Protein is an important nutrient in the diet. That’s undisputed. And the trouble is that if someone still consumes too much of it, particularly animal-based proteins, which are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, both of which are linked to cardiovascular disease.
Most people need just 5 to 6 ounces a day of high-protein foods. That may sound like a lot, but it isn’t. A 2to 3-ounce serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards. Now think of the giant portions of meat and other high-protein foods often served at restaurants. Eating two to three times as much protein as you need in a day can easily be accomplished in just one restaurant meal.
Although most people associate protein with only meat, there are many other ways to add this critical nutrient to the diet. However, Topify will cover the traditional animal sources of protein in the diet in this article. While it also introduces you to alternative plant-based sources and provides tips on incorporating a variety of these foods into a healthful diet.
However, the main sources of high proteinous foods which shall be discuss are:
- Nuts and Seeds
When nomadic hunters and gatherers first became farmers, they realized the importance of raising birds. The egg could be eaten, the feathers were used for bedding and clothing, and the flesh made a fine roast. It also was economical to keep poultry; cattle needed miles of grazing land, but a chicken could peck around a yard and keep itself fed. Until mass production techniques, poultry meat was fairly expensive; new technology has made poultry more affordable through breeding and production techniques.
Today, poultry is defined as any domestic bird used as food. There are many domesticated varieties of poultry, including chicken, turkey, duck, goose, Rock Cornish hen, guinea fowl, and pheasant. Generally, all types of birds are sold fresh, frozen, or cooked. They can be purchased whole, halved, or in pieces, such as boneless breasts, strips, or medallions. Buying a whole bird is typically least expensive because additional processing adds cost. Poultry is a versatile addition to any meal and can be prepared with just about any cooking method. A recommended serving, no matter how it is prepared, is still about 2 to 3 ounces ready to eat, without bone or skin.
Nutritionlly, all poultry, which is defined as any domestic bird used as food, is a nutritional star. Classified as a complete protein, poultry meat is a good source of phosphorus and zinc and an excellent source of niacin.
The fat content of poultry depends on the bird. Goose and duck are the fattiest types of poultry. However, poultry generally contains less fat than meat from other animals. To eliminate significant fat, do not eat the skin. Cooking the meat with or without the skin makes little difference in fat content. The meat will be more moist if the skin is left on during cooking.
In addition to being a popular breakfast food, eggs are a symbol of beginnings. Primitive humans recognized the egg as the beginning of life, and it became a symbol of spring and fertility.
Considering the parts/anatomy of Eggs: the Egg’s Shell — As the name suggests, this is the fragile and porous outer covering. The shell is made mostly of minerals — calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate, and calcium phosphate. The Shell membranes — These are layers of protein fibers that stick to the shell. They provide additional protection for the egg’s insides, preventing mold and bacteria from getting in, for example. The Albumen — This is the white of the egg. It is almost all protein and water. And the Yolk — The yellow bull’s eye of the egg, the yolk is made of a substance called “vitellus.” It can be a pale yellow or dark yellow. About 30 percent of the yolk is fat, and about 16 percent is protein. The remainder is made up of solids.
Eggs provide an inexpensive source of high-quality protein, vitamins, and minerals, including vitamins A and B 12, folic acid, and phosphorus. They are an excellent source of riboflavin. The egg is also said to be a complete protein, because it contains a complete count of essential amino acids. The white supplies more than half the protein in an egg. The yolk supplies the fat, along with the remaining protein, and most of the calories.
Eggs are also graded and are classified by both size and quality. The best are grade AA or A, both of which are related to the level of freshness and the quality of the shell at marking. Most recipes are based on large eggs. Nutritionally, there’s no difference between brown eggs and white eggs. Different colored eggs come from different varieties of hens. The most common egg used for food today is the chicken’s egg, although eggs from other fowl can be bought in specialty stores as well.
Meat is the general term for any muscle from any animal. However, most people think of meat as meaning “red meat.” Though it describes red meats, including the common staples of beef, pork, lamb, and veal. Also included are ostrich, rabbit, buffalo, and game meats (such as rabbit, buffalo, etc). There are also same so-called variety meats — brain, heart, kidney, liver, tripe, and tongue.
Meat is composed of three basic materials: water, protein, and fat. On average, lean muscle tissue is about 75 percent water, 18 percent protein, and 3 percent fat. The eventual texture and taste of the cooked meat depend on the amount of fat and water in the tissue and on the kinds of proteins. In general, the most tender cuts of meat have more fat and less fibrous muscle. Tougher tissue from older animals often has more flavor. Both limitations can be overcome by using the proper cooking methods.
