We’re fired up about protein—in a good way. It’s a calorie sizzler, an immunity booster and, well, basically the holy grail of a healthy, strong body. But you need to know how much to eat, and when, to get the benefits: Too much or too little of the stuff can jeopardize your well-being. Learn how this wonder nutrient can help you burn more calories, even while sitting and reading this!
A: Soon after sinking your teeth into a steak or eggs or beans, the protein starts to break into amino acids, which are then distributed throughout your body, reassembled into new proteins and put to work on…
MUSCLES Amino acids build and repair muscle. The more lean muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate—and the more calories you burn.
BLOOD Hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells, carries fueling oxygen throughout your body.
BONES Nearly 30 percent of bone weight is collagen, another protein.
HAIR AND NAILS Both are made of keratin, a protein that’s constantly replenished (aka growing) as new amino acids arrive. Salon addiction: justified.
IMMUNITY Amino acids help form illness-fighting antibodies.
HUNGER Dietary protein is harder to process than fat or carbs, so your body torches double the calories digesting it. And amino acids trigger hormones that signal fullness, says SELF contributing expert Janis Jibrin, R.D.
A: First, let’s set the record straight. Diets such as Paleo and Atkins aren’t as high in protein as many people believe. For instance, Paleo advocates getting up to 35 percent of calories from protein, which aligns with the USDA guidelines for women. And although the diets may result in weight loss, it’s often because you cut back on refined carbs, like cake.
They have downsides. For starters, certain diet plans, like Atkins, give free rein to eating proteins that are saturated fat–heavy (bacon, butter). “And some severely limit entire food groups, such as grains and fruit, which nixes key nutrients such as fiber and is difficult to sustain,” say SELF contributing experts Stephanie Clarke, R.D., and Willow Jarosh, R.D.
So skip them. Aim to get 25 to 30 percent of your calories from lean proteins, an amount shown to help maintain lean muscle and rev metabolism, says Stuart Phillips, Ph.D., of McMaster University. And lay off junk food. But you knew that.
A: Many nutritionists advise eating 1.1 g to 1.2 g of protein daily for every 2.2 pounds of body weight (68 g to 74 g for a 135-pound woman). Many of us do get about 70 g daily, the USDA reports, “but we tend to eat the majority of it at dinner, and our body can use only 15 g to 30 g at a time to build and repair tissue,” says Roberta Anding, R.D., a spokeswoman for AND. The rest is burned for energy or, too often, stored as fat. Clarke and Jarosh suggest divvying up protein throughout the day and aiming for about 20 g at meals and 6 g to 12 g in two snacks. Some ideas:
In a small pan, sauté 1 egg in 1 tsp olive oil with 1 cup spinach. Top 1 whole-wheat English muffin with egg-and-spinach mixture, 1 slice turkey bacon, 1 slice (1 oz) lowfat Swiss cheese. 362 calories | 25 g protein
Make a sandwich:1 tsp Dijon mustard; 2 oz lean roast beef; 1/8 avocado, sliced; 1 slice tomato; 1/4 cup spinach on 2 slices whole-wheat bread. Serve with 2 medium carrots, 1/4 cup hummus. 474 calories | 27 g protein
Heat broiler. In a bowl, combine 1 tsp olive oil, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1/4 tsp dried rosemary, and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste; brush over a 3-oz boneless, skinless salmon fillet. Broil fish until flaky, 4 minutes. In a small pan, sauté 1 cup broccoli rabe in 1 tsp olive oil; spoon over 3/4 cup cooked brown rice tossed with 2 tbsp grated Parmesan, 1 tsp olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. 500 calories | 30 g protein
One 12-oz nonfat latte, 1 small orange 183 calories | 11 g protein
Cook 1/4 cup rolled oats as directed on package in 1/2 cup skim milk; top with 1/3 cup blueberries, 2 tbsp sliced almonds. Serve with 1 hard-boiled egg. 374 calories | 20 g protein
Make a salad: 2 cups baby spinach, 1/2 cup white beans, 1/2 cup grape halves, 2 tbsp chopped walnuts, 2 tbsp crumbled goat cheese, 1 1/2 tbsp vinaigrette. Serve with 1 whole-wheat roll. 502 calories | 21 g protein
In a large pan, stir-fry 1/2 cup each sliced mushrooms and shredded cabbage, and 1/3 cup each sliced carrots, red bell pepper and green bell pepper in 2 tsp peanut oil, 1/4 tsp low-sodium soy sauce, 5 minutes. Add 3 oz diced firm tofu, 1/4 cup black beans, 2 tbsp chopped peanuts; cook 3 minutes. Spoon over 3/4 cup cooked brown rice. Serve with salad: 1 cup lettuce, 1/4 cup chopped tomatoes, 1/4 cup sliced cucumbers, 2 tbsp carrot-ginger dressing. 621 calories | 23 g protein
1 slice whole-wheat bread with 1/2 oz cheddar 157 calories | 8 g protein
What food practically screams summer and is high in protein? Burgers! Get your fill with our lean and mean versions at Self.com.
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