All Things Protein

Posted on March 26th, 2019

Ah, protein, the current king of nutrition. What once was just the focus for athletes and bodybuilders it is now a family focus when it comes to mealtime. With good reasoning, protein should make up about a third of your calories each day.

Protein is one of the three macronutrients we consume. Macronutrients or ‘macros’ as you may be familiar are the three major nutrient groups that we use categorize foods (carbohydrates, protein, and fat). In a balanced approach to nutrition about 45-50% of calories should be coming from high-quality carbohydrates, about 30% from protein, and the last 20-ish% from healthier fats. If at least a third of what we eat needs to be from protein then just what is it that it does? I like to refer to protein as the ‘building blocks’ for our bodies. Protein plays so many different roles in our health but muscle growth and repair, tissue health and growth (think skin, hair, and nails), hormone production, assisting with enzyme processes, immunity, and satiety top the list.

With all that being said protein sources matter. While it is obviously important that we all need enough protein every day to ensure we can do all the above-listed functions it’s also an opportunity for us to provide our bodies with other nutritious elements found in some high protein foods. Making variety key to ensuring a well-balanced diet. Most protein will fall under one of these main categories:

  • Seafood
  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Beans and Legumes
  • Soy

Even if you didn’t eat meat getting ‘enough’ protein each day is possible with strategic planning using vegetable sources. We all can benefit from incorporating more plant-based proteins in our diet as they add additional vitamins, minerals, and fiber and cut back on the saturated fats and calories. When we are opting for non-plant based proteins we should be choosing ‘lean’ choices most of the time. Lean choices will always include seafood, skinless poultry, and beef and pork cuts ending in the words –loin and –round. Ground meats can also be included when you purchase at least a 92% lean option. So feel confident in branching out beyond a plain chicken breast when it comes to filling your plate with lean protein!

When working with lean options there are some techniques you can use with preparation to keeping them tender, moist, flavorful, and most of all lean.

  • Opt for baking, braising, poaching, grilling, and roasting for cook methods that don’t add a lot of extra fats.
  • Tenderize your meats before cooking with marinade or use a meat mallet
  • Go low on the heat and cook it a little longer. I like to start with a hotter heat initially to sear meat then quickly drop the temperature for the remaining cook time. This works great using a cast iron skillet where you can start on a grill or stovetop then after searing placing the skillet and meat in the oven to finish cooking.
  • Use a meat thermometer to reach the perfect temperature. Undercooked meats can be chewy while overcooked can be tough and dry.
  • Cut against the grain when serving or eating.

Serving sizes are the last big piece of the puzzle when it comes to ‘getting enough’ protein. Most adults can get plenty of (or already get more than enough) protein by the foods they eat. A rough estimate is about 56 grams per day for men, 46 grams for women, and 71 grams for pregnant or nursing mothers.

55 grams of protein in a day looks a little something like this:

  • Breakfast – one individual cup of greek yogurt (17 grams)
  • Lunch – one egg (6 grams)
  • Snack – two tablespoons peanut butter (8 grams)
  • Dinner – three ounces of sirloin (24 grams)

*Example day only includes protein sources – additional foods and calories would be required

Some easy ways to roughly measure those ounces for your serving sizes is by using your hand or some common household items.

  • A serving of meat (poultry, pork, and beef) should be about the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards
  • A serving of fish should be about the length of your entire hand or the size of a checkbook (or a large smartphone)
  • A serving of peanut or other nut butters should be about the length of your thumb or a golf ball
  • A serving of cheese is about the size of your pointer finger
  • A serving of nuts or seeds is about the size of a slightly cupped palm of your hand
  • A serving of beans or legumes is about the size of the palm of your hand or a tennis ball

What are some of my favorite protein choices?

Salmon

Chicken Tenderloins

Tuna Chunk Light in Water

Sargento Balanced Breaks

FairLife Milk

Eggs

Dr. Praeger’s Burgers

Kodiak Cakes

Beans

Nuts

Lentils

KIND bars

Peanut butter

Quaker Protein Oatmeal

Lenny & Larry Complete Cookie

 

Heather Steele, RD/LD is a registered dietitian and loves to garden, cook, and ride her bike! Heather is Reasor’s corporate dietitian offers a variety of services including store tours and corporate wellness.
Information included does not constitute medical advice and should only be used as a general recommendation for a healthy, balanced diet and lifestyle. Reasor’s Registered Dietitians’ opinions and recommendations are their own; they are not paid to endorse any products or services.