Protein Power

We all know protein is a necessary part of our diet, and increasingly people are turning to it to help them lose weight and burn fat, so what exactly IS protein and where can we find it? Most people know meat is a good source, but that is a very simplistic answer, when in fact there are numerous sources and even vegans can have plenty of protein in their diet if they know where to look.

What protein is needed for:

  • Hair and Nails: A protein called alpha-keratin forms your hair and fingernails.
  • Blood: The haemoglobin protein carries oxygen in your blood to every part of your body.
  • Brain and Nerves: Ion channel proteins control brain signalling by allowing small molecules into and out of nerve cells.
  • Muscles: Muscle proteins called acting and myosin enable all muscular movement, from blinking to breathing to rollerblading.
  • Cellular Messengers: Receptor proteins stud the outside of your cells and transmit signals to partner proteins on the inside of the cells.
  • Enzymes: Enzymes in your saliva, stomach, and small intestine are proteins that help you digest food.
  • Antibodies: Antibodies are proteins that help defend your body against foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses.
  • Cellular Construction: Huge clusters of proteins form molecular machines that do your cells’ heavy work, such as copying genes during cell division and making new proteins.

In terms of weightloss, protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, so will keep you feeling full for longer, and is not so likely to lead to a ‘sugar crash’ that makes you hungry and crave sugary, fatty foods. When consuming enough protein energy levels stay steadily raised rather than shooting up then crashing down, and most people report feeling mentally more alert and focused, and stay this way for longer. Useful to know when you’ve got work deadlines and long to-do lists to concentrate on! Amino acids in protein are essential for the formation of lean muscle tissue, which in turn aids metabolism and of course makes you ‘look’ lean and toned.

Here is a list of some common foods and their protein content in grams for the stated amount. (source)


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Adzuki beans, 1 cup: 17g
Almonds, 1 cup: 24g
Amaranth, 1 cup (cooked): 14g
Bagel, 1: 6g
Barley, 1 cup (cooked): 16g
Black Beans, 1 cup: 15g
Buckwheat, 1 cup (cooked): 6g
Beef, lean, 5x5x3/4”: 22g
Black eyed peas, 1 cup (cooked): 13g
Bread, white, 1 slice: 2g
Bread, wholemeal, 1 slice: 3g
Cheese, 1 oz: 7g
Chicken breast, 1 average: 26g
Clams, 3 oz: 22g
Cottage cheese, 1 cup: 31g
Crab, 1 cup: 42g
Cream cheese, low fat,1 oz: 3g
Egg, 1 large: 7g
Fish, white, 3 oz: 17g
Chickpeas, 1 cup: 14g
Goats milk, 1 cup: 9g
Beefburger, lean, 5” diameter: 30g
Kidney beans, 1 cup: 18g
Lentils, 1 cup (cooked): 16g
Milk, 1 cup: 8g
Millet, 1 cup (cooked): 8g
Miso, 2 tbsp.: 4g
Oatmeal, 1 cup (cooked): 5g
Peanuts, 1 cup: 37g
Peanut butter, 1 tbsp.: 4g
Porkchop, 1 medium: 19g
Pumpkin seeds, 1 cup: 35g
Quinoa, 1 cup: 22g
Rice, 1 cup (cooked): 6g
Rice milk, 1 cup: 1g
Salmon, 3 oz: 20g
Soy cheese, 1 oz: 6g
Soy milk, 1 cup: 6g
Split peas, 1 cup (cooked): 16g
Sunflower seeds, 1 cup, 35g
Tempeh, 3 oz, 16g
Tofu, 4 oz: 9g
Tuna, 3 oz: 24g
Turkey, 2 ½ x 1 ½ x ¼”: 26g
Yoghurt, 8 oz, 10g

It’s not just the obvious food listed above that contain protein though; a cup of cooked kale contains 2.4g protein, broccoli 3.8g protein per cup, and a cup of peas delivers 9g protein!

Sesame Stir Fried Kale


Another thing to consider when comparing the best sources of protein is portion size. Given the list above, would you really eat a whole cup of peanuts in one sitting? A 3 oz serving of tuna is more realistic.

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It’s not just the protein that counts either. Whilst fat is fairly neutral, lots of carbohydrates and not enough fibre will make a food break down faster and lead to bigger fluctuations in blood sugar; beans and legumes, whilst high fibre, also deliver a fair amount of carbohydrates, and if eating these at a meal then no additional starches are usually needed on a fat loss lifestyle. At the other end of the scale lean meat and fish have very little to no carbohydrates, so a little starch such as brown rice or sweet potatoes with your meat or fish will not only have very little impact on overall insulin levels, but in fact, contrarily, help towards feeling full.

Proteins are made up of amino acids, and there are several different amino acids that the body needs, in varying amounts. Meat, fish and animal products have the broadest range and are considered the best source of proteins for this reason. The numbers in the chart reflect the QUANTITY of proteins, not taking into account WHICH amino acids and WHAT variety the foods supply. Without a complete range in our diets, our bodies will not function properly. This is not such a problem for meat eaters, but vegetarians and especially vegans needs to get a broad range of protein foods in their diet to ensure they receive the full spectrum of amino acids. Foods which do not contain all the different amino acids are called ‘incomplete proteins’ and this applies to most plant foods, however there are some ‘complete protein’ plant foods such as quinoa, chia seeds, hemp seeds, mycoprotein (Quorn) and buckwheat, which make good additions to a vegan and vegetarian diets, but aside from that all you can do is ensure you get a good variety so that all areas are covered.

The Institute of Medicine recommends most adult women need to eat 46g of protein a day, between 10 and 35% of your daily calorie intake, but this is grams for the actual protein content, not the weight of the food – even high protein foods such as meat will also be made up of some other substances such as fat and water, which makes protein content not so easy to track. The British Nutrition Foundation suggest 2-3 portions of meat/fish/other protein a day, of around 50-75g per portion, again food weight not actual protein weight.

But seriously who has time to count every gram unless your work/life revolves around it such as with athletes, body builders and the like? You’ve got to be sensible and realistic, and not get wound up over every tiny gram. The bottom line is; eat protein at every meal, choose high quality ‘real’ protein foods instead of processed versions where possible, and eat a wide range of protein sources, especially if you are a vegetarian or vegan.

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