Determining the nutritional value of certain foods can be a tricky business. Many foods can be enjoyed in moderation, and labeling them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ might lead to negative connotations. In addition, food labels change from time to time as nutritionists and doctors learn more about nutrition and revise their opinions on certain items.
One food type that has remained off the bad foods radar for quite some time is protein. Protein sources are largely touted as the be-all and end-all in nutrition. But even seemingly infallible protein should be eaten in moderation, and even then only if the right sources of protein are selected.
Protein is an essential building block of good nutrition that is found throughout the body and makes up the enzymes that power many chemical reactions. Protein helps fuel the hemoglobin in the blood that carries oxygen throughout the body.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day (or 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. Physicians in the United States recommend a daily protein allowance of 46 grams for women over the age of 19 and 56 grams for men. Too often, however, people are overloading on protein because they think it’s a better option than carbohydrates and other food sources. But not all protein is the same.
Protein that comes from animal sources offer all of the amino acids a body needs. Unfortunately, some animal sources are less healthy than others. That’s because animal-based protein sources also contain saturated fat. Consuming too much saturated fat may contribute to elevated levels of LDL, or ‘bad,’ cholesterol in the blood. LDL may lead to the formation of plaque in arteries that limits blood flow and may be a risk factor for heart disease. Fatty red meats and whole-milk products tend to contain more saturated fat than other protein sources.
The key when consuming protein is to find the right balance in protein sources. Fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds may offer many of the required essential amino acids. The rest can be obtained by choosing smarter animal-based protein sources. Salmon and other fatty fish are good sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids (heart-healthy fats) and are generally low in sodium. Lentils offer 18 grams of protein and ample fiber. Plus, these legumes have virtually no saturated fat.
When looking for healthy protein sources, consumers can opt for the following selections.
- Salmon: Wild salmon may have greater nutritional value than farmed salmon thanks to the more diversified diet consumed by wild salmon.
- Chicken: Chicken is generally lower in saturated fat than other animal protein sources. Opt for pasture-raised chicken for the greatest nutritional punch.
- Greek yogurt: Greek yogurt provides ample protein and can contribute to feelings of fullness, making it a more worthy snack than less healthy snacking alternatives.
- Shellfish: Shellfish includes clams, oysters, mussels, and snails. Shellfish are sources of animal protein that also happen to be full of iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients.
Variety is the spice of life when it comes to protein sources. Eat different foods to ensure the body gets all of the nutrients it requires.