Roughly 50 percent of the protein in meat comes from fibers that contract the muscle and 30 percent from oxygen-storing pigments called myoglobin and various enzymes. The remaining 20 percent comes from connective tissues that hold the muscles together.
Furthermore, from a nutritional point of view, because the composition of most animals is similar to that of humans, animal tissues supply us with complete proteins. More simply, the protein from animals is similar to that produced in our own bodies. Thus, it contains the full count of essential amino acids.
Red meat is an important source of minerals, including iron, phosphorus, zinc, and copper, and vitamins, including B vitamins and vitamin A. However, there are some nutritional trade-offs to be made. Red meat can be the main source of fat — particularly saturated fat — and cholesterol in the our diet. Both have been linked by numerous studies to cardiovascular disease. Too much fat and cholesterol can contribute to the buildup of plaque in arteries, which in turn increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. In addition, diets high in fat have been linked to some types of cancer, particularly colon cancer.
When prepared well, seafood tastes good, and it is good for you. The variety and convenience of fish may be causing the increase, because markets across the country. What once seemed intimidating to meat-eating some people can now be cooked with the same ease as a pork chop or pot roast.
Seafood is a good source of high-quality protein, usually with a low number of calories. One 3-ounce serving of most fish or shellfish provides an excellent source of protein, at often fewer than 100 to 150 calories for many lean fish and most shellfish. Even oil-rich fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, generally have fewer than 225 calories in a 3-ounce portion, comparable to the calories of lean meats.
The fat in fish is mainly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated rather than saturated, as in meat. Furthermore, fish have a unique polyunsaturated fatty acid called omega-3 that is believed to have a beneficial effect in reducing blood clots, lowering blood cholesterol levels, and minimizing heart disease (for example, Coronary Artery Disease). The fish that are particularly good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are sardines, herring, mackerel, Atlantic bluefish, tuna, salmon, pilchard, butterfish, and pompano.
Most shellfish were once considered high in cholesterol. However, new research has shown that although shrimp and squid have high levels of cholesterol, other shellfish, including clams, mussels, oysters, scallops, crab, and lobster, actually have amounts comparable to those of most fish. Shellfish are also low in fat. Most fish have levels of cholesterol comparable to that of the white meat of poultry and of lean, welltrimmed red meat.
Fish also contain important vitamins and minerals, especially some of the B vitamins, iron, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Saltwater fish supply iodine. Canned salmon, sardines, and herring, with their soft bones, which are mostly edible, are also a good source of calcium.
In general, fish are low in sodium, similar to the amount in red meat and poultry. Persons following low-sodium diets should limit their intake of processed salted or dried fish, pickled herring, smoked fish and shellfish, sardines, surimi products, and anchovies.
The shellfish family is divided into two basic categories: crustaceans and mollusks. Crustaceans have elongated bodies and jointed shells. These include crab, lobster, and shrimp. Mollusks are divided into three groups: 1. Gastropods (or univalves) — These have a single shell and single muscle. An example is the abalone. 2. Bivalves — Like the clam and oyster, bivalves have two shells hinged together by a strong muscle. And 3. Cephalopods— Examples include the octopus and the squid, which have tentacles and ink sacs.
Just like fish, shellfish are rich in protein yet low in fat and calories. Compared with other types of meat, however, the amount of cholesterol in most shellfish is about equivalent to that of a lean piece of beef or a chicken breast with the skin removed. Shrimp, squid, and crayfish, however, are very high in cholesterol. They have about twice as much as lean beef, making them something to savor on occasion.
However, when selecting shellfish, remember that fresh is best. The best way to guarantee freshness is to buy live. If your geographic location limits your opportunities for live shellfish, check out the freezer case for quickfrozen items, which can be almost as good.
Just as in picking out fish, use your nose to select shellfish. Shucked oysters and clams should be plump and free of any sour aroma. Fresh scallops should have a slightly sweet aroma and, when packaged, be practically free of liquid. Fresh shrimp are firm and have a mild, faintly sweet smell. Crab or lobster should move and not have any noticeable odor.
Next, view the shellfish’s appearance. The liquid packed with oysters should be clear, not pink or opaque. Scallops, lobster, and shrimp flesh should be free of any black spots. When you buy frozen shrimp, crab, or lobster tail, make sure any exposed meat is white, not yellow, and not dried out.
Legumes have historically been part of meals throughout the world. There is abundant evidence that the peanut and lima bean have been used for centuries in South America. Soybeans and mung beans, among others, have been a key part of Asian dishes throughout history. The Middle East is the origin of broad beans, chickpeas, and lentils. Because of this, cooking with legumes can provide an education and an introduction to international cuisine.
