Based on the protein bars and protein shakes tucked into every duffle bag at the gym, it’s pretty clear everyone knows what protein is for: building up those guns. And keeping you full between meals. And preventing fatigue.
We can go on.
An essential macronutrient, protein powers the chemical reactions in your body, helps carry oxygen in the blood, and helps prevents fatigue or weakness.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 46 grams of protein per day for women over age 19, and 56 grams per day for men. Around the world, protein deficiency is pretty common, but most Americans actually get way more protein than necessary. An excess of protein is a risky thing: It has to be neutralized with calcium, which means the body may have to leach calcium from the bones, weakening them over time.
In short, get your protein, but don’t go crazy with the whey powder.
But know this: many experts, like those at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, stress that the quality of protein matters more than the quantity when it comes to reducing the risk of chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and heart disease, to name a few. The World Health Organization even lists processed meats (like hot dogs, bacon, and sliced deli meats) as a carcinogenic.
If most of the protein in your diet is coming from meat and dairy, consider upping your sources of plant-based protein for a more heart-healthy approach.
To shake up your protein game (while also getting your fiber and micronutrients), try one of these plant-based foods that have more protein than an egg.
Roasted peanuts: 10 g in ¼ cup
Whole wheat spaghetti: 9 g in 1 cup (cooked)
Lentils: 8.9 g in ½ cup
Roasted almonds: 8.3 g in ¼ cup
Sprouted whole wheat bread: 8 g in 2 slices
Kidney beans: 7.7 g in ½ cup
Chickpeas: 7.3 g in ½ cup
Ready to go nuts and try plants? Whip up these lentil meatballs and throw them on some whole wheat spaghetti for a meal that’s high in protein and fiber, but mega low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Buon appetito!