Protein is a nutrient found in many types of foods. It is vital for life. Anytime your body is growing or repairing itself, protein is needed. How much protein you need depends on several factors — including age, sex, health status, and activity level. The body needs a regular supply of protein to make and repair cells. In addition to muscles, other body tissues are primarily made from protein, like organs, hair, and eyes. Protein also helps to fight infection; carry fats, vitamins, and oxygen around the body; build and contract muscles; keep body fluids in balance; and clot blood.
Foods that Contain Protein –Protein can be found in both animal and plant-based foods. Some sources of protein are considered better choices than others due to their influence on heart health. Eating plans that include low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry, fish, beans, lentils, and soy foods such as tofu and tempeh may help improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Here are some nutritious protein food options:
¨ Meat, poultry, and eggs: lean cuts of beef, lamb, goat, pork loin, and poultry
¨ Fish and seafood: salmon, tuna, cod, shrimp, mackerel, lobster, catfish, crab
¨ Low-fat or fat-free dairy foods: yogurt, milk, cheese, cottage cheese
¨ Legumes: beans, split peas, lentils, soy
¨ Nuts and seeds: walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, cashews, and peanuts
Foods rich in protein may also be high in saturated fat. High intakes of saturated fat may increase risk for heart disease. Limit protein foods that are high in saturated fats, such as breaded and fried protein options, bacon, chorizo sausage, hot dogs, organ meats, processed meats, sausage, spareribs, and whole fat dairy products.
Getting the Right Amount of Protein Women need a minimum of 46 grams per day and men need a minimum of 56 grams per day. Aside from commonly known protein sources such as meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, peanut butter, nuts, and seeds, protein is also available in whole grain foods and dairy products. Most Americans get enough protein overall; however, including fish, beans, and legumes (lentils and split peas) more often in place of other protein foods is important for protein variety. Individuals who have certain medical conditions may need more protein. Talk with your registered dietitian if you need guidance on how much protein you need.
Adapted from Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2020.