Proteins are molecules that our bodies need to function. They are made up of smaller components called amino acids. Our bodies make some proteins, but a few (called essential amino acids) only come from food.
It's important to eat a variety of protein-containing foods so your body gets all of the essential amino acids it needs to keep you alive.
Sources of protein in your diet
You get protein from many different foods, including meat, eggs, seafood, dairy products and plant-based foods. While all of these foods provide you with healthy proteins, some are better for you than others.
For example, full-fat dairy products and some cuts of meat contain a lot of saturated fat. Eating too much saturated fat will raise your cholesterol, increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Processed meats are another source of protein that you should eat in moderation because they contain high amounts of sodium. Too much sodium in your diet can raise your blood pressure and cause heart disease. Some processed meats are also high in saturated fat.
To improve your health, cut back on these foods, and load your diet with healthier protein-containing foods.
Healthier sources of protein
Getting more healthy protein in your diet starts with knowing which foods are healthy sources of protein. Healthy sources include:
- chicken (skinless)
- nuts (unsalted)
- reduced-fat dairy
- soy-based products like tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy nuts and edamame
- turkey (skinless)
Build these foods into a well-balanced diet plan that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
Look for ways to get a little bit of healthy protein in each meal. For example, eat one egg and fruit or oatmeal with nuts for breakfast, a salad with beans for lunch, and a piece of skinless chicken breast with veggies for dinner.
- Choose the leanest cuts of red meats to cut back on saturated fat.
- Only eat egg whites if you're concerned about the cholesterol in egg yolks—egg whites contain no cholesterol.
- Animal sources of protein provide all of the essential amino acids we need, but plant-based sources lack one or more amino acid. For this reason, vegetarians and vegans must be sure to eat a variety of protein-containing foods for optimal health.
To learn the recommended daily amounts of protein based on your gender and age, go to ChooseMyPlate.gov.
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