Although protein is one of the most important nutrients, most people misunderstand how to get it and what is the right amount to maintain good health. Surprisingly, an average American takes in as much as three times the necessary amount. Protein is a necessary part of any diet because it contains amino acids that repair body cells and tissues. Since the nine essential amino acids needed cannot be produced by the body, they must be supplied by diet. Foods that contain all the essential amino acids are considered complete proteins. Foods that contain complete proteins are meats, fish, poultry, and dairy products. Although red meat is very protein-rich, keep in mind that it contains large amounts of saturated fat. Most vegetables and grains are considered incomplete proteins because, when eaten by themselves, they provide less than adequate amounts of the necessary amino acids. However, since vegetables and grains contain different amounts and proportions of essential amino acids, they can be combined to complement each other to provide complete protein. An example of this would be rice and beans. In general, vegetable sources of protein will be complementary if you combine legumes (LEG-oomes) such as peas and lentils with grain products like wheat, corn, rice, or oats. Legumes can also be combined with nuts and seeds, such as almonds, cashews, and sesame seeds in order to provide a complete source of protein. Also, even though your activity level may decrease with age, your body's need for protein may increase at various times due to illnesses or various stresses in your life. For more information on nutrition, contact a health care provider.

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