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Elements of a Healthy Diet - Healthy Protein Sources

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Photo: Body-building essentials - Your body needs protein for growth and repair: the healthiest sources include low-fat options such as fish, white-meat poultry, and legumes. © Provided by DKBooks Body-building essentials - Your body needs protein for growth and repair: the healthiest sources include low-fat options such as fish, white-meat poultry, and legumes.

Body-building essentials - Your body needs protein for growth and repair: the healthiest sources include low-fat options such as fish, white-meat poultry, and legumes.

Healthy Protein Sources

Protein deficiency is rare, so the focus is now on fat content.

Protein is an essential nutrient that we must obtain from food every day, as it is not stored by the body. Deficiency is rare in North America, since protein is readily available.

For most Americans, protein is regarded as the basis of at least one meal a day, and this is usually more than enough to meet the recommended daily requirements.

For vegetarians, meat is not an option and they look to plant sources for their daily protein. Here, too, there is a wide variety to choose from, including all the different types of legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), as well as a huge variety of nuts and seeds. Unlike animal protein, most plant sources do not contain all the amino acids that make up protein, and they have to be combined to form complete protein . One of the exceptions is soy, which not only contains twice as much protein as other legumes, but has nearly as many amino acids as animal proteins.

Protein is also found in milk, cheese, and bread, as well as in the foods described here.

Choosing animal proteins

Animal sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish, as well as animal products such as eggs. Each of these can be further classified according to the type and amount of fat they contain. For example, red meats, such as beef, lamb, pork, and veal, are excellent sources of high-quality protein, but they also contain high levels of saturated fats and may raise blood levels of “bad” LDL-cholesterol. Because of the link between high dietary intake of saturated fat and the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other disorders, we strongly advise that you reduce your dietary intake of red meat in favor of fish, white-meat poultry, legumes, and other plant proteins.

Poultry is another good source of protein, but it varies in fat and cholesterol content depending on which parts of the bird are eaten and how it is prepared and served.

The benefits of eating fish

Fish is now regarded as one of the healthiest sources of animal protein . Oily fish, such as salmon and tuna, are highly recommended since they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Shellfish are also a good source of protein, in addition to being low in total fat.

Eggs and protein

These are a good source of complete protein as well as other essential nutrients . Since one egg contains about 210mg of cholesterol (mainly in the yolk), the American Heart Association recommends keeping track of how many eggs you eat and limiting egg yolks.

Plant-based proteins

Collectively known as legumes, peas, beans, and lentils are an important source of protein . Legumes are low in sodium and saturated fat and contain no cholesterol.

Nuts and seeds are also good sources of protein, and supply a useful range of vitamins, minerals, and healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

All plant proteins also have a high soluble-fiber content, which helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and prevent constipation.

What is a serving?

Two to three servings of protein sources are recommended per day, from foods of both plant and animal origin. Suggested servings include (meat and fish weights given are uncooked):

31/2oz (100g) red meat

31/2oz (100g) pork loin

31/2oz (100g) chicken breast

1/2oz cup chopped tofu

31/2oz (100g) turkey breast

31/2oz (100g) salmon (sockeye)

31/2oz (100g) sardines

31/2oz (100g) sea trout

31/2oz (100g) tuna

31/2oz (100g) shrimp, peeled

31/2oz (100g) lobster tail

31/2oz (100g) crab

2 medium eggs

1/2 cup soybeans, cooked

1/2 cup lentils, cooked

1/2 cup lima beans, cooked

1/2 cup kidney beans, cooked

3 tbsp sunflower seeds

3 tbsp macadamia nuts

3 tbsp almonds

4floz (120ml) low-fat cottage cheese

How much protein do you need?

Protein is essential for muscle and tissue repair, muscle growth, and regulation of metabolism. The amount you need to eat depends on your body weight and your health.

When you are sick or under stress, your body needs more protein as it uses energy to fight off what ails you. Your immune system depends on a constant supply of amino acids—the building blocks of protein. If you do not take in enough calories and proteins, you risk malnutrition and muscle wasting.

During pregnancy, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) increases by 30g per day and 20g per day when breast-feeding. Children need more protein than adults for growth. They need about 2.2g of protein per 2.2lb (1kg) of body weight every day in the first 6 months of life, and 2g per 2.2lb (1kg) for the next 6 months. A child’s RDA then gradually decreases throughout childhood and teenage years, until age 18, when it becomes 0.8g per 2.2lb (1kg) per day.

The protein needs for athletes vary according to body weight and the type of activity . Most athletes eat more protein than they need, believing it will help increase their muscle mass. But protein consumed in excess is either used as energy when carbohydrate and calorie intake is low or converted to fat.

Most people in the West eat far more protein than they need; deficiency is very rare. Some diets suggest eating extra protein to aid weight loss. Excess protein, however, has been linked with osteoporosis, kidney disease, and calcium stones in the kidneys.

How to calculate your daily protein needs

The government Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for dietary protein is calculated on ideal body weight (the average for your height and gender).

Adults need to eat 0.8g of protein per 2.2lb (1kg) of body weight each day. Therefore, a man who weighs 180lb (82kg) needs to consume about 65g of protein each day; and a woman who weighs 150lb (68kg) needs an intake of about 55g of protein each day.

However, growing children and adolescents and pregnant women require an increased amount of protein in their diet, .

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