Reviewed by: Casey Seiden MS, RD, CDN, DCES
The topic of protein seems to go hand-in-hand with talking about regular eating habits and meal planning. You may even be familiar with the idea that you need more protein in your diet, but it can be confusing to know why and overwhelming to know where to start. Protein is important for virtually everyone’s eating habits, so here’s what to know about this important nutrient and how you can best make use of it.
Why do I need protein?
Protein is essential to every cell in the body. Proteins’ building blocks, amino acids, are found in muscles, bones, ligaments, skin, nails, and hair – every cell in the body requires protein! Aside from its functional properties, protein also plays a role in helping us to feel full and satisfied, and helps prevent blood sugar spikes, too. Not getting enough protein can actually contribute to a variety of symptoms, depending on your eating habits and overall health.
How much protein do I need?
Every person’s protein needs are different, so your Dietitian can give you the best idea of what your intake should look like. It’s recommended that non-pregnant women consume 0.8 g of protein per kilogram of body weight, and during pregnancy, the needs increase to 1.2 g per kg. Twin pregnancies may require even higher amounts.
Are there different forms of protein? What’s the best one for me?
It can be helpful to think of protein as two different “classes”- animal protein and plant protein. Animal proteins are foods like beef, pork, chicken, turkey, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. Plant sources of protein are things like beans, lentils, soy (tofu, tempeh, edamame), nuts, seeds, and even some grains contain considerable quantities of protein (quinoa, oats, buckwheat, teff, and millet are some examples).
Animal proteins – specifically fattier cuts of beef, pork, and chicken – will be higher in saturated fat and may not be beneficial to your cholesterol or blood pressure in high amounts; however, if you choose to consume these meats and you can purchase high quality varieties – meaning grass-fed – then they are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and high biological value protein needed for a developing baby and a woman’s overall health. Eggs often get a bad reputation, but we have learned they are highly nutritious and contain high levels of the important nutrient choline. When it comes to dairy, consuming full-fat dairy, during pregnancy especially, can be beneficial because it contains higher levels of important fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin D, and can help you to feel fuller for longer and stabilize blood sugars.
Plant proteins are also incredibly nutritious to include in your diet as they contain high levels of fiber and have less impact on blood lipids. However, if you choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet and are relying on these sources of protein, you may not be consuming adequate amounts of iron, choline, B vitamins, or omega-3s and so supplementation might be needed.
How can I start eating more protein?
Start by looking at your diet overall, and see if there are certain meals or snacks that are lacking in these protein sources above. For example, at breakfast if you are just having a bowl of oatmeal, perhaps you want to consider tossing on a few nuts or having a boiled egg on the side. If lunch is a veggie-based salad with some toast on the side, you might want to add some tuna or chickpeas to the bowl. If you find yourself snacking on a single piece of fruit, consider having a few slices of cheddar cheese with it to balance your blood sugars better. Specifically tracking the amount of protein you’re consuming can be overwhelming and lead to unnecessary stress, so start by simply being mindful of your protein habits and where you can improve them.
Schedule an Appointment
The best way to learn more about achieving the right amount of nutrients for your body and your lifestyle is by meeting with a Registered Dietitian. To get started, we invite you to meet with our team by contacting our New York City office through our online form.