January 27, 2020 | Abby Caviness
We all hear about protein and how important it is for our body, but have you ever stopped to wonder exactly how important it is? (We’ll give you a hint: it is essential.) In honor of National Protein Day, USHEALTH Group® is breaking down protein, how it functions, and what you can eat to get more of it!
What Exactly is a Protein?
Proteins are “long chains of amino acids that form the basis of all life.”1 Within the human body are approximately 100 trillion cells, all made up of thousands of different proteins. Proteins allow each cell to do its job in helping the body function properly.
The amino acids that make up proteins are organic molecules that consist of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sometimes sulfur. These molecules can arrange themselves into millions of different ways to create millions of different proteins, all of which have different functions.1
While proteins occur naturally in the body, we can also get protein from food. In these foods, there are three different types of protein: complete, incomplete, and complementary. Complete proteins found in meat, dairy, and eggs contain all the essential amino acids, while incomplete proteins found in plant foods contain at least one essential amino acid. Complementary proteins are in foods that can be combined to create a complete protein, such as rice and beans or bread and peanut butter.1
What Does Protein Do for Your Body?
Proteins are essential to the proper function of the human body. They are necessary for most biological processes in the human body, but their main functions are to build, strengthen, and repair or replace things within the body.1 Some important functions of protein include:2
- Providing energy to the body when you are running low on calories, carbs, and fats.
- Building muscles and keeping their size and shape
- Strengthening bones and helping you maintain your bone density
- Boosting your immune system
- Cutting cravings
- Burning fat by boosting your metabolism
- Helping lower your blood pressure and lowering your risk of heart disease
- Healing injuries by reducing inflammation and creating new tissue
- Carrying vitamins, minerals, sugars, cholesterol, and oxygen through your bloodstream to the cells and tissues that need them to work
Proteins also make up your hair and nails and are also the building blocks of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.2 Because it is such an integral part of the function of the body, you must make sure your body has large amounts of it to stay healthy.
What Foods Are Highest in Protein?
Including an ample amount of protein in your diet ensures your body has the right tools to function properly and stay healthy. Knowing which foods are high in protein will help you plan out your meals to harness the full benefit of protein. Twenty foods you should consider include:3
- Chicken breast
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Lean beef
- Whey protein supplements
- Ezekiel bread
- Pumpkin seeds
- Turkey breast
- Fish (all types)
- Brussel sprouts
Incorporating some of these foods into your diet each day is an easy way to ensure your body is getting enough protein. Additionally, each of these foods contains other nutrients your body needs to stay healthy, so you are killing two birds with one stone!
How Much Protein Should I Eat a Day?
How much protein you should eat in a day depends on a variety of factors, including:4
- Activity level
- Muscle mass
- Physique goals
- Your current state of health
The Dietary Reference Intake is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (or 0.36 grams per pound). This equates to 56 grams for the average sedentary male and 46 grams for the average sedentary female. However, studies show individuals should be getting more protein than this to ensure your health and body composition are at their best.4
If you are looking for sound advice on exactly how much protein you should be eating, ask your healthcare provider for more information. They will be able to tell you exactly how much you should be getting based on all the factors listed above. Then, you can be 100 percent sure you are taking care of your body the way you should!
Can You Get Too Much Protein?
While a high-protein diet has many great benefits, eating too much can have the completely opposite effect. Having too much protein in your diet can increase your risk of cancer, high cholesterol, kidney stones, weight gain, and constipation.2 However, many of these potential effects depend on the type of proteins you are eating and your overall diet. If you need more information on what diet would be best for you, ask your healthcare provider for advice.
What is a Good Protein Snack?
If you are having a hard time coming up with full meals with quality protein or need an extra bit of protein during the day, try a few of these snacks to keep you full and your body satisfied!5
- Trail mix
- Turkey roll-ups
- Greek yogurt parfait
- Veggies and yogurt dip
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Peanut butter celery sticks
- No-bake energy bites
- Handful of almonds
- Roasted chickpeas
- Hummus and veggies
- Apple with peanut butter
- Beef sticks
- Protein bars
- Chia seed pudding
- Homemade granola
- Protein shakes
- Avocado and chicken salad
- Fruit and nut bars
- Overnight oatmeal
- Egg muffins
These snacks can be super easy to keep on hand during the day when you need a little pick-me-up or an additional serving of protein. Having them readily available will also keep you from finding less-healthy snacks somewhere else.
Protein is incredibly important and essential for the proper function of your body and maintaining your health. Making sure you are incorporating a healthy amount into your diet—as directed by your healthcare provider—will ensure your body is in tip-top shape and ready to conquer each day!
*This material is provided by USHEALTH Group® for informational/educational purposes only and should not replace medical/clinical advice or direction from your health care provider.
- Marengo, Katherine, “How much protein does a person need?” MedicalNewsToday.com, last modified August 24, 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/196279.php#what_are_proteins
- Mikstas, Christine, “What Protein Doesyou’re your Body,” WebMD.com, last modified October 1, 2019, https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-what-protein-does-for-your-body
- Gunnars, Kris, “20 Delicious High-Protein Foods to Eat,” Healthline.com, published April 21, 2018, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/20-delicious-high-protein-foods#section3
- Gunnars, Kris, “Protein Intake – How Much Protein Should You Eat Per Day?” Healthline.com, published July 5, 2018, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-protein-per-day
- Elliott, Brianna, “30 High-Protein Snacks That Are Healthy and Portable,” Healthline.com, published December 19, 2016, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/healthy-high-protein-snacks#section29