Protein brings many health benefits. It keeps us feeling full so we don’t consume as many calories. It also helps us to burn more fat. It helps to strengthen bones and maintain muscle. Studies have shown that protein consumption can lead to better cognitive function. When most people think of protein they associate it with meat, it pays to remember that healthy diets are based on healthy foods, and some of those foods should contain protein. It’s easy to get the message that “protein” equals “meat,” but there are other foods you can and should eat that contain this key nutrient (see “Protein: Meat and more”). Here are some suggestions to guide your choices:
- Choose protein sources low in saturated fat. Also avoid highly processed carbohydrates.
- Protein powders and shakes provide amino acids but offer limited nutritional value. Ready-to-drink shakes may also contain added sugar and other caloric sweeteners, so make sure to read the nutrition label.
- Unless you are a bodybuilder, you don’t really need an extra boost of protein before a strength training workout. The cur-rent 15% protein intake of the average American male, combined with regular exercise, is sufficient to maintain muscle.
Beans are a great source of protein, don’t forget: Peas, lentils, black beans, and lima beans, they contain between seven to nine grams per half cup servings. Leafy greens such as spinach and kale are surprising sources of the nutrient too. Other green vegetables that contain protein are sprouts, broccoli, artichokes, brussel sprouts, asparagus and avocado.
Peanuts or peanut butter do contain high levels of protein, however, the sugar in many packaged varieties of peanut butter can offset the nutritional value of peanuts. Other nuts that have a lot of protein are almonds and cashews. Grains can also be a good source of protein, such as wild rice and oats. And some little considered foods with protein include mushrooms, tofu, and pumpkin seeds.
These above foods also have other nutritional value besides just protein. Combined with other foods, it can lead to a balanced diet to promote whole body health.