Proteins are the main building blocks of the body. They provide the raw materials your body needs to keep it running like a well-oiled machine. Proteins also contribute to the maintenance of normal bones and are used to make blood, hair, connective tissue, antibodies, enzymes and neurotransmitters. They can aid in weight loss and help to build muscle. And although athletes and bodybuilders often consume extra protein in order to bulk up, they aren’t the only people who need to ensure they are getting a healthy supply of the stuff.
What most of us don’t know is how to determine the ideal amount of protein we need. According to Harvard Medical School, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. That’s about 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man or 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman. The RDA is the minimum amount you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements, as opposed to the specific amount you should be consuming for optimal health or weight loss.
Experts agree that increasing your protein intake can actually help you lose weight.
“Protein has a unique role in how it affects appetite,” explains Ocala Health’s Amy Freeman, RDN, LDN, CDE, dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach. “Protein’s use in managing weight is due to its potential for making you feel full (called satiety) and its increase in calories used for protein digestion, protein absorption and protein metabolism—collectively called thermogenesis. Those who eat approximately 30 percent of their total calories as protein each day report less feelings of hunger and consume fewer calories overall.”
Studies suggest that protein intake around 30 percent of one’s daily calories may be optimal for weight loss. This amounts to 150 grams per day for someone on a well-balanced 2,000-calorie diet. You may require more protein if you have a physically demanding job, exercise regularly or are recovering from an illness or injury. The elderly also need significantly more protein, up to 50 percent higher than the RDA. This can help prevent osteoporosis and sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass), which are significant problems for seniors. We suggest consulting with your family practitioner to determine what’s right for you.
With protein, it’s not all about quantity, but also quality. Animal protein provides all the essential amino acids, in the right ratio, for us to make full use of it (as animal tissue is similar to our own). So if you are eating a balanced diet that includes lean meats, poultry, seafood, egg whites and low-fat dairy products every day, then you’re probably on the right track. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, it can be challenging. However, soy products, seitan, peas, beans, lentils, quinoa, nuts, nut butters and seeds are all excellent sources of protein.
There are also lots of good supplements out there. But exercise caution, as some protein powders are made with low-quality ingredients and contain unhealthy additives, like fructose, artificial sweeteners and artificial flavors. The best options are the ones with the simplest ingredients, like Naked Whey, Promix or Body Ecology. Keep in mind, though, the more protein you can get from whole foods, the better. So we consulted some protein pros to help satisfy your taste buds with recipes that pack protein into every bite.
“I’ve been training for more than a decade now and have tried just about every type of workout program, diet regimen and supplement you can imagine,” explains Michael Matthews, author of The Shredded Chef: 115 Recipes for Building Muscle, Getting Lean, and Staying Healthy. “When you know how to diet properly, and this doesn’t mean learning to eat boiled chicken and raw broccoli six times per day, getting lean and muscular becomes simple, convenient and dare I say… enjoyable.”
Matthews isn’t interested in quick fixes but offers a lifestyle plan that you can maintain for the rest of your life.
“Imagine if you woke up every day looking forward to each meal you’re going to eat,” he says. Matthews points to one of his delicious and easy-to-make recipes, like his Avocado & Egg Breakfast Sandwiches.
“Eggs are one of the cheapest ways to incorporate protein into your diet,” he adds. “And not only are avocados a source of healthy fats, they’re packed with fiber, too.”
Avocado & Egg Breakfast Sandwiches
Makes 4 Servings
- 8 egg whites or 1½ cups liquid egg white substitute
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup diced red bell pepper
- ¼ cup chopped scallions
- ¼ cup seeded and diced tomatoes
- 8 slices whole-grain bread, toasted
- 1 medium avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
- Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- Ground cayenne pepper, to taste
In a medium bowl, add egg whites and use a fork or whisk to beat together. › Stir in the salt, pepper and cayenne. › Add the olive oil to a small non-stick skillet, and warm over medium-high heat. › Add 1 tablespoon each of bell peppers, scallions and tomatoes. › Stirring constantly, sauté for 1 minute; mix in ¼ of the egg whites. › Cover with a lid, reduce heat to low and cook until eggs have set, about 1 to 2 minutes. › Use a spatula to fold eggs over themselves (in half) and then fold in half again. › Remove eggs from pan, and reserve. › Repeat process 3 more times until all the egg whites and vegetables have been used. › Lay eggs onto 4 pieces of toasted bread, and layer avocado slices on top. › Close with top half of bread, cut each sandwich in half and serve.
