Protein is one of the most important nutrients we need – it’s in every cell of the body, and we can’t live without it. Along with helping us to build muscle, protein helps to build and repair body tissues, supports the immune system, enables chemical reactions to take place and much, much more (source: healthline.com).
But what is it, exactly?
Protein is a macronutrient – which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as a substance that is “essential in relatively large amounts to the growth and health of a living organism” – and is made up of 20 amino acids:
- Nine are essential – you have to get them from the food you eat.
- Eleven are non-essential – your body can make them.
Not all protein is the same
Dietary sources of protein are either complete, which means they contain enough of all nine essential amino acids, or incomplete, which means they don’t contain all (or sufficient amounts) of the nine essential amino acids.
While all animal-based proteins are considered complete, most plant-based proteins are not, with a few exceptions like quinoa, buckwheat and soy. So it's particularly important for anyone following a plant-based diet to eat a variety of healthy foods each day.
How much is enough?
The Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand recommend the following daily intake:
- Adult men: 0.84 g of protein per kg of body weight
- Adult women: 0.75 g of protein per kg of body weight
7 great sources of protein
If you’re looking for ways to add more protein to your diet, here are seven nutrient-rich foods to include in your meal plan.
Eggs are a convenient and affordable source of good-quality protein – one egg contains about 6 g. Plus, they’re rich in other nutrients like vitamin A, B2, B12 and D. Whether you enjoy them boiled, scrambled, poached or in a frittata, they deserve their place on your weekly shopping list.
Chicken is an Australian favourite – and while some say boring, we say versatile. It’s delicious, super-easy to prepare and great in salads, wraps and pastas or roasted with vegetables. It contains about 27 g of protein per 100 g and is a good source of vitamin B3 and B6.
Another protein that’s great in salads and wraps – and perfect for quick and easy fish cakes – canned tuna provides about 30 g of protein per 100 g. This pantry staple is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and vitamin B12.
4. Greek yoghurt
Greek yoghurt isn’t just delicious, it’s also packed with protein, providing about 10 g per 100 g serving. It also contains probiotics, calcium and vitamin B12. Top it with a handful of almonds or macadamias and a drizzle of honey for a delicious breakfast or sweet snack.
One of the few complete plant-based proteins, this little seed contains 4.4 g of protein per 100 g (cooked). It’s also rich in fibre, magnesium, folate and iron. Enjoy it as a hearty porridge, toss it into salads, add it to casseroles or use it as a replacement for rice.
6. Almond butter
Pop a spoon or two of almond butter into a smoothie or enjoy it on a slice of whole-grain toast for a quick protein boost – one tablespoon contains around 3.4 g. This delicious spread is also a good source of vitamin E.
Cooked chickpeas are another versatile and easy-to-use ingredient, whether you add them to a stew, roast them for an afternoon snack or enjoy them in hummus. They provide about 9 g of protein and 8 g of fibre per 100 g and also contain iron, calcium, potassium and selenium.