Proteins-we have all heard the word since our childhoods, while being cajoled by our parents to eat icky stuff like broccoli and bland veggies. But what are proteins and why are they so necessary for our body? Proteins are essential nutrients that act as building blocks of tissues and cells and also as a fuel source in our bodies. To define them in chemical jargon, proteins are polymer chains consisting of amino acids bound together by peptide bonds. Proteins are needed for the growth and maintenance of the human body and can be found in each and every cell of a human being. They help in building up blood cells, muscles, body organs, hair and skin. They are also needed for digestion, producing hormones, building up our immunity system and repairing damaged cells in our body. Today’s health conscious generation is all about a healthy balanced diet which contains proteins in a major proportion. Given below is a list of top ten foods that can act as rich protein sources.
10. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a smart choice for a protein source as one small handful can serve as a perfect snack for those who do not have time for a full meal. They are protein packed and have healthy oils, vitamin B and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, copper and iron. Almonds and walnuts are densely packed with proteins and can supply most of our body’s daily protein requirement in small servings between office meetings or while going to the gym. So sprinkle some chopped raw almonds and walnuts over your morning cereal and enjoy your nutritious meal. Pistachios and cashews are also protein rich but you need to stay away from salted ones to avoid putting on those dreaded calories. Dried pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and flaxseeds are also protein rich and can be added in salads, smoothies and shakes for a healthy and refreshing snack. However it should be kept in mind that nuts also contain fatty acids and thus one should exercise control and consume them in only small quantities.
Tofu, also known as bean curd, is made from soybean milk, water and natural coagulants. It is used in many Chinese and Asian dishes and is considered to be one of the richest protein sources. It contains about 10.1 grams of protein which is almost a fifth of our body’s daily protein requirements. It is preferred as a protein source when compared to meat products which are known to contain high amounts of fat. Tofu is easily available in the market in many forms and varieties and is used to make meat substitutes in the West. Known as ‘the poor man’s protein’ tofu can be cooked in many ways with varying ingredients to make delicious dishes as it absorbs the flavour of what it is cooked with. Thanks to tofu, sweet and spicy savouries are no longer a miss for people with health problems.
Cheese can be a great source of protein for those having busy lifestyles as it is a delicious finger food and can be consumed as a snack between meals. Cheese contains high quality proteins consisting of all the necessary amino acids. One serving of cheese can contain at most 30 gm of protein, almost a fourth of our daily protein needs. Proteins in cheese maintain energy and blood sugar levels besides reducing irritability. It also curbs hunger and overeating thus helping you to avoid binge-eating and lose weight in the entire process. However a word of caution about cheese-avoid cheese that are high in fat and full of the calories that one should avoid.
Yogurt is a fermented milk product containing up to ten to fourteen grams of protein per eight ounces. It is easier to digest than milk and boosts our body’s immunity. It helps curing intestinal and yeast infections and is often recommended by doctors to minimize the effect of antibiotics. Proteins in yogurt are often called ‘pre-digested’ as the culturing of milk proteins during fermentation breaks down the proteins, making them easier to digest. Yogurt can be eaten as delicious dips and smoothie toppings. Plain yogurt can also make for a healthy and tasty breakfast with fruits and some granola.
Milk is a rich protein source containing eight essential amino acids. It contains almost 9 grams protein per 8 ounce glass. These are complete proteins that can be used readily by our body for cell repair and growth. Low fat or skimmed milk contains the proteins casein and whey which are high quality muscle building proteins. It is also a source of calcium needed for the growth and repair of bone cells. Milk is thus an inexpensive source of rich protein which helps in growth. So chug down a glass of milk before going to the gym and experience a slow protein punch over time.
Beans and legumes contain the highest proteins after animal based foods. Cooked soybeans have about 28.62 grams of protein in a single serving which is equivalent to a 3 ounce serving of meat. The average amount of protein contained in beans is 15 grams which is why they act as meat substitutes for vegetarians and other people who wish to avoid saturated fats associated with meat based protein resources. The high fibre and low sugar content in beans helps reduce cholesterol and diabetes. Since fibre takes a long time to digest, it keeps us full and satisfied for longer periods thus curbing hunger and binge-eating. Beans also contain anti-oxidants that prevent cell damage in our bodies. They are mostly inexpensive and are thus considered the perfect food for having a slew of benefits.
4. White Meat Poultry
White meat poultry is one of the sources of complete protein consisting of nine amino acids. It contains fewer calories than red meat is thus preferred by those having cholesterol or heart problems. Chicken and turkey meat have lean proteins having less fat. However one should avoid the skin or dark meats of these birds as they contain the unhealthy unsaturated fats we want to avoid. So if you have been keeping an eye on your waistline, white meat poultry is your best option for those occasional lapses in your diet.
3. Red Meat
Red meat is one of the richest sources of protein. It contains high quality complete proteins which form important components of hair, muscles, skin, glands, organs and glands. Red meat also contains an important antioxidant lipoic acid. However red meat contains a large amount of saturated fat which causes cholesterol, cardiovascular diseases and other health problems. Therefore exercise moderation and go for the leanest cuts. Have red meat once in a while as a treat and it could go a long way in keeping you healthy and fit.
Eggs are perfect little protein packages containing complete high quality proteins which help in building muscles and keep you energized throughout the day. Each egg contains about 6.5 grams of protein half of which is found in the yolk. Egg yolk also contains choline which is said to prevent memory loss. Though eggs contain high levels of cholesterol, eating eggs may improve your lipid profile as the cholesterol can be of the good kind. But if you want to cut down on fat, just have the egg whites. Eggs are also cheaper than other protein sources and can be cooked in many ways. Pop an egg daily in your breakfast and stay active all day.
Fish is considered the best source of protein. Fish proteins can be easily absorbed by our body and complements other proteins found in cereals and legumes. Fatty acids present in fish are essential for brain development in infants and unborn babies. The amino acid arginine present in fish improves insulin sensitivity which leads to reduced fat deposition in the body. Cold water fishes such as tuna, salmon and mackerel have the highest concentration of proteins. However due to their high mercury contents, fish servings should be limited to 2-3 per week. So next time you smell something fishy, go for it.