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The Superpowers of Protein

What nutrient plays an important role in our body, serves as building blocks for our muscles, bones, cartilage, and skin, repairs tissue, helps digest the foods we eat and so much more? Any guesses? It's protein! This wonderful nutrient is such an important source of energy for our body and can be found in a variety of foods and meals you can make together! Want to find out how? Keep reading below!

So what exactly is a protein? Proteins are long chains of amino acids and one of the three main macronutrients alongside carbohydrates and fat. They play a critical role in our body and help with the structure, function, and regulation of the organs and tissues within us. There are about 20 different types of amino acids (9 of them essential amino acids) and the sequence of these amino acids helps determine the protein's structure and function. Protein is especially needed during periods of growth such as in infancy and childhood. About 10-35% of your calories should come from protein(2).

Protein is involved in so many different functions throughout our body. Some of these include(3)

  • Helps build our bones, muscles, skin, and more!

  • Repairs tissue (not the one we blow our nose into!)

  • Helps our blood cells carry oxygen throughout our body

  • Aids in digesting our food

  • Works to help build our organs

The question then is, what are some protein-dense foods? Well the good news is there's a variety of options, both plant and animal based!

The animal-based options include(4)

  1. Chicken breast: 31 grams of protein per 100 grams

  2. Turkey breast: 29 grams of protein per 100 grams

  3. Beef: 26 grams of protein per 100 grams

  4. Pork: 26 grams of protein per 100 grams

  5. Fish (salmon, tuna, etc.): 20-25 grams of protein per 100 grams

  6. Eggs: 13 grams of protein per 100 grams

  7. Milk: 3.4 grams of protein per 100 grams

  8. Cheese: 25 grams of protein per 100 grams

  9. Greek yogurt: 10 grams of protein per 100 grams


Nutrient-dense examples of these include skinless chicken and turkey, salmon, low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese,and more(4).

While-animal based options are a more complete source of protein(2), there are multiple plant-based options as well which include (4)

  1. Lentils: 9 grams of protein per 100 grams

  2. Chickpeas: 8 grams of protein per 100 grams

  3. Tofu: 8 grams of protein per 100 grams

  4. Quinoa: 4 grams of protein per 100 grams

  5. Nuts (almonds, peanuts, cashews, etc.): 15-25 grams of protein per 100 grams

  6. Seeds (chia, flax, pumpkin, etc.): 16-35 grams of protein per 100 grams

  7. Soy milk: 3.3 grams of protein per 100 grams

  8. Whole grain bread: 8-10 grams of protein per 100 grams

  9. Spinach: 3 grams of protein per 100 grams

It's worth noting that plant-based sources of protein are often lower in protein per 100 grams than animal-based sources. However, plant-based sources can be combined to create complete proteins and still provide all of the essential amino acids. Additionally, plant-based sources of protein tend to be lower in saturated fat and higher in fiber and other nutrients compared to animal-based sources.


If we don't eat enough protein we may feel weak or tired, our body can lose muscle mass and we may stay sick longer with a weakened immune system(5). Additionally, we can experience hair, skin, and nail problems, slower healing injuries, and more(6)! So it's important that everyone eats an adequate amount of protein!

There are multiple ways you can easily add more protein to snacks and meals! Below are some examples!

  1. Add cheese to crackers or as a side snack

  2. Top fruit with peanut butter

  3. Top meals with choice of nuts or seeds (in a salad)

  4. Use of dips such as hummus

Here are some fun snack ideas you can make with your family! We hope you find new and fun ways to include protein in your meals! Happy cooking :)


Sources

About the Author: Saba Nadeem is a dietetic intern and a Masters student at the University of Illinois at Chicago earning a degree in the Coordinated Nutrition/Dietetics Program.


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