Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Five Healthy Protein Foods to Start Eating NOW

5 Healthy High-Protein Foods to Start Eating Now!

I think we know that prime rib is not the best nutrition choice, but what are some of the best high protein foods to include for health? There are several factors that may make a food a healthy choice, including:

  • Nutrient dense: high levels of phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals per serving

  • Contain healthy sources of one or more macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat). For instance, complete protein, healthy fats, or high-carbohydrate foods with a lot of fiber.

  • Low calorie density: foods high in volume but low in energy. These foods are also high in water

  • Foods that protect us from chronic diseases

  • Low in the nutrients that may make us sick in the long term: saturated and trans fats, salt, refined carbohydrates (sugar and white breads), MSG an other preservative

1. Salmon and Other Fatty Fishes

Salmon and other fatty fishes have so many health benefits. These fish contain special and essential fats called omega-3-fatty acids. Why all the hype about some fat? As reviewed in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings by Dr. John Lee and his colleagues, two research studies showed that supplementing with two omega-3 oils naturally found in fish, DHA and EPA, resulted in 29% to 45% reduction in cardiovascular events for patients who were not taking prescription medications. Experts recommend that most people consume about two 3-4 ounce servings of fatty fish each week to maintain a healthy heart. Those who cannot stand to eat fish may consider taking a fish oil supplement instead. The American Heart Association recommends that individuals with heart disease take 1g of DHA/EPA each day. However, if you are being treated for heart disease, make sure to talk to your doctor before starting any supplement program, since supplements may sometimes interact with prescription medications.

If salmon is not to your taste, consider trying herring, jack mackerel (the one that comes in a can) or tuna. All of these fish are also high in omega-3 fats and are also relatively low in mercury. Generally speaking, health experts agree that the benefits consuming fish, both wild and farmed, outweigh any potential risks from heavy metal contaminants potentially found in water-dwelling creatures. Though some other forms of omega-3 fats are available from plant sources, like flax seeds and walnut oil, these sources have not been shown to have the same cardio-protective benefits as the fish-derived omega-3 fats. Fish have “longer chain” (more carbons) in their omega-3 fats, as compared to plant omega-3 fats. As revealed by Dr. Plourde et al. in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, only about 5% of vegetable sourced omega-3 fats are converted to the active form in the body. In short, flax seed oil is still good for you, but fish is a superior source of omega-3 fats.

2. Black Beans

Black beans, and really all beans, are very healthy food choices. As reviewed by Dr. Donna Winham and her colleagues in Nutrition Today, research indicates that a diet rich in beans may help to prevent heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. Furthermore, beans are good or excellent sources of many nutrients, including: protein, fiber, folate, potassium, magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese. In fact, ½ cup of cooked black beans has nearly 8 grams of fiber—that’s 3-4 times the amount in one slice of most whole wheat breads! Furthermore, black beans are a good source of vegetarian iron. Just remember that vegetarian iron sources are absorbed better with some source of acid, so you might want to add tomatoes and make a black bean chili ;-)

3. Eggs

Perhaps one of the most controversial protein sources of all time, eggs are back in the healthy nutrition spotlight. “Eggs aren’t the dietary demons they’re cracked up to be,” as stated by the Harvard Heart Letter in 2006. Though one large egg contains about 220 mg of cholesterol (about 70% of the maximum recommended amount for 1 day), in the context of a healthy diet, eggs can provide significant benefits. First, eggs are a good source of high quality protein. In fact, the protein content of a whole egg is nearly perfect.

Furthermore, eggs are a good source of choline, a nutrient linked to memory retention, vitamin A, vitamin D and iron. As reviewed in the Harvard Heart Letter above, dietary cholesterol is not the nutrient that’s most related to heart disease—saturated fats, trans fats and refined carbohydrates have a stronger association with high blood lipids and heart disease. With that said, if you are healthy, one egg per day, on average, will enhance your well-being.

4. Low-Fat Plain or Light Yogurt

Yogurt, like all low-fat dairy, is a good source of high quality protein, calcium, and potassium. Even better, yogurt often provides probiotics. Probiotics are the “live and active cultures” that are used to convert milk to creamy yogurt. In other words, yogurt provides the body with healthy bacteria to inhabit the large intestine, which may help to fight off bacteria that cause sickness. Several research studies suggest that yogurt may enhance the immune system, help gastro-intestinal distress and support vaginal health. Some yogurts are made with enzymes, instead of healthy bacteria, so look for the “live and active cultures” on the label!

5. Extra Lean Beef

Though some dietary iron may be gleaned from vegetarian sources, the intestines actually have special transporters for heme iron, or the iron contained in meat. Therefore, iron provided by meat sources, like lean beef, are absorbed about 3-5 times better than vegetarian sources. A 3oz broiled beef patty (95% lean ground beef) has 2.5mg of iron. That’s about a third of the RDA (a value of a nutrient that will meet the requirement for the vast majority of the population) for a man and 1/7 of the RDA for a woman. As an added bonus, a small amount of beef will enhance the absorption of non-heme (vegetarian-sourced) iron. So that’s a good reason so add a little lean beef to your black bean chili! Be aware of red meat high in saturated fat, however. The calories and artery-clogging saturated fat values add up quickly if beef is eaten haphazardly. The best choices for beef are listed below; each has five grams of fat of less for each raw 4oz serving.


Eye round ~ top round ~ bottom round ~ sirloin tip side ~ top sirloin ~ brisket flat half ~ 96% lean ground beef

Protein is an essential nutrient and many nutrition and fitness professionals believe that extra protein is required for active individuals. Furthermore, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommend up to about 1.8g/kg of body weight (about 0.82g/lb of body weight) for individuals who lift weights on a consistent basis. Fatty fish, beans, eggs, low-fat dairy products (including yogurt), and lean meats (including beef) may all be included as healthy dietary protein sources. Want a hearty dose of protein, fiber and iron? Try the easy, low-fat chili recipe below!

97% Lean Ground Beef Super Easy Chili

Step 1: Combine in large soup pot: 1 lb 97% lean ground beef, 1 can (14 oz) fire- roasted tomatoes, 1 large jar (24 oz or thereabouts) salsa, 1 can of black beans (well-rinsed), 1 can kidney beans (well-rinsed), red pepper flakes, black pepper and hot sauce to taste.

Step 2: Cook on medium heat for 1-2 hours and enjoy

Nutrition (1/8 recipe): 200 Calories, 20g protein, 26g carbohydrate, 2g fat, 8 g fiber