We’ve all heard of protein and know that it’s an essential part of a balanced diet. But what exactly is it and what’s protein-rich food?
We tell you all you need to know in this article explaining the importance of protein and listing some valuable protein food sources.
What is protein-rich food?
The first thing to understand is what protein actually is. Protein is a compound made up of chains of amino acids. These amino acids help create muscle, bone, hormones and enzymes in the human body. Your body also uses these amino acids as a source of energy.
Your body can make some amino acids (non-essential amino acids) but there are others that can only be sourced from your diet (essential amino acids).
Protein-rich food contains high levels of these essential amino acids.
What is the nutritional value of a protein-rich diet?
If a diet is protein-rich, then it contains a high level of these essential amino acids.
It’s worth knowing that different types of food contain different amounts of amino acids. Animal products, that is meat, fish and dairy products, contain all the essential amino acids. This is also true of some plant-based foods, for example, soy, amaranth seed and quinoa.
While plant proteins like whole grains, beans, lentils and nuts contain many amino acids, each of them lacks at least one. This makes it important for vegetarians and vegans to eat a wide range of plant proteins to get the full complement of essential amino acids.
How much protein should I have per meal?
Because the human body can’t store protein, it’s advised to eat small amounts of it at every meal.
The Australian government’s Better Health website says that men aged 19 to 50 should have three serves per day of lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, legumes or beans, and two and a half servings per day of milk, yogurt and cheese. Women are recommended to consume two and a half serves per day for both categories.
A serve refers to standard serving size, so for example 65g of cooked lean meat, 80g of cooked lean poultry, two large eggs, 200g of yogurt or 40g of hard cheese.
How do I incorporate protein into my meals?
There are lots of different ways to introduce more protein into your daily meals. Try some of these easy ideas:
• Add ricotta cheese to scrambled eggs or pasta.
• Sprinkle nuts or seeds over salads and vegetable dishes.
• Add beans or lentils to soups and casseroles.
• Serve hummus and crunchy vegetable sticks as a side dish.
• Add Greek yogurt to breakfast cereal or serve with fresh fruit for a healthy dessert.
• Include halved hard-boiled eggs in salads or incorporate eggs into pasta sauces such as carbonara.
Top 5 meat sources high in protein
Many types of meat make great protein food sources. Here are the top five for you to consider:
• Grilled chicken is a delicious source of protein, with 32g available in every 100g.
• Turkey contains the same amount of protein per gram as chicken, making it a tasty alternative.
• Lean grilled beef is packed with protein with 31g per 100g.
• You’ll also find 31g of protein per 100g in a lean grilled pork chop.
• Lamb contains 29g of protein per 100g.
Top 5 vegetable sources high in protein
High protein vegetarian foods based on vegetables include:
• Spinach, which you can easily add to pasta dishes and soups, has 49g of protein per 100g.
• Kale contains 45g of protein per 100g and can be eaten raw in salads or thrown into a tasty stir fry.
• Broccoli has roughly the same protein content as kale. It’s a nutritious addition to quiches and stir-fries or can be served steamed as a side dish.
• Cauliflower contains 40g of protein per 100g. Use it in south Asian-inspired recipes or in dishes like cauliflower cheese.
• You’ll find 38g of protein per 100g of mushrooms, making them a fantastic and versatile source of this nutrient.
Top 5 vegan sources high in protein
Vegans can get their protein fix from the following sources:
• You’ll find an incredible 57g of protein per 100g in spirulina. It’s a type of algae that’s used in health supplements and is packed with vitamins, minerals as well as protein.
• Legumes are also a fantastic source of protein for vegans. You’ll find 20g of protein per 100g of chickpeas, for example.
• A 100g serving of fried tofu will yield 19g of protein. This meat substitute made from soy milk is also packed with essential minerals like calcium.
• 100g of cooked quinoa will give you 4.4g of protein. This grain also provides all nine essential amino acids.
• Use soy milk in hot drinks, cooking and on cereal as an easy way to add protein to your diet. You’ll find 2.4g of protein per 100ml.
Top 5 fruit sources high in protein
Certain fruits have a high protein content too. Here are our top five:
• Guavas top the list with 2.6g of protein per 100g.
• Avocados offer 2g of protein per 100g.
• You’ll find 1.4g of protein per 100g in apricots.
• There’s the same amount of protein found in delicious blackberries.
• Kiwi fruits offer 1.1g of protein per 100g.
Benefits of a high protein diet with regular exercise
Combining a high protein diet with regular exercise is a great way to keep healthy for all age groups.
If you’re trying to lose weight, protein will make you feel fuller for longer while regular exercise will help burn more calories.
The increased protein intake will also make you feel more energetic, so it becomes easier to fulfil your fitness goals.
Combining higher protein intake with strength and aerobic training is a great way for older adults to increase strength and counteract frailty.
Can you have too much protein in your diet?
If you are increasing the amount of protein in your diet, you need to be aware that it will increase the workload of the kidneys as they filter the waste compounds associated with it.
This should not be an issue for healthy people, but if you have been diagnosed with kidney disease, it may cause complications.
If you are in any doubt, it’s best to consult your doctor.
But for healthy individuals, eating a high protein diet should not pose a risk to your health.
In fact, you will likely find that increasing protein-rich food in your diet serves to enhance your health and vitality.