There are plenty of quick and easy ways to add more protein to your plate.
Though it's a crucial component in plenty of bodybuilding and weight loss diets, the benefits of protein are about more than just looking good. Especially as you age, this macronutrient plays an important role in maintaining the best possible quality of life.
You may not think about it, but every cell in your body contains protein. The human body uses it to maintain hormones, antibodies, muscles, and bones, and to build new cells and repair old ones. Protein helps keep you strong and healthy, and because it's digested slowly, it can also help to curb hunger. That's good news if you're looking to shed a few pounds.
This macronutrient is found in plenty of foods, including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, beans, tofu, and dairy. The digestive system breaks down whole protein into amino acids, which are then reorganized to manufacture thousands of different proteins that help to keep your body working at its best.
The many sources of protein can typically be organized into two types. Complete proteins contain all the amino acids your body needs to build a usable form of the nutrient, while incomplete ones do not. Generally, animal products like meat and eggs provide complete protein, while plants products are an incomplete source. Plant foods like quinoa, soy, and buckwheat are exceptions to that rule, making them great choices for vegetarians, vegans, or anyone looking to follow a plant-based diet.
Losing muscle can make it difficult to do things that used to come easily, like carrying groceries or walking the dog, and a great way to preserve your strength is by getting the right amount of protein in your diet—but how much you need can change with your age. Most younger women only require about 46 grams per day, while younger men need roughly 56 grams, but as years go by and we begin to lose muscle mass, those numbers may not be sufficient and you may need to increase your intake beyond the daily recommended amounts. Talk with your doctor about your diet and activity levels to determine how much protein you should be getting on a daily basis.
If you're like most people, you probably get very little protein at breakfast, even less at lunch, and the majority at dinner. Even though that might supply enough of the nutrient throughout the day, it may not be the most efficient way to get it. Your body can't store protein, so eating 20 to 30 grams at each meal is a good way to maximize the nutritional benefits. That might look like a cup of low-fat cottage cheese with walnuts and fruit for breakfast, a tuna sandwich at lunch, a cup of black bean soup for an afternoon snack, and a piece of grilled chicken for dinner.
Getting sufficient, high-quality protein is a great way to look great, feel healthy, and continue enjoying a full life for years to come.
By Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D.N.
WebMD, The Benefits of Protein
WebMD, Foods That Curb Hunger
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, The Nutrition Source, Protein
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Protein
Mayo Clinic, Are you getting too much protein?
These articles are not a substitute for medical advice, and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise, or medication regime.