Protein: Why and how to include this nutrient in your diet
By NCVC Staff | Published on Oct 11, 2023
Protein is not just any ordinary nutrient. It is a vital building block in our bodies, responsible for various essential functions such as repairing tissues, supporting the immune system, and acting as catalysts for chemical reactions. With its unique three-dimensional shape and function, protein plays a significant role in our overall well-being.
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Types of Protein: A Comprehensive Guide
To ensure optimal health, it is crucial to include a diverse range of protein sources in your daily diet. Let’s explore the different types of protein that you should aim to consume:
1. Complete Proteins: The Powerhouses
Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own. These amino acids are crucial for immune support, hormone regulation, and muscle maintenance. Excellent sources of complete proteins are found in animal-based foods such as eggs, poultry, fish, lean meats, and dairy products.
2. Incomplete Proteins: Plant-Based Heroes
Incomplete proteins, on the other hand, lack one or more essential amino acids. They are commonly found in plant-based sources like grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. To ensure a balanced intake of essential amino acids, it is important to combine different incomplete protein sources in your diet and complement them with complete protein sources.
3. Plant-Based Proteins: Vegetarian and Vegan Delights
For those following vegetarian or vegan diets, plant-based proteins are essential. While most plant foods don’t provide all the essential amino acids in one source, combining different plant-based protein sources can create a complete protein profile. Legumes, soy products, quinoa, nuts, and seeds are excellent sources of plant-based protein.
4. Lean Meats: Fitness-Friendly Options
When it comes to lean meats such as chicken and turkey, not only are they low in saturated fat but they also provide high-quality protein. Additionally, they offer essential vitamins and minerals like iron, zinc, and B vitamins. Opt for lean cuts and practice healthy cooking methods to retain their nutritional value.
5. Fish and Seafood: Protein with a Bonus
Fish and seafood are not only rich sources of protein but are also packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart and brain health. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are particularly recommended for their omega-3 content.
6. Dairy Products: A Protein-Packed Trio
Milk, yogurt, and cheese not only provide protein but also offer calcium, vitamin D, and other essential nutrients. Go for low-fat or Greek yogurt as they offer high protein content without excessive saturated fats.
7. Eggs: Versatile and Nutrient-Rich
Eggs, the ultimate protein source, contain all the essential amino acids. They are also rich in choline, which promotes brain health. Incorporate eggs into your diet in various preparations such as boiled, scrambled, poached, or bhurji.
8. Plant-Based Alternatives: A World of Choices
With the rise in dietary preferences, there are now numerous plant-based alternatives to animal products. Options like tofu, tempeh, and plant-based meat substitutes provide protein while catering to vegetarian and vegan diets.
9. Nuts and Seeds: Nature’s Protein Packages
Nuts and seeds are not only high in protein but also provide healthy fats, fiber, and a range of essential vitamins and minerals. Almonds, peanuts, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds are excellent choices to snack on or add to meals.
Foods High in Protein: A Comprehensive List
When it comes to protein-rich foods, the options are plenty. Here are some foods that are considered excellent sources of protein:
- Chicken, fish, and red meats like mutton
- Eggs, milk, curd, and tofu
- Soya chunks, lentils, chickpeas, and black beans
- Quinoa, nuts, and seeds
Including Protein in Your Daily Diet
Proteins are essential macronutrients that play a crucial role in building and repairing tissues, producing enzymes and hormones, and supporting overall bodily functions. To ensure a well-rounded intake of essential amino acids, include a variety of protein sources in your daily diet. Here are some types of protein-rich foods you should consider:
- Lean meats like chicken, turkey, and game meats
- Fish and seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids
- Eggs, which are a complete protein source
- Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese
- Legumes such as beans, lentils, peas, and soybeans
- Nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and chia seeds
- Whole grains including quinoa and brown rice
- Tofu and plant-based dairy alternatives
Processed Protein Foods
Protein bars and shakes can provide convenient sources of protein; however, it’s important to choose options with minimal added sugars and artificial ingredients.
Daily Protein Requirement: A Personalized Approach
The daily protein requirement varies based on factors like age, sex, activity level, and overall health goals. Here are some general guidelines:
1. For Sedentary Adults
For individuals with minimal physical activity, the recommended protein intake is around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, a person weighing 70 kg would need about 56 grams of protein per day.
2. For Pregnant and Lactating Women
The protein requirement for pregnant women increases during the second and third trimester, and during the lactation period.
3. For Athletes and Intense Training
Athletes and individuals involved in intense training may require higher protein intake to support muscle repair and growth. Their protein intake can range from 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
4. For Children
Children have higher protein requirements than adults due to their rapid growth and development. Additionally, children are more active, and protein is important for providing energy.
Maintaining a Balanced Protein Intake
While protein is important, it’s essential to maintain a balanced diet that includes carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals from a variety of sources. Consider the following factors to avoid the side effects of excessive protein:
1. Individual Needs
The optimal protein intake varies depending on factors such as age, gender, activity level, and overall health. What might be considered a “high” protein diet for one person might be moderate or even low for another.
2. Kidney Health
If you have preexisting kidney conditions, consult a nutritionist before significantly increasing your protein intake to avoid straining your kidneys.
3. Digestive System
Gradually increasing your protein intake can help your body adjust and prevent digestive discomfort.
4. Balanced Nutrition
Maintain a balanced diet that includes carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals from a variety of sources.
5. Long-Term Sustainability
Consider whether a high-protein diet is something you can sustain over the long term. Fad diets or extreme dietary changes might not provide all the nutrients your body needs.
6. Source of Protein
Choose lean protein sources like poultry, fish, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Highly processed or fatty protein sources might come with other health risks.
7. Physical Activity
Individuals engaged in intense workouts or high levels of physical activity might require higher protein intake to support muscle recovery and growth.
Remember, balance is key in any diet. Focus on a well-rounded, varied, and nutrient-dense diet that meets your individual needs and goals. By including a diverse range of protein sources, you can ensure that your body receives all the essential amino acids it needs for optimal function.