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Protein revisited

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Protein revisited

New research reveals that how much protein we eat at each meal may be more important that previously recognized.

It’s all about maintaining

Protein is vital for building and maintaining all our body tissue from organs to muscles to bones. Dietary protein, found in meat, fish, poultry, milk products, eggs, legumes and nuts, is central to health at every age. In addition, new research reveals that consuming enough at each meal may be especially critical in helping maintain healthy muscle mass and preventing the muscle loss that comes as we get into our forties and beyond.

Goal: better balance

Our body requires a balanced amount of protein throughout the day to carry out essential functions and fully take advantage of the protein we consume. Getting too little protein at breakfast and lunch forces the body to take what it needs from muscle mass. However, since the body can only use so much at a time, eating large amounts of protein at dinner simply creates an excess that can’t all be used to build and maintain muscles and other body tissues.

Healthy weight management

Eating enough protein helps you feel more satisfied between meals, an especially interesting benefit for healthy weight management. Having sufficient protein at each meal also helps limit the muscle loss that can accompany weight loss. And, maintaining muscle mass during weight loss helps prevent future weight gain.

Getting what you need

Aim for at least 20-30 g of protein at every meal, including breakfast and lunch. How much is 20 to 30 grams of protein? It translates to a couple of large eggs with shredded cheddar, a serving of 2 per cent Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruit and nuts, oatmeal cooked with milk instead of water topped with slivered almonds, or a half-cup of cottage cheese spread on whole wheat toast.

Here is the average protein content of some common foods.

Food Protein content (g)
1 cup (250 mL) milk 9
¾ cup (175 g) plain yogurt 9
¾ cup (175 g) plain Greek yogurt 17
½ cup (125 mL) grated cheese or a 50 g (1½ oz) piece of cheese 15
¾ cup (175 mL) chickpeas, red kidney beans or lentils 12
2 eggs 12
¼ cup (60 mL) almonds, pistachios or sunflower seeds 7
¼ cup (60 mL) pecans or walnuts 3
¼ cup (60 mL) pumpkin seeds or peanuts 10
2 tbsp (30 mL) peanut butter 8
75 g (2½ oz) chicken, beef, pork, or fish 20

Sources

Paddon-Jones D and Rasmussen BB. Dietary protein recommendations and the prevention of sarcopenia. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2009;12(1):86-90. Review.

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