Proteins are long chains of amino acids that are essential for all of our body’s processes. Amino acids work to build up, break down, transport, and store nutrients throughout our body. The body can make some amino acids on its own, but it needs to get the others from food. These amino acids are called essential amino acids, because they are essential to our diet. Certain foods contain all of the essential amino acids we need. These are known as Complete Proteins. Other foods give us essential amino acids when they are paired together. These are called Incomplete Proteins.
Animal meat complete protein options:
- Grass-fedbeef, grass-fed lamb, pasture-raised pork,
bison, venison, elk (if grass-fed isn’t an option, look for organic)
- Pasture-raised or organic chicken, eggs, duck, and turkey
- Wild-caught fish – salmon, tuna, white fish, etc. As long as the package says wild-caught!
- Dairy products like yogurt, kefir, and raw cheeses! Make sure to avoid products with added sugars. We love raw/unpasteurized dairy foods.Though raw dairy is not as common or easy to get, it contains more nutrients, vitamins and protein then pasteurized dairy. If raw is not an option, choose organic! There are many farms in our area that provide amazing raw dairy products. We personally love freedomlivingacres.com. Visit www.westonaprice.org to read more on the benefits of consuming raw dairy.
Non-animal meat complete protein options:
- Hemp seeds – we love putting this on top of our smoothies!
- Spirulina – this is great in smoothies!
Incomplete Proteins are foods that are high in protein but do not have all of the essential amino acids our bodies need. This is where food pairing comes in. By combining certain foods, we can create a complete protein. Combine any of the options in categories A and B to create a complete protein!
A: Legumes, Fruits or Vegetables
B: Nuts, Grains or Seeds
Legumes are vegetables like peas, beans, and lentils. We love lentils, chickpeas, black beans, and pinto beans!
Seeds with high protein (but not complete protein) are flaxseed, chia seed, and pumpkin seeds! Add flaxseed and chia seed to salads or smoothies.
Vegetables with high protein are green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, broccoli, and brussell sprouts.
Some ideas for pairing foods to create a complete protein!
- A handful of any kind of nut and a piece of fruit. Walnuts, almonds,and cashews are great choices – We love green apples because they have lower sugar content, berries because of how colorful they are, and citrus fruits for vitamin c.
- A greens salad for lunch sprinkled with nuts and seeds.
- Rice and beans – this is a simple and delicious combination. Add in veggies, salsa, and guacamole and you have just created your own veggie bowl!
- Nut butter, such as almond butter or cashew butter, spread onto cucumbers or celery sticks
The benefits of eating protein:
- Boosts muscle mass
- Helps manage weight by filling you up
- Stabilizes blood sugar levels
- Improves mood
- Promotes healthy brain function and learning
- Help maintain strong bones
- Protect heart health
- Slow aging and promote longevity
How much protein should I eat?
We all need a different level of protein-based on our needs. Age, gender, body weight, and exercise/activity level all play a role in how much protein is best for you. According to the USDA, the recommended daily intake of protein for adults who are at an average weight and activity level is a minimum of:
- 56 grams per day for men
- 46 grams per day for women more when pregnant about 70 to 100g
You can also make sure 30 percent of your plate a high-quality source of protein at every meal. This ensures you eat enough throughout the day to meet your needs and prevents you from overeating carbs and junk foods.
It’s best to eat small amounts of protein throughout the day. This gives your body the right amount of protein it needs at any given time since only so much can be utilized at once (the rest will be stored as fat or eliminated). Because your body cannot store protein, eating it throughout the day is the surest way to balance your blood sugar levels, ward off hunger, and support your metabolism.
Examples of about how much protein (in grams) is in some of our daily foods
- ¼ cup of quinoa is 45 grams of protein
- 4 ounces of chicken contains about 30 grams of protein
- one large cooked egg has 6 grams of protein
- 4 ounces of salmon contains about 25 grams of protein
- one cup of tempeh has about 30 grams of protein
- 4 ounces of beef contains about 30 grams of protein
- ½ cup of walnuts has about 6 grams of protein
- ½ cup of almonds contain about 10 grams of protein
- 1 cup of brown rice contains about 5 grams of protein
- ½ cup of chickpeas contain about 20 grams of protein
- 1 cup of kefir has about 8 grams of protein