Excerpted from The Shredded Chef, reprinted by permission of Oculus Publishers, LLC. Copyright © 2016 by Michael Matthews
Adam Bannon and Stephanie Tornatore, whose Fit Couple Cooks YouTube channel extols the virtues of planning and preparing healthy meals, have penned a useful guide with clean-eating meal plans, strategies for making meal prep work for your goals, budget and lifestyle, as well as a guide to preparing a week’s worth of balanced meals in just a few hours. Healthy Meal Prep also offers some seriously delicious recipes curated by Bannon, a classically trained chef. His Lemon Garlic Chicken, for instance, is packed with protein and bursting with flavor.
Lemon Garlic Chicken with Broccoli and Rice
Makes 4 servings
For Chicken and Broccoli:
- 1 ½ lb (675g) skinless, boneless chicken breast, sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 5 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 head broccoli, cut into florets
- 2 cups cooked brown rice, to serve
- Juice of 1 large lemon
For Yogurt Sauce:
- ½ cup full-fat Greek yogurt
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
Place the chicken in a bowl, and add garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper; stir to coat. › In a large non-stick sauté pan, melt 1½ tbsp coconut oil over medium-high heat. › Add half of the chicken to the pan, and cook for 3 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn white. › Flip the pieces, and cook for another 3 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. › Transfer cooked chicken to a shallow bowl. › Melt another 1½ tbsp coconut oil, and repeat with the remaining pieces of chicken. › In a medium pot, bring 4 cups water to a boil over high heat. › Add the broccoli florets, reduce heat to medium and cover. › Cook for 6 minutes, until broccoli is bright green and crisp-tender. › Drain the broccoli, and return it to the pot. › Add the remaining 2 tbsp coconut oil, and toss to coat.
To make yogurt sauce, stir together the yogurt, cumin and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. › Transfer to an airtight container, and refrigerate.
To assemble the meals, add ½ cup cooked brown rice to each of the 4 meal prep containers. › Add an equal amount of chicken and broccoli to each container, and pour any accumulated juices from the chicken over top. › Serve with yogurt sauce.
Excerpted from Healthy Meal Prep, reprinted by permission of Alpha Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018 by Stephanie Tornatore and Adam Bannon
In his book Eat Fat, Get Thin, Dr. Mark Hyman lays out a dietary plan that combines the best of the Paleo and vegan diets, disrupts long-held beliefs about dietary fat and teaches you to power up with protein. He also offers over 175 recipes for sustained weight loss and good health, from Walnut Pancakes to Dill Butter-Baked Salmon.
Dill Butter-Baked Salmon with Beet and Roasted Pepper Salad
Makes 4 servings
- 3 large beets, peeled and finely diced
- 2 large jarred roasted red peppers, sliced into thin strips
- 1 shallot, sliced into thin rounds
- ¼ cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped
- 1½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 (4-ounce) wild salmon fillets
- 8 tablespoons unsalted, grass-fed butter, at room temperature
- ¼ cup fresh dill leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 lemon, halved and seeded
Preheat oven to 350°F. › Place the beets in a saucepan, and cover with filtered water. › Bring to a boil over high heat; then reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until the beets are tender, about 10 minutes. › Drain the beets, submerge them in a bowl of cold water until cooled and drain again. › In a bowl, combine the beets, roasted peppers, shallot, parsley, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sea salt and ¼ teaspoon of the pepper; mix well, and then set aside. › Coat a baking dish large enough to hold the salmon in a single layer with 1 tablespoon of the butter; then place the fillets in the dish. › In a small bowl, combine the remaining butter, dill and the remaining ¼ teaspoon pepper, and mix with a spoon until well combined. › Spread the dill butter on the salmon fillets, dividing it evenly. › Squeeze the juice from the lemon halves over the salmon. › Bake the salmon until the fish is firm but the very center of the fillets is still translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. › Divide the salad among 4 plates. › Place a salmon fillet on each plate and serve.
