Healthy protein sources
Protein is an essential nutrient that we must obtain from food every day, as it is not stored by the body. Deficiency is rare in the UK since protein is readily available.
For most people, protein is regarded as the basis of at least one meal a day, and this is usually more than enough to meet the recommended daily requirements.
For vegetarians, meat is not an option and so they look to plant sources for their daily protein. Here, too, there is a wide variety to choose from, including all the different types of pulses (peas, beans, and lentils), as well as a huge variety of nuts and seeds. Unlike animal protein, most plant sources do not contain all the amino acids that make up protein, and they have to be combined to form complete protein. One exception is soya beans, which not only contain twice as much protein as other pulses but have nearly as many amino acids as animal proteins.
Protein is also found in milk, cheese, and bread, as well as in the foods described here.
Choosing animal proteins
Animal sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish, as well as animal products such as eggs. Each of these can be further classified according to the type and amount of fat they contain. For example, red meats, such as beef, lamb, pork, and veal, are excellent sources of high-quality protein, but they also contain high levels of saturated fats and may raise blood levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Because of the link between a high intake of saturated fat and the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other disorders, it is a good idea to reduce the amount of red meat you eat and instead choose fish and shellfish, poultry, and pulses and other plant proteins.
Poultry varies in fat content depending on the type, which parts of the bird are eaten, and whether the skin is left on, as well as on how the poultry is prepared.
Eggs and protein
These are a good source of complete protein as well as other essential nutrients (see Eggs and health). Although eggs do contain relatively high levels of cholesterol, it is the amount of saturated fat in a food rather than the amount of cholesterol that has the most impact on cholesterol levels in the blood.
The benefits of eating fish
Fish is now regarded as one of the healthiest sources of animal protein (see Fish and shellfish in a healthy diet). Oil-rich fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, trout, and sardines, are very highly recommended since they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Shellfish are also a good source of protein, with the added advantage of being low in total fat.
Collectively known as pulses, dried peas, beans, and lentils are an important source of protein (see Pulses, seeds, and nuts). Pulses are low in sodium and saturated fat and contain no cholesterol.
Nuts and seeds are also good sources of protein and supply a useful range of vitamins, minerals, and healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (see Which nuts are the best?).
All plant proteins also have a high soluble-fibre content, which helps to reduce blood cholesterol levels (see Reducing total cholesterol, LDL, and triglyceride levels) and prevent constipation.
What is a serving?
- 100g (3 ½ oz) boneless meat, such as lean beef, lamb, pork, or venison, or offal such as liver
- 100g (3 ½ oz) boneless poultry, such as chicken or turkey breast
- 100g (3 ½ oz) boneless game, such as pheasant or quail
- 100g (3 ½ oz) fish, such as salmon fillet, sardines, tuna steak, cod steak, or plaice fillet
- 100g (3 ½ oz) shellfish, such as peeled prawns, lobster meat, or crab meat
- 2 medium eggs
- 100g (3 ½ oz) tofu
- 3 heaped tbsp cooked pulses, such as soya beans, haricot beans, red kidney beans, or lentils
- 3 tbsp seeds, such as sunflower or pumpkin
- 3 tbsp nuts, such as almonds, macadamias, or walnuts
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