“Protein-rich” is definitely a diet buzz word. While too much protein can be a burden to your kidneys, getting an adequate amount has been shown to satisfy hunger, increase metabolism, and help repair and build muscle post-exercise. Research has shown that eating any food, particularly foods with plenty of protein, immediately after you finish your workout helps your muscles heal faster so you can do more work. The sooner you eat protein after you finish your hard workout, the quicker you will recover.
Proteins also speeds up metabolism because they take more energy to digest than other nutrients. Protein in particular stimulates the thermic effect of food, which means that the body burns more calories processing dietary protein than it does carbohydrates or fats. The act of digesting protein therefore boosts your metabolism more than other nutrients. Diets high in protein may also make you feel full faster, helping you to eat less.
We all know the standard sources of protein – canned tuna fish, milk, chicken and steak, but if you’re looking for surprising and creative ways to sneak in more protein, read on!
Replace your evening side of brown rice with protein-packed, fiber-rich quinoa. Add a sprinkle of chopped nuts for an extra protein punch!
Brown rice (1 c cooked): Quinoa (1 c cooked):
220 calories 220 calories
3.5 grams fiber 5 grams fiber
5 grams protein 8 grams protein
Plus - quinoa is a complete protein, which by definition is a source of protein that contains an adequate proportion of all nine of the essential amino acids necessary for the dietary needs of humans or other animals.
Use cottage cheese (25 grams protein/cup) or ricotta (28 grams protein/cup) on your multi-grain bagel instead of butter or jam. It might seem a little unusual, but if you smear a similar amount of low-fat cottage cheese on your toasted bagel instead, it's only 1.3 grams of fat but packs in six grams of protein. Or, snack on a portion-packed ounce square of cheese (think of it as an adult version of a cheese stick). For just over 100 calories, you’ll get 7 grams of protein and calcium to boot!
Add tofu to your smoothie! Replace yogurt with tofu and for about the same number of calories, you’ll get twice the amount of protein! Here’s a quick smoothie recipe that will be a welcome addition to your morning routine.
INGREDIENTS (1 smoothie):
1/2 cup soft tofu
1 cup vanilla soy milk
1 frozen banana
1/2 tablespoon peanut butter
Combine all ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth and frothy.
Protein powder is not just for body-builders! It's an easy and effective way to get more protein. And it can be pretty darn delicious too.
Or, you can whip up these yummy no-bake homemade protein bars!
You might be surprised to learn that beans contain 21 grams of protein per ½ cup compared to 17 grams of protein per ½ cup of chicken meat. Try a delicious bean salad as a snack or heart-healthy side. Or in an unconventional move you can puree beans and add them to tomato sauces, stews, and casseroles. Some pasta sauces use ground beef, but if you are a vegetarian or watching your cholesterol intake, why not purée beans into the sauce? You can make the same swap – meat for beans – in lasagnas, casseroles and soups.
Try this easy Pasta and Kidney Bean Soup instead of traditional Chicken Noodle Soup. Another quick idea: open a can of low-sodium store-bought soup and add 1/3 cup of drained and rinsed canned beans. Warm beans and soup together and serve.
So, how much protein do you need per day? The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. For a 150-pound woman this equals 54 grams per day. You will need more protein if you are very active, recovering from an injury, or if you are training and building muscle mass.
We want to hear from you! What is your creative and surprising way to add protein to your daily diet?
Author: Kristen Ciuba
Kristen is a Nutritionist at Diet-to-Go, based in Lorton, VA. She tries to “practice what she preaches” by fitting in healthy foods and cooking, challenging exercise, and quality time with family and friends every day!