One of the most important factors in any diet is protein. Protein is one of the three macronutrients, the other two being carbohydrates and fats, and it’s a critical component whatever your goals. Protein is usually associated with building and maintaining muscle mass, and it certainly does do that. But you should also pay attention to it if you’re losing weight, or training to get healthier.
Beans and Pulses
Lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, haricot beans, black beans, split peas, butter beans- the list goes on, and can include literally any type of bean or pulse
you can think of. Beans are excellent, as they contain high amounts of fiber, which aids digestion, plays an important role in metabolism, and has been shown to decrease your risk of developing bowel cancer. The only downside to beans is that because of this fiber, eating too many can give you indigestion, bloating and gas
. They are also reasonably high in carbs, so while they are fine as your main protein source, they shouldn’t be your only protein source. 100g of most type of bean or pulse contains around 10% protein and 15% carbohydrate, and very little fat.
Nuts are an excellent source of protein, and also provide a good whack of healthy monounsaturated fats
, which are good for your heart. Protein-wise, 100g of nuts will give you about 25g of protein. However, be careful – due to their fat content, nuts are very calorie dense, so it’s easy to overdo the calories. Stick to a couple of one ounce servings per day maximum. Any nuts are fine, except for roasted ones. If you don’t like nuts, nut butters are a good substitute.
Green vegetables are packed full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
, and should be included in large amounts in any diet, regardless of whether it’s vegetarian or not. They’re extremely low in carbohydrate, and do provide protein, although not in huge quantities. A large serving of broccoli, spinach or kale will give you 6-8g of protein, which isn’t too bad, but you won’t be able to get enough over the course of the day if you just rely on veggies.
Soy is a controversial one. Artificially produced soy products, like soy milk and cheese, soy chips, and the like aren’t held in too high regard, as they’re highly processed, and contain anti-nutrients and estrogen boosting compounds. More natural soy products, such as tempeh, miso and soy or edamame beans
, however are great protein rich foods, and are pretty nutrient-dense.
If there’s one food that’s been giving an incredibly unfair bad rap over the years, it’s eggs. The notion that they negatively impact cholesterol is completely unproven – eggs actually increase good cholesterol, and decrease bad cholesterol
. Not only that, but they contain all the essential amino acids, loads of vitamins and minerals, and one large egg has around 7-8g of protein. Eat the whole egg too – the yolk is the most nutrient-dense part, and contains all the good fats.
If you eat dairy, there’s no excuse to fall short on protein consumption. Cottage cheese, quark, low fat cheese, Greek yogurt and fromage frais are the perfect vegetarian protein foods
. They’re low in fat, high in protein, and don’t contain too many carbohydrates. The only potential issue to look out for is the sugar content in some dairy products. Cottage cheese, quark and hard cheese are all fine, but some yogurts, particularly flavored ones are often loaded with sugar, so check the labels before you buy. If it’s got more than 10% sugar content, put it back on the shelf.
While associated more with bodybuilders and athletes, protein shakes are an excellent weight loss food
. Most are derived from cow’s milk, and are safe and natural. Protein shakes shouldn’t replace whole foods, but they are an excellent way to supplement your protein intake. Vegans can look for brown rice or hemp-based powders.
The only extra protein source for pescetarians is fish. All fish is very high in protein, but oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, trout and kippers also contain ample amounts of the heart-healthy fat omega 3