Part 1 | Sources of Protein
Along with carbohydrates and fat, protein is one of the essential nutrients needed by the body. When we eat protein, it is digested and broken down into individual amino acids. These are the building blocks our body uses to, among other things, build muscle tissue, boost our immune system, and strengthen bones. Some of these amino acid building blocks are essential, which means that our body MUST get them from eating protein-rich foods. Other, non-essential amino acids can be made internally as needed. All of this means that we need to eat a certain amount of protein at each meal. But what type of protein and how much do you need? There can be confusion surrounding good sources of protein, incorporating protein into the diet throughout the day, and consuming the appropriate amount with respect to the other essential nutrients (carbohydrates and fats). This three-part series on protein will help break down each of these areas in order to help guide you toward ideal protein consumption.
The Different Sources of Protein
The first area to address is the different sources of protein. Protein can be broken down into two categories, plant protein and animal protein. Plant protein comes from non-animal sources – foods like lentils, seeds, nuts, beans, and whole grains. Plant protein is considered an “incomplete” protein source because it does not contain all of the essential amino acids our bodies need. Therefore, if you are only consuming plant sources of protein you need to ensure to properly combine your plant-based protein sources to create a “complete” protein source. For example, beans and rice are both considered incomplete protein sources, however when consumed together they contain all of the essential amino acids and therefore become a source of complete protein for the body.
The second category of protein is animal protein – foods like dairy, meat, eggs, seafood, and poultry. Protein from these animal sources is considered a complete source of protein because since these foods contain all of the essential amino acids needed by the body.
Dairy – A Protein Powerhouse
When we think of incorporating protein into our diet, we sometimes overlook the fact that dairy foods not only contain a significant amount of protein, but also that dairy foods offer one of the highest quality sources of protein available. A single cup of milk contains 8 grams of protein. 1 cup of Greek yogurt can contain as much as 25 grams of protein! Incorporating dairy into your diet is a great way to boost overall protein intake. Plus, dairy protein can fit with a vegetarian lifestyle and dairy foods are extremely versatile. Check out this website for great information on sources of dairy and this website for even more information on protein!
Next Up: Part 2 | Protein Throughout the Day