Foods high in protein such as fish, chicken, other poultry, meat, soy products and dairy products are called protein foods or meat or meat substitutes. A couple of big differences in these foods is how much fat they contain and how much carbohydrates they contain.
The best choices for protein for many health issues are the plant based proteins because they contain less fat and usually healthy levels of complex carbohydrates and fiber. Some plant based proteins are black beans, kidney beans or pinto beans, and bean products like refried beans, hummus, which is made from chick-peas, or falafel, which is also made from chickpeas, lentils, black-eyed peas or split peas, edamame, soy nuts, nuts and nut butters, tofu, and tempeh as well as soy products made to resemble chicken, beef or sausages and textured vegetable protein, which resembles ground beef.
Except for the nuts and nut butters these foods are low in fat, and all are low in the bad, hard fats that clog the arteries. Soy protein is well assimilated but it should always be certified organic soy as the vast majority of soy is GMO.
Other lower fat protein foods are fish and seafood. The highest amount of fat that fish contains is about 20 percent fat found in fatty fish such as salmon and this type of fat (omega 3 fatty acid) is considered a healthy choice. Other fish with high levels of omega 3 are herring, mackerel, rainbow trout, sardines and albacore tuna. This advice to eat fish, of course, excludes canned in oil fish or deep fried battered fish which are very high fat foods. Most sources advocate 6 -9 ounces of fish per week.
Chicken and other poultry are also low fat — especially the breast meat of chicken and turkey. The dark meat on poultry is twice the fat, at about 40 percent, that’s why it is juicier than the breast meat. Duck and other birds that are all dark meat are high in fat. If you are really watching the calories, remove the skin before eating because there is saturated fat and cholesterol in the skin of poultry.
Heavier meats such as pork, lamb and beef are very high in fat, even getting the leanest cuts, and are not recommended as a frequent protein choice for those who are trying to stay lean and healthy. These meats do have important vitamins such as B12 and also higher levels of iron. The leanest cuts of beef are chuck, rib, rump roast and round. These cuts tend to be tougher because they have less fat. Some people are fortunate enough to have wild game to eat such as buffalo, rabbit, pheasant or deer. These non-commercial meats tend to be low fat and obviously fresh, good choices.
Eggs, especially the whites, are a very good protein choice because egg white is considered to be the best assimilated protein for human consumption. In fact, egg white protein called albumin, is given a net protein utilization score of 100 percent and all other proteins are compared with albumin in terms of how well your body can digest and use the protein. No, you don’t (and shouldn’t because of possible salmonella contamination) eat the egg whites raw.
Dairy products should be fat free. The fat in cheese, butter, cream and whole milk is animal fat and therefore highly saturated. That means it clogs arteries and can lead to heart disease and stroke.
All fat has 9 calories per gram so it doesn’t matter in terms of calories whether you eat saturated or unsaturated fats. Where it matters is inside your arteries. Unsaturated plant based fats are best.
Which brings us back to the nuts and nut butters. Nuts are good food but they are high in fat. The fat is good, unsaturated fat, but it is still high in calories so a little bit of nuts should go a long way if you are watching your weight.
Meat does not have any carbohydrate, so for people with diabetes, this important to know since meat will not raise the blood sugar. Most experts agree that a balanced meal should have between 2 to 5 ounces of meat or meat substitute. For plant based proteins, there is a carbohydrate component and if that is an issue, careful reading of the label or other research should be part of your consideration. Generally speaking there is approximately 15 grams of carbohydrate in 1/2 cup of beans and approximately the same in the same quantity of soy based products. Beans have a low glycemic index which means they do not raise the blood sugar quickly or high and one ½ cup provides as much protein as an ounce of meat, and without the saturated fat.
Protein is important for proper development in children and teenagers and for maintenance of health in mature adults. The quality is important too. Feed yourself well for optimal health and longevity.
Jane Riley is a certified personal trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at email@example.com, (808) 212-8119, www.janerileyfitness.com.