What’s the deal with protein?

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Have you been walking down the snack aisle or any aisle in the grocery store for that matter and see protein chips, protein cookies or cereal with extra protein? What is next protein packed candy bars. Wait they have that too.

Well I can tell you, that even though protein is important you should not be getting protein from discretionary foods. There are some “protein cookies” on the market that claim to be plant based and protein packed thus healthier for you. These cookies do have 16g of protein, which is a lot for a cookie, but they also contain 402 calories and 24 grams of sugar. For comparison if you were to eat a 3-ounce chicken breast you would get 19 g of protein and only 92 calories. Maybe you are attracted to these cookies because they claim to be plant based. A protein rich plant food is lentils. They contain 18 grams of protein and 230 calories in a 1 cup serving.

We eat food for many reasons’ enjoyment is one. If you want a cookie because it is delicious that is fine. We don’t always have to eat for nutrition reasons. In fact, this “protein cookie” is higher in calories and sugar when compared to a Subway cookie.

Protein plays a very important role in our body. It is actually in every cell in the human body. Body cells, including muscle cells are in a constant state of turnover, always being made and broken down and remade. All body proteins need to be replaced every 3 to 4 months. To do this we need to provide our bodies with protein. Consuming enough protein will prevent our bodies breaking down muscle stores to get the protein it needs.  Protein can also help with weight loss, weight management, maintaining muscle mass and bone health as you age.

It is understandable why food manufacturers want to put it in everything. Protein obviously has very important qualities. While it is important to feed our bodies protein in sufficient amounts, using discretionary foods like cookies, potato chips or popcorn is not the way to do that. Look for animal proteins like chicken breast, 90% lean ground beef, salmon, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and eggs. There are plenty of plant-based options as well. The best plant-based foods for protein are tempeh, lentils, tofu, beans and nuts.

 

Monica Nagele is the Montgomery County Extension Educator and County Extension Director, Health and Human Science. She is a registered dietitian. The Extension office is at 400 Parke Ave., Crawfordsville; 765-364-6363. She may be reached by email at mwilhoit@purdue.edu.

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