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Protein Healthy Amounts, Healthy Sources

Posted Aug 11 2008 9:01pm


Found in every cell of your body, protein is essential to life. It builds and maintains muscles, bones, skin, and other tissues. It regulates basic processes like metabolism and digestion. Protein is one of life’s basic building blocks.

Eat a Healthy Amount

Rice and beans, an excellent source of protein

According to the USDA and the Mayo Clinic, we need about 50 grams of protein a day. Most Americans, in contrast, eat about 100 grams of protein per day — twice the recommended amount. That’s much more than our bodies need.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “almost any reasonable diet will give you enough protein each day.”

The American Heart Association, the National Cholesterol Education Program, and the American Cancer Society all recommend that only 10% to 15% of your daily calories come from protein.

A diet rich in animal protein is also high in artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol. The level of saturated fat in the typical American diet puts us at an increased risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and several types of cancer.

Start eating healthier by cutting back on your meat intake. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan recommends the following:

  • If you now eat large portions of meat, cut them back gradually—by a half or a third at each meal.
  • Include two or more vegetarian-style (meatless) meals each week.
  • Increase servings of vegetables, rice, pasta, and dry beans in meals.
  • Limit meat to six ounces a day. A deck of cards is equivalent to three or four ounces.
  • Treat meat as one part of the whole meal, instead of the focus.

Healthy Protein Sources
The most significant dietary sources of protein include legumes, meat, dairy products, nuts and seeds.

Meatless Monday recommends fish as a healthy source of protein: a portion of fish contains all the protein in the same portion of poultry or meat, with fewer calories and much less saturated fat. To learn more, read our article, Fishing for Answers.

The table lists a few other healthy options that pack a powerful protein punch.

Protein molecules are made up of 22 amino acids, all of which we need, but only nine of which our bodies can not produce.  Foods that contain all nine of these “essential” amino acids are called complete proteins. Most meats are complete proteins. Many meatless meals provide complete proteins by pairing foods:

  • Hummus and pita
  • Rice and beans
  • Almost any legume-whole grain pair
  • Trail mix
  • Yogurt with granola
  • Peanut butter on whole wheat bread or rice cakes
  • Lentil soup and a roll
  • Vegetarian chili with corn bread
  • Tofu-vegetable stir fry over rice or pasta

To get the full dietary benefit of complete proteins, you don’t have to eat different sources at the same meal, but do try to eat them within one to two days.

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