Amp up the protein in your diet by adding chicken

Skinless chicken breast packs a whopping 31 grams of protein per 100 grams of meat.

Most people understand there are health benefits to eating enough protein, but not everyone realizes how much they need to eat or healtht ways to do that.

“Protein needs vary depending on body weight,” says Natalie Allen, a clinical associate professor and team dietitian in the athletics department at Missouri State University who says a rule of thumb is to aim for about one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. “A 150-pound person weighs 68 kilograms, which translates to 68 grams of protein needed per day.”

Allen says most Americans eat adequate amounts of protein naturally, some people need more than others.

“Pregnant women, athletes, growing children, the elderly and individuals with certain medical conditions may necessitate more protein,” she says. 

To get enough protein, there are many natural and synthetic options available.

Synthetic sources include protein powders, protein shakes and dietary supplements, though nutritionists generally recommend natural sources over synthetic ones because natural proteins usually are better processed by the body, come with additional nutrients and typically don’t include any surprise ingredients.

“Healthy protein powders can be good for you and a great way to hit protein requirements,” says Lori Shemek, a nutritional consultant in Dallas and author of the book “How to Fight FATflammation.” But she also says, “Some protein powders unfortunately also come with added sugar, additives and hidden ingredients.” 

Good natural sources of protein include mixed nuts (26 grams of protein per cup), lentils (18 grams per cooked cup), whole-wheat bread (3 to 4 grams per slice), eggs (6 to 7 grams per egg), black beans (15 grams per cooked cup) and cottage cheese (25 grams per cup).

Some veggies also pack surprising amounts of protein. One cup of cooked asparagus has 4 grams of protein, a cup of cooked spinach has 6 grams, a cup of cooked split peas packs 16 grams, and edamame boasts 19 grams of protein in a cup.

Fruits contain less protein generally, but a single banana still contains 1.5 grams of protein, and a cup of sliced guava, kiwi or apricots contain 2 to 4 grams of protein. 

“A wider variety of protein in the diet is beneficial, as it provides a larger range of nutrients,” says Tara Schmidt, lead registered dietitian for the Mayo Clinic Diet. 

Such foods aren’t nearly as rich in protein as are meat sources, though.

“Many people do not realize that meat can be nutrient rich and is very high in protein,” Shemek says. 

Allen says meats generally offer about 7 grams of protein an ounce. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for every 100 grams of animal meat, salmon contains 20 grams of protein, canned tuna has 25 grams, ground beef has 26 grams, pork roast has 27 grams, turkey contains 29 grams, and beef roast has 29 grams.

But chicken breast beats all of those, packing 31 grams of protein per 100 grams of meat. 

Different parts of the chicken contain slightly less protein. According to the USDA, chicken thighs have 24 grams of protein, and you’ll get 30 grams in wings.

“White meat, skinless chicken is a good source of high-quality protein and is lower in saturated fat than red meat,” Schmidt says.

Chicken also has the advantage of being low in calories and a good source of amino acids and nutrients like vitamin B12, zinc and iron.

“When trying to get more protein in your diet, chicken is a great option,” says Allen, who also points to red meat as a good protein source as well as meatless protein options. “Try having a meatless meal once a week and adding a different protein source each time.”

No matter which protein sources you prefer, Schmidt says, “It’s best to spread protein relatively evenly throughout the day.”


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