Everyone’s familiar with protein. We have protein-rich diets, like the Paleo, Ketogenic, and Atkins diets. There are protein dense bars and protein powders you can add to your morning smoothie for an added boost of energy, whether you’re an athlete or not.
But protein isn’t that simple. And not all proteins are made equally. So, keep reading to learn about the best types of protein and to make sure you’re getting them in all the right amounts.
Why Is Protein Important for Your Body?
Proteins can be found throughout the entire body. In fact, they’re the essential building blocks for a healthy, thriving body. That’s because protein is a structural component for your hormones, cellular receptors, enzymes, organs, muscles, and tissues.
Along with being essential, structural components of a healthy body, proteins also act as carriers and transport various nutrients throughout the body.
But instead of diving too deep into complicated biology and physiology, we can easily identify several health benefits when it comes to protein:
- Protein keeps your blood sugar levels stable
- Protein improves cognitive function and can reduce brain fog
- Protein can help you lose weight
- Protein provides a steady source of energy
- Protein supports the growth and repair of muscle and bones
- Protein supports new cellular growth
- Protein supports basic functions in the body
A Brief Overview of The Different Kinds of Protein
Each of the three essential nutrients (fats, carbohydrates, and proteins) have their good and bad types. There are healthy medium chain fatty acids and then there are nasty trans fats. There are complex carbohydrates as well as high fructose corn syrup. When it comes to proteins, there are good and bad proteins, too.
Sometimes, in our well-intentioned attempt to eat a healthy, balanced diet, we include proteins into our diet that are not only unnecessary but potentially harmful, too.
So, let’s take a look at the good types of protein and why you should include them as part of your balanced diet. The good news is that no matter what sort of diet you follow, there’s a good protein source for you, whether you’re an omnivore, vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, etc.
Everyone knows that beef is a good source of protein, but be sure that you eat high-quality beef. Otherwise, you’ll get protein, but you’ll also consume unnecessary antibiotics, steroids, and meat from generally very unhealthy animals.
Since animal meats can be high in saturated fats, it’s important not to overdo it on your meat consumption. Having grass-fed, organic beef one to two times a week is a great way to include protein into your diet without eating too much saturated fat.
One advantage of eating chicken instead of beef is that it’s a leaner source of protein.
However, be sure to only consume high-quality chicken. Unfortunately, the chicken industry cares little about the health or diet of the animal, and chicken meat can be ridden with antibiotics, steroids, and traces of a diet filled with GMO grains, including soy.
Eggs are sometimes referred to as perfect food because they contain all 11 amino acids. What’s more, they can be eaten in a variety of ways: fried, scrambled, poached, boiled, baked, etc. One large egg alone provides up to seven grams of protein.
Why is goat cheese a better source of protein than cow milk cheese? Dr. Axe explains that goat milk, and therefore goat cheese, is easier for the body to digest because it contains A2 casein protein, rather than A1 casein protein that’s typical of cow’s milk.
Yogurt is an excellent food source not only because it provides healthy proteins, but because it also supplies the gut with probiotics that strengthen the immune system and populate the gut flora with beneficial bacteria.
Soy is often touted as a healthy protein source, but remember that the best source of soy-based protein comes in the form of fermented soy products. And nato is one such product. It’s a tangy, Japanese specialty that might be new to you, but provides a safe source of soy and protein.
This ancient food is a protein-rich option for vegetarians and vegans alike. Just one cup of lentils provides the body with 18 grams of lentils. This protein is very beneficial to the body because it helps support cardiovascular health as well as the digestive system. What’s more, it regulates both the body’s blood sugar levels along with its pH levels.
Beans are an obvious choice when it comes to protein-rich foods, but which beans are best?
Experts recommend black beans as being one of the top bean sources. One cup provides 15 grams of protein and you’ll also get a nice dose of fiber, too. This is a food that also cleans out your digestive tract, so all around, it’s a great option.
Generally, nuts are a great source of protein. Almonds are particularly beneficial because they contain fiber, antioxidants and unsaturated fatty acids. Unsweetened almond butter can be a great weight to sneak this healthy protein into your diet.
If you decide to eat nuts, just remember to soak them to neutralize the phytic acid that can be difficult for your body to digest.
Hemp and chia seeds are wonderful sources of protein. Three tablespoons of hemp seeds provide up to 11 grams of protein, along with all 20 amino acids. Chia seeds offer a little less protein for every three tablespoons, but like hemp seeds, they have high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, making both hemp and chia seeds a very beneficial protein source.
Protein Sources You Should Avoid
As you can see, there are many wonderful sources of protein, and that’s only a partial list! Now, it’s time to take a look at protein sources that you should avoid. The protein in these foods is not only low quality but sometimes, even harmful.
Protein powders have become a bona fide kitchen staple, whether you exercise a lot or not. And while these sweet-tasting powders add a little oomph to your morning smoothie, you might want to reconsider using them. Here’s why.
If you use soy-based protein powder, you’re probably unaware of the manufacturing process that goes on behind the scenes. Factories take defatted soybean flour and then boil it along with a corrosive solution that removes the fibers from the flour.
Then, the remaining substance is washed with acids to draw out the protein. What emerges are protein curds that are treated in a final alkaline mixture before they are dried at high temperatures.
Now, that might have all sounded a bit technical and dry, but when you think about how these foods actually interact with your body, you might want to rethink adding this benign-looking powder into your diet. Soy proteins like these are connected with problems in the pancreas and digestive system.
Protein bars are a quick and easy way to consume protein especially if you don’t have time to cook a steak at home. But these bars don’t just give you protein. They usually give you way too much of it – sometimes, one single bar can contain up to 30 grams of protein.
Because these bars have lots of added sugars, you could end up consuming too many calories, too.
While it’s true that organic red meat is an excellent source of protein, that doesn’t mean that processed meats are a good place to look for dietary protein.
Sausages, burgers, bacon and other manufactured products are full of sodium, preservatives, additives, questionable ingredients, and unhealthy fats. So, it’s best to just avoid these foods altogether.
Daily Protein Recommendations
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) suggests the following Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) when it comes to protein: For every kilogram of body weight, you should consume 0.80 grams of protein. Or, for every pound of body weight, you should consume 0.36 grams of protein.
That boils down to about 46 grams of protein for the average woman, and 56 grams for the average man.
Another useful way to track your protein intake is to think of protein in blocks of 25 grams. For example, one serving of meat (such as red meat, chicken, salmon or liver) that weighs about 100 grams offers about 25 grams of protein.
When it comes to cheese, 80 grams usually provides about 25 grams of protein. Four eggs or three cups of milk are two other protein blocks that offer 25 grams of protein each.
Women need about two to three 25-gram blocks of protein each day. Men, on the other hand, need up to four of these 25-gram blocks.
Special Protein Requirements
Certain individuals need more protein than others, and these people include the elderly, pregnant or seriously athletic individuals.
While it’s always best to check with your primary care physician to decide on the best amount of protein for your daily needs, if you fall into one of these three groups, you probably need to increase your protein intake to 25 percent more than the average person.
Can You Consume Too Much Protein?
The answer is, “Yes!” Because many diets already include far too many animal products, it’s very easy for people to consume too much protein. What’s more, with the popularity of protein powders, many people are adding an unhealthy source of protein to their already protein-dense diet.
This can speed up the aging process as well as cancer growth. Dr. Mercola shares that if 20 percent or more of your daily caloric intake is made up of protein, you can have a 400 percent higher cancer rate. There are other risks associated with overconsumption of protein, so it’s something to be aware of when planning your daily meals.
Protein is an essential building block for a healthy, thriving body. What are your favorite protein sources?