Excerpted from The Eat Fat, Get Thin Cookbook Copyright © 2016 by Mark Hyman, MD. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.
If protein shakes are your jam, then you’ll love Pamela Braun’s original and refreshing recipes from High-Protein Shakes. Her fresh take on this well-traveled ground means you’ll soon be whipping up everything from oatmeal cookie to piña colada shakes. We love the Mean Green Shake, which delivers your daily dose of protein and greens in one tasty tonic.
Mean Green Shake
- 5.3 ounces plain Greek yogurt
- 1 cup frozen pineapple chunks
- 1 cup packed baby spinach
- 1/2 cup silken tofu
- 1 tablespoon organic spirulina powder
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cashew milk
Add all ingredients to a blender, and blend until smooth. › Pour into glass, and serve.
Excerpted from High-Protein Shakes, reprinted by permission of The Countryman Press, a division of W.W. Norton & Co. Copyright © 2017 by Pamela Braun
Anna Sward, bestselling author of The Ultimate Protein Pow(d)er Cookbook, pioneered the trend of cooking with protein powder—perfecting recipes for everything from pancakes to pizza.
“Making your own healthy protein-based snacks is extremely quick and easy,” Sward says of her follow-up cookbook Protein Pow: Quick & Easy Healthy Snacks, in which she offers up recipes for indulgent treats like Macadamia Energy Truffles and Vegan Chocolate Protein Bars.
Vegan Chocolate Protein Bars
Makes 8 bars
- 1⁄2 cup pea protein powder
- 5 heaping tablespoons smooth almond butter
- 4 tablespoons cocoa
- 2 tablespoons date syrup
- 6 tablespoons almond milk
- 1⁄4 cup chopped hazelnuts
Stevia drops to taste (add a couple to your dough to start off with and if, by the end, your mix isn’t sweet enough, add a couple more drops of Stevia)
In a medium-size bowl, mix all the ingredients using a spatula until you get a dough that you can shape with your hands. › If your dough is too wet or sticky, add a bit more of the cocoa powder and/or pea protein. › Divide this dough into eight balls, and then shape them into rectangles. You can do this individually, or, if you prefer, you can flatten the entire batch of dough onto a nonstick tray, put a sheet of parchment paper on top, roll it with a rolling pin, and then slice the dough into 8 bars.
Excerpted from Protein Pow, reprinted by permission of The Countryman Press, a division of W.W. Norton & Co. Copyright © 2018 by Anna Sward
For more great recipes from these and other great cookbooks, visit our blog at ocalastyle.com.
Read Up, Eat Up
While we’re on the subject, check out these two new books that promise to disrupt conventional thinking about all things protein.
Clean Protein: The Revolution that Will Reshape Your Body, Boost Your Energy and Save Our Planet by Kathy Freston & Bruce Friedrich
Two food and wellness experts have devoted years to researching the future of protein and distilled that knowledge into a strength-building plan poised to reshape your body. Full of insights from their conversations with food pioneers and nutrition scientists, delicious recipes and a great guide to food planning, Clean Protein offers everything you need to know to get lean, increase your energy and stay sharp mentally.
The Protein Pacing Diet: The Scientific Breakthrough for Boosting Metabolism, Losing Fat and Gaining Lean Muscle by Nicole Stawicki
Exploring a new approach called “Protein Pacing,” Nutritionist Nicole Stawicki lays out a technique of eating low-carb, high-protein meals at specifically spaced intervals in order to supercharge your metabolism. The plan is designed to help you change the way your body processes energy and lose weight. It also contains delicious, high-protein recipes, shopping lists, schedules and tips to make to incorporate protein pacing into your lifestyle.
Cracking The Gram Code
When people say “grams of protein” what they mean is grams of the macronutrient protein, which is not the same as the total weight in grams of the protein-containing food (like meat or eggs). For instance, an 8-ounce serving of beef may weigh 226 grams, but it only contains 61 grams of actual protein. And a large egg may weigh in at 46 grams, but it contains just 6 grams of protein.