Protein is vital for building muscle and losing fat, but how much protein you eat is not the only factor to consider. It also matters what kind of protein you consume. A recent study published in the journal, Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, says there are three important things to keep in mind.
First, every type of protein, from fish to nuts, includes a different grouping of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that are known as the building blocks of protein. Nine of those are “essential,” which means they are only available from food.
Animal-based proteins (meat, eggs dairy) contain all the essential amino acids, but most plant-based sources are considered “incomplete proteins.” The co-author of the study, Rajavel Elango, a nutrition and metabolism researcher with the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health, says if you are a vegetarian (or relying on plant sources), it is important to include some plant protein at every meal. That will ensure you get all the amino acids you need by the end of the day.
However, Elango encourages eating protein from a wide variety of sources, because the second consideration is that relying only on animal sources would cause you to exceed acceptable levels of calories, saturated fats and cholesterol intake.
Third, each type of protein offers a unique package of vitamins and minerals, Elango says. Eating protein from a variety of sources is your best chance to give your body all the nutrients you need.
Here are some of the healthiest protein foods:
Eggs contain six grams of protein each, and their protein is considered superior in terms of its biological value. That means it is excellent in terms of building tissue. Eggs are also rich in choline and vitamins B-12 and D.
With 25 grams of protein, cottage cheese is vastly underrated. It provides 18 percent of your daily calcium requirement, and it is rich in casein, a protein that is digested very slowly, helping you resist hunger longer.
Poultry contains far less saturated fat than most meats, but provides 30 grams of protein per breast. White meat is lowest in calories.
These heart-healthy grains provide six or more grams of protein per cup, as well as important fiber. Quinoa is the one grain that actually provides all the essential amino acids.
Fish is low in calories. It’s an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart and your brain. Salmon and tuna are among the best fish to eat.
Legumes are a protein-rich source of heart-healthy fiber, and they contain B vitamins. Beans, lentils, soybeans, and peas are all excellent.
Yogurt is perfect as a breakfast food, snack, or ingredient in your recipes. Plain yogurt is best, as the fruit-flavored varieties contain a lot of sugar. Fat content does not affect the nutritional value.
Nuts offer both protein and healthy unsaturated fatty acids. Also, people who consume a handful of nuts daily are 20 percent less likely to die of any cause, compared to people who never eat nuts, according to research published in 2013.
Greens such as kale, collard greens, and other leafy types pack a lot of protein into a small number of calories. For example, a 70-calorie dish of spinach contains a full 10 grams of protein. Pair them with legumes to access all the essential amino acids.