Most legumes are annual plants that can grow as vines or bushes. The shape, size, and color of the stems, leaves, and flowers differ according to species. After fertilization of the flowers, pods develop. These contain seeds of varying sizes, shapes, and colors. The plants of the legume family share two main features. First, they produce single-chambered, flattened seedpods with seeds inside. Either the pod or the seeds inside (or both) are eaten.
A second common feature is that legumes are capable of an important biological process called nitrogen fixation, which actually enriches or naturally fertilizes the soil in which the plants grow. Accordingly, legumes (such as soybeans and alfalfa) are grown in rotation with other crops (such as corn) that only take nutrients from the soil.
Legumes are sold in many forms. They are available as whole fresh pods, such as green beans, and in dried pods, such as the tamarind. Lima beans are examples of legumes available as fresh seeds, and dried seeds include black-eyed peas. There are also seed sprouts, such as alfalfa sprouts and soybean sprouts. Although technically considered legumes, tamarind and jicama are treated as a fruit and vegetable, respectively.
Legumes are generally easy to prepare and can be either the main entrée or the side dish. Generally, dried legumes are rehydrated before cooking, which is done by soaking them in water for about 6 to 8 hours. An alternative and shorter method is to put them in a pressure cooker or to simmer them in a pan where they can soften in less than an hour. Soaking shortens cooking time by 30 minutes to up to an hour. It also has the advantage of reducing flatulence (intestinal gas) by making them more digestible.
Legumes that are sold as “quick-cooking” have been presoaked and redried before packaging and thus do not need to be soaked. When several types of legumes are required for a dish, it is best to cook each type separately because it is difficult to cook them uniformly together.
That’s by the way, Legumes are great sources of nutrition because they carry the embryonic necessities for starting a new plant. They are high in protein, folic acid, potassium, iron, magnesium, and phytochemicals. Legumes are not complete proteins like meats (soybeans are an exception), but they can be paired with complementary foods, such as grains, to ensure a meal provides a complete source of amino acids for building proteins. And unlike meat, they are low in fat, high in fiber, and inexpensive.
Because of their low cost, legumes were once considered “poor man’s meat.” But with the increased popularity of ethnic cuisines (of instances such as Mexican, Chinese, and Mediterranean), the growing popularity of vegetarianism, and the recognized health benefits of legumes, they have shed this outdated perception.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts are high in fat and calories, but taken in moderation they can be part of a healthful diet. Nuts are not only flavorful, but, ounce for ounce, also full of nutrients. Most nuts are seeds or the dried fruit from trees. Peanuts, which are commonly thought of as nuts, are actually legumes. They belong to the same family as peas and beans.
The word “nut” can be confusing. The term originally referred to an edible kernel surrounded by a hard shell. In its most scientific definition, the term now refers to a single-seed fruit with the seed surrounded by a dry, tough fruit. This definition works for hazelnuts, beechnuts, and chestnuts, but it does not “fit” almonds and walnuts (because their surrounding fruits are theoretically edible, anyway) or peanuts (which are legumes). Adding to the confusion, Brazil nuts and pine nuts are not nuts, either. They are actually seeds, and sunflower seeds are actually fruits.
Nuts are a versatile food. They can be eaten fresh, cooked, and, sometimes, with their shell. They are available whole or chopped, salted and unsalted. In addition, products made from them include butters, oils, and spreads.
However, the protein in nuts and seeds lacks an essential amino acid called lysine, which can be gained from legumes and animal products. Although nuts are high in calories for their size, they are also considered a “nutrient-dense” food. They contain a lot of nutrients in relation to their calories.
Nuts are also rich in different plant compounds. Flavonoids, for instance, are found in all nuts. These antioxidants help reduce the formation of free radicals in the body that may contribute to cancer and cardiovascular disease. Relative to their size, nuts are also among the best plant sources for protein.
Nuts are generally high in fat. In most cases, more than 75 percent of their calories comes from fat (the exception being chestnuts — only 8 percent of the calories are from fat). But, on the plus side, it is the “right kind” of fat. Most of the fat in nuts is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, with the exception of the coconut and palm kernel. Unlike saturated fats (typically found in red meats and dairy products), these fats do not appear to increase blood cholesterol levels. In small amounts, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may actually lower cholesterol levels.
Watch the salt, however. Nuts do not come by that naturally — it is an added feature. If you need to limit your salt intake, look for products with no added salt.