By Laine Bergeson
Fact: We can’t survive without protein in our diet. This essential macronutrient is found throughout our bodies — in muscle tissue, skin, hair, and bones — and helps power the chemical reactions that transport oxygen to every part of your body. It provides energy, helps build muscle, and promotes healing. Eating healthy, high-quality sources of protein — like the protein found in nuts, legumes, poultry, and fish — is also associated with a lower risk of chronic conditions, like diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. And some research suggests that just one daily serving of protein from a plant-based whole-food source may lead to weight loss and better weight management. In other words, protein is important for everyone — not just athletes. Here are 10 easy ways to increase protein in your diet.
But, First: What Is Protein? (and How Much Do You Need?)
Protein is an essential macronutrient made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are 22 amino acids in total, including nine “essential” amino acids that the body can’t produce on its own. These amino acids must come from food.
Any foods or combination of foods that contains these nine amino acids is known as a “complete” protein. Foods that don’t contain all nine amino acids are known as “incomplete” proteins. As a general rule, animal proteins tend to be complete, while plant-based proteins tend to be incomplete (though not all of them are… more on that below).
The USDA recommends 46 grams of protein per day for adult women and 56 grams for adult men. Alternately, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends basing daily protein intake on current body weight. They suggest 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for active adults. Using this method, a 150-pound person should eat 95 to 136 grams of protein per day.
Read more: The Truth About Protein
10 Easy Ways to Increase Protein in Your Diet
If you don’t think you’re getting enough protein in your diet, you don’t have to start eating steak every night, or mix yourself a protein shake every morning. In fact, you really shouldn’t. Here’s what you should do.
1. Eat a varied diet.
Experts say that if you eat a wide variety of foods, including healthy proteins like nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and vegetables, you’re likely to get all the protein you need from your daily diet. Said a different way, add some variety to your eating regimen, like trading out eggs for one of these high-protein breakfast ideas.
2. Eat more complete plant-based proteins.
Skip the protein shakes in favor of quinoa and chia seeds. Both are complete plant-based proteins that are easy to incorporate into snacks and meals: Substitute quinoa for rice, add it to homemade veggie burgers, or use it to “beef” up a vegetarian chili recipe. Chia are great for making puddings, as an egg substitute in baked goods, and tossed into smoothies.
3. Add nuts and seeds to everything.
Nuts and seed are high-protein foods that are great tossed on salads, roasted vegetables like beets or Brussels sprouts, and your morning bowl of oatmeal.
4. Swap out your bread.
5. Snack on chickpeas.
Chickpeas are a good plant-based source of protein, so when you’re choosing a spread or dip and more protein is your goal, opt for hummus. Or roast some chickpeas with olive oil and sea salt for a crunchy, salty afternoon treat.
6. Embrace nutritional yeast.
Nutritional yeast adds a satisfying umami flavor to everything from popcorn to roasted broccoli. It also happens to be a complete plant-based protein.
7. Hard-boil some eggs.
Hard-boiled eggs make an easy, healthy, protein-filled snack. They keep for a while without refrigeration and can travel with you wherever you go. A hardboiled egg can also be sliced and put on a salad or on top of your avocado toast.
8. Dip everything in nut butter.
Is there anything that’s not good with a bit of nut butter? Carrots, celery, apples, chocolate… or for a super-simple dessert, try stuffing a date with almond butter and sprinkling with sea salt.
9. Try a high-quality protein powder.
We know we said you shouldn’t whiz up a protein shake every morning, but protein powder can be a good way to increase protein if you’re traveling or just tight on time. Protein powders vary in quality and people can react differently to different types, so read labels carefully.
10. Eat some protein at every meal.
Instead of trying to get all your protein at one meal, eat some at each meal and snack. It will make meeting your protein needs easier and it’s also better for your body.