Although diets high in protein are very common and are usually recommended for weight loss, it’s much more that a tool for losing extra pounds. Protein is what our body uses to repair cells and build more of them, and it’s essential for growth and development. It’s what every human being needs to maintain a healthy body—it helps us recover from wear and tear, supports the immune system, and gives us energy and power.
Why exactly is it recommended for people want to lose weight and build muscle? Protein slows digestion, making us full for longer and curbing hunger pangs that tempt us into snacking. Protein also requires more energy to process and breakdown, meaning our bodies actually burn more calories just digesting protein. Best of all, protein promotes muscle repair, which is how muscles grow. More muscle means less fat, which leads to a leaner physique overall.
But just how much protein do you need per day? According to the Harvard School of Public Health in the US, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, but some scientists actually recommend getting up to 25% of your daily calories from protein. Although protein in excess is a bad thing and may cause weight gain (just like any other food group), a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition even found that many adults don’t actually eat enough protein. Dietitians recommend getting your recommended amount of protein from a healthy mix of sources: red meat, fish, protein-rich plants and grains, beans, legumes, and nuts. If you’re guilty of carbo-loading on a diet with too much bread, pasta, rice, and other processed carbs, try ditching those for more of these protein-rich foods.
Battle the munchies by reaching for nuts. White carbs rich in sodium like potato chips only make you eat more. However, grab some nuts (skip the salt!) and you’re doing your body a favor. Walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios… the list goes on. Nuts are rich sources of protein, plus, you don’t need much to feel full. Mix them up and snack on them throughout the day to stave off hunger pangs.
Quinoa is an ancient grain that originated in South America, and although its texture is reminiscent of rice and grains, it’s actually a very rich source of protein. In fact, it contains all six of the essential amino acids our bodies need. Pair your favorite meats and salads with this grain (you can cook them like rice) for a scrumptious meal. It’s also perfect if you’re trying to wean yourself from white carbohydrates.
Thanks to the vast array of milk available in the market today, you can even drink your protein. We don’t just mean protein shakes—if you’re not a fan of dairy, a yummy and belly-friendly alternative is nut milk. They’re literally made from nuts like almond and cashew, and they taste good, too. Drink them as is, or incorporate them into your coffees and smoothies.
Unlike red meats like steak, most seafood varieties are high in protein and low in saturated fat. Fish like salmon and tuna are also high in omega-3, which are great for having a healthy heart. Eat fish at least twice a week to balance out your red meat intake.
Here’s another trick for ditching the white carbs—swap them for beans and legumes. They’re packed with protein and fiber, making them excellent aids for good digestion, and they’re versatile, too. Add them in salads and wraps, or use them as a side dish to red meats.