Ensure you are getting adequate amounts of leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables in your meal. Avoid soy unless it is organic and fermented.
Protein can be spread out throughout the day – you do not have to have a complete protein with each meal, for e.g. almonds for a snack, lentil soup for dinner is okay.
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