High Protein Foods
Protein in Nutrition
Protein is an important part of a balanced diet, because it provides a person with essential amino acids that the human body cannot manufacture itself. The most recent recommendations prescribe that adult women should consume 46 grams of protein daily to avoid a deficiency, while adult men need at least 56 grams per day. Additional protein is needed for growing children, those who are pregnant, or preparing or recovering from illness, trauma, or surgery.
But what are the best sources of protein? The high-protein foods that give you the most bang for your buck (and calorie) are listed below.
Whey is a by-product of cheese production, separating from milk during curdling. It is one of the best food sources of protein, because of the high bioavailability to the body. Whey also helps regulate blood sugar levels, as it increases insulin secretion.
Whey has the highest BV (Biological Value) score of any protein source--a 100, meaning that 100% of the nitrogen in whey is absorbed by the body. Consequently, whey protein is a popular nutritional supplement, especially among bodybuilders as a post-workout snack. It is commonly available in powder form, to be blended into shakes and smoothies.
Eggs & Egg Whites
Eggs might seem small and insignificant, but they pack a protein punch! A whole egg receives a higher score on the BV scale than egg white alone, but many health-concious consumers prefer egg whites for other dietary concerns.
The average USA large egg white contains 4 grams of protein and only 20 calories. With only trace fat and no cholesterol, egg whites are a favorite among dieters and those at risk for heart disease. While egg whites do not receive a BV score equal to whey, they do score just as high on a different protein scale, the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), which measures protein quality based on the human body's amino acid requirements.
Soy, in its many forms, has long been touted by healthy-living enthusiasts for its many benefits. Soybeans are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help control blood sugar and cholesterol, as well as supporting the immune system.
It is a particularly good food source of protein, because they offer what is called a "complete protein profile." According to the FDA:
- Soybeans contain all the amino acids essential to human nutrition, which must be supplied in the diet because they cannot be synthesized by the human body.
Soy can be consumed its original bean form as edamame, stir-fried, roasted, or steamed. Soymilk and tofu, as well as soy protein powder, bars, chips, and meat-substitute products, which used to only be available in health food stores, now line supermarket shelves, making soy more accessible than ever to the average consumer.
Meat & Fish
Meat and fish are what most people think of when they hear the words "protein foods." In fact, in terms of the digestion and absorption of protein, they don't quite measure up to the standards set by whey, soy, and eggs. But while meat and fish may fall behind other sources of protein as far as bioavailability to the human body, but they're still not to be underestimated.
Meat, like soy, contains all of the essential amino acids, but contains less carbohydrates and no fiber, providing less complete nutrition than some of its protein-rich non-animal counterparts. Concerns over fat and cholesterol also encourage consumers to find other sources of protein.
Lean meats like chicken, turkey, and pork, as well as lean cuts of beef and less fatty types of fish are wiser dietary choices, since they contain less saturated fat, which has been linked not only to heart disease and diabetes, but to cancer and osteoporosis. Fish typically contains 20-25 grams of protein per 4-oz serving, while 4 ounces of meat generally provides 25-30 grams of protein.
What is your favorite source of protein?
Other Protein Foods
Foods that are not primarily considered protein can still contribute to your daily count. Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt can provide diversity from more traditional protein-rich foods. Whole grains like whole wheat pasta and brown rice have a much higher protein content than refined and white equivalents. Beans and legumes, as well as nuts, are also good sources.
As with fruits and vegetables, it's vital to eat a variety, not only to give your body the best nutrition possible, but also for your own sanity! You're more likely to get enough protein if you're not tired of eating it. Protein deficiency can have disastrous consequences for your health, and it's more common than you might think, especially among dieters. So however you get your protein, please get it!