Protein may have gotten a bad rap in more recent years due to low-carb, high-protein diets. Some of those diets boasted that you could eat all the bacon, sausage, or steak you wanted and still lose weight. We now look at that behavior as wildly unhealthy. In fact, earlier this summer research published suggesting that low-carb diets are linked to heart disease. Protein is actually a very valuable nutrient, you should just be sure to recognize the difference between a healthy lean protein and a processed or fatty animal source.
Why is protein so important? Madelyn Fernstrom is a TODAY contributor and the director of the Weight Management Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. She has explained that protein is one of the big three macronutrients; carbohydrates and fats are the other two. Protein is essential for maintaining the body’s muscle mass and its normal growth. Furthermore, protein is vital in maintaining a healthy immune system, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system.
It can be confusing to know how much protein one should eat, but most physicians all agree that about 10-15 percent of your daily calories should come from protein. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, 200 of those should be from protein. That also breaks down to about 50 grams. Another way to calculate your body’s need for protein is by taking your weight, divide it in half, and subtract 10. The total will equal the number of grams of protein you should consume in a day. A 150-pound person should eat about 65 grams of protein every day.
So, we know why protein is important and we know how much we should eat. Now, from which sources should we eat it? That’s always up for debate. However, the American Heart Association recommends that all protein options be lean meats (chicken, turkey, fish) or low-fat dairy (skim milk, cottage cheese, yogurt). They also endorse the use of vegetarian options like legumes.
Below are some surprising vegetarian sources of protein, which will not only add more of this essential nutrient to your diet, but help you boost the whole grains and greens. While these are healthy plant-based protein options, they are not considered complete proteins (except soy).
- Dried spirulina seaweed contains nearly 9 grams of protein per 1 cup serving
- Oatmeal contains 6 grams of protein per 1 cup cooked
- Brown Rice contains 5 grams per 1 cup cooked
- Spinach contains 5 grams of protein per 1 cup cooked
- Baked Potatoes (medium size with skin) contain 4.5 grams of protein
- Peas contain 4.5 grams per ½ cup serving
- Broccoli contains 4 grams per 1 cup cooked
- Soy is another great source of protein. Soy milk, tofu, and soybeans contain about 10-25 grams of protein per serving
- Dry roasted edamame is a huge powerhouse. 14 grams of protein per ¼ cup serving
- Beans and legumes are great, but for those on the go, dry roasted chickpeas are a better choice. Those contain 7 grams of protein per ¼ cup serving.
Quality, healthy protein is out there. Don’t believe it only comes in the form of greasy or processed meat, it’s actually all around us.
peas image via BigStockPhoto.com