When many of us think protein, we may think of a slab of steak. However, there are many lean and vegetarian sources of protein that you can turn to instead. Learn more about the importance of protein and how you can make sure you’re getting enough throughout the day.
Protein is essential for several bodily functions. In fact, it accounts for 20% of our body weight and helps us synthesize enzymes, hormones and important cellular structures. It also helps us with fluid balance and with building antibodies that guard against infection. Without proper protein we wouldn’t survive.
Protein also helps us feel full after a meal. People who don’t eat enough protein may actually eat more food and still have an appetite afterwards.
What Exactly Is Protein?
Proteins are complex molecules that are comprised of a combination of different amino acids, which are important building blocks that your body uses to build important structures, like healthy cells, enzymes, antibodies and muscle. It’s also an important source of energy for the body. One gram of protein provides 4 calories of energy.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
The US Department of Agriculture recommends that all men and women over the age of 19 should get at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (or 0.37 grams per pound). That means a woman who is 130 pounds should get at least 48 grams of protein, which could look like 7 ounces of salmon or 7 eggs. However, that’s the bare minimum requirement. Depending on your daily activities, you still may not be getting enough.
If you get too little protein, you can suffer from fatigue, weakness or muscle loss. Your metabolism slows down and you put yourself at risk of gaining weight. It also weakens your immune system.
That’s why everyone should have at least 25 grams of protein at every meal. That’s 75 grams per day.
What Are Good Sources of Protein?
When you think of good sources of protein, images of steak, chicken breasts, tofu or raw eggs may come to mind. However, there are many surprisingly good sources of protein in the grocery store that you can use to easily get 25 grams of protein at every meal.
For example, in the produce aisle, baked potatoes are decent sources of protein. A medium-sized potato will pack around five grams, but make sure to eat it with the skin on.
If meat is on your shopping list, you may want to try buying bison, which has a whopping 20 grams of protein per 3 ounce serving. It’s also much leaner than beef but tastes similar.
In the dairy aisle, while Greek yogurt is a good source of protein, cottage cheese is actually a better choice! There’s 28 grams of protein in just 1 cup.
If you’re looking for a protein-packed grain, quinoa should be your choice. There’s 4 grams of protein in every half cup. It’s great for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
For other protein recipe ideas, check out our super-protein recipes.