March is National Nutrition Month! This year the theme is “Get Your Plate in Shape” by filling it with a variety of foods from each food group in the appropriate portions. An essential part of your plate is protein-rich foods. Protein allows our muscles to move, maintains fluid balance, transports nutrients in our blood and regulates our immune systems. Most Americans eat plenty of protein each day, but we may not be consuming it from the right sources or in enough variety. Most adults and older children need 5-7 ounces of protein each day. Read on for more information about protein-rich foods.
Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs: Animal products are excellent sources of complete proteins and essential vitamins and minerals such as iron and B vitamins. When eating these foods, make sure they are lower in fat because they can be high in bad saturated fat. Lower-fat sources of meat and poultry include chicken with no skin, ground beef ≥90% lean, and lean cuts of beef (sirloin side, top sirloin, top round, eye of round, and bottom round steaks all have ≤2 g saturated fat per 3.5 oz). Fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, and halibut not only have protein but also heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. Try to include these fish on your plate at least 2 times per week.
Beans and peas, nuts and seeds, and grains: Beans and peas are an excellent substitute for animal products and are a good source of fiber, iron, potassium, magnesium, folate, and zinc. Aim to buy dry or frozen beans and peas instead of canned to reduce the sodium in your diet. Nuts and seeds are also good sources of protein and essential vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, vitamin E, potassium, and phosphorus. Try to include a variety of unsalted nuts and seeds each day. With all the research linking the nutrients found in nuts/seeds and good overall health, you could say “a small handful of nuts and seeds a day might keep the doctor away!” And finally, many grains are an excellent source of protein. Be adventurous and try a different healthy grain each week to increase your total intake. Examples of protein packed grains are quinoa, amaranth, barley, buckwheat, oats, millet, rye, durum wheat, teff, and spelt.