Protein is a macronutrient made up of various amino acids. All living things contain amino acids. For people, proteins are essential components of muscle, cartilage, skin, bones and blood.
What Does Protein Do?
Protein helps our bodies build, maintain and repair tissue. Protein also helps us produce hormones, enzymes and other vital chemicals. Our bodies need a lot of protein each day to maintain our health — on average around 50 grams for a sedentary lifestyle, but it varies depending on your weight and activity level.
Protein can also help you:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Feel fuller longer (called “satiety” as in “satisfied”)
- Recover from surgery or injury
- Enhance athleticism
- Support heart health
- Manage growth spurts
What Are the Best Sources of Protein?
There are nine amino acids that our bodies can’t produce on their own. They’re called essential amino acids and the only way to get them is to eat foods with them. Different foods have different varieties and amounts of amino acids. “Complete” proteins contain all of the nine essential amino acids we need.
So, what can we eat to make sure we’re getting the protein we need?
The protein found in lean meat is a complete protein.
- Beef: A 3-ounce serving of lean beef packs about 22 grams of protein, all for as little as 150 calories! Lean cuts include tenderloin, strip steak and T-bone.
- Pork: A 3-ounce serving of lean pork packs about 23 grams of protein, all for about 120 calories! Lean cuts include tenderloin and chops.
- Chicken: A 3-ounce serving of lean chicken packs about 26 grams of protein, for about 140 calories! The most common lean cut is chicken breast.
Dairy foods also contain complete proteins. As with any food, the type of dairy you choose can vary in protein and calories. We highlight some examples that pack a lot of protein power.
- Milk: A serving of 8 fluid ounces of low-fat milk (think 1 percent) has about 8 grams of protein for about 100 calories.
- Cheese: A 1-ounce serving of a low-fat cheese like cheddar or Colby has about 8 grams of protein for about 50 calories.
- Greek Yogurt: A 1-cup serving of Greek yogurt has about 14 grams of protein for about 130 calories.
Like other animal-based foods, eggs also have complete proteins. One large egg has a little over 10 percent of the daily value for about 80 calories.
Plants and Legumes
You can find other proteins in plants and legumes, like nuts, beans and grains. While they don’t contain complete proteins, they do provide a variety that you can mix and match with other foods. Here are a few:
- Whole Wheat: One slice of whole wheat bread has a little less than 4 grams of protein and about 70 calories.
- Peanut Butter: Two tablespoons have 8 grams of protein at about 180 calories.
- Black Beans: A 15-ounce can of black beans has about 26 grams of protein for over 300 calories.
So, power up with protein for your family’s health!