Traditionally many generations have grown up eating a high-carbohydrate breakfast of jam or marmalade on toast followed by a salad sandwich for lunch and only thinking about including a good quality source of protein at dinner time such as lamb, beef, chicken or fish.
However, it’s now well known that protein has many benefits. Protein is a major macronutrient needed by the body as it forms body proteins that are needed to build muscle cells, cell membranes as well as act as enzymes and transport vehicles within the body. As protein can’t be stored in the body, the amount we eat on a daily basis becomes very important.
If you look at protein under a microscope, it is composed of individual parts called amino acids which are joined together in varying lengths. There are 20 different amino acids in total, however nine of these cannot be made by the body and must be provided by the food that we eat. These are called Essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are predominantly found in animal-based foods such as beef, lamb, chicken, fish, seafood, eggs, milk, cheese and yoghurt. However, quinoa and soybeans also provide the essential amino acids. Vegetarians need not worry however, because if they consume a wide variety of good quality plant-based sources of protein throughout the day and in mixed meals, they will get all of the essential amino acids they need. Meals such as a cheese and vegetable omelette, a lentil dhal served with brown rice and vegetables or a roast vegetable salad made with quinoa and tofu and a few toasted seeds will do the trick.
So rather than simply thinking about including protein containing foods at one meal, think about including protein-rich foods in your meals and snacks throughout the day as it is highly beneficial to your health and well-being for a number of reasons:
- Protein has a high satiety value so it fills you up which means you are less likely to overeat on other foods
- Adequate protein is needed to switch on muscle protein synthesis which is our bodies’ ability to build and maintain lean muscle. The more muscle we have in our bodies, the more energy we can burn on a daily basis which helps to control a healthy body weight
- Protein plays a key role in regulating our hunger hormones so eating a protein-rich meal or snack helps you to feel more satisfied between meals
Here are some ideas for increasing your protein intake throughout the day (protein-rich food sources are highlighted in bold):
Free-range eggs on rye or sourdough toast with avocado and greens
Handful of raw nuts/seeds + Greek yoghurt
Brown rice salad made with chunks of wood roasted salmon, spinach, roasted pumpkin, zucchini and toasted sunflower seeds and an olive oil/lemon dressing
Carrot sticks + 2 Tbspn hummus + 2 slices cheese
Lean beef steak served with roasted beetroot and kumara and steamed greens