Protein 101: Do you know the basics?

by Roberta MacPhee, RD on February 19, 2014

Bethany and I were talking and she has been getting questions from people since her last blog post.  People are interested in protein and want to know more, so we are going to focus the next few nutrition blog posts on getting down and dirty on the topic of protein.  Bethany started it off with her last post when she challenged us all to aim to get 25-30grams of protein at every meal (which I have to say I have been trying to do and struggling with – work in progress!). I’m going to use my blog post this week to get back to basics on protein.  In future blog posts we’ll also look at protein supplements (whey, casein, soy, other plant based supplements), amino acids, pre- and post-exercise protein needs, and a few other topics on protein as well…so stay tuned!

Protein 101: Basic Types of Protein

So let’s talk about types of protein.  Protein can be divided into two main categories in our everyday food supply: animal sources of protein and plant sources of protein.  Animal sources of protein are found in foods from animals (easy enough to remember!) such as meat, fish, poultry, pork, eggs, cheese, milk yogurt, etc.  Plant sources of protein are found in foods such as beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, nut/seed butters, tofu/soy products, and in smaller amounts in grain products.
There are some major differences between these two types.  Animal sources of protein are also known as “complete proteins” because they provide all of the amino acids (21 to be exact!) our bodies need to build and repair tissue and muscle.  Plant sources of protein are often called “incomplete proteins” because they do not provide all of the amino acids we need to build tissue and need to be eaten in combination with other plant proteins to produce a complete protein.  Rice and beans is a common example of 2 “incomplete” plant proteins combined to make a “complete” protein.  This action of combining protein sources can be challenging but it can be done!  People who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet do it all the time! 2 plant sources, however, that do contain all the amino acids, making them a “complete source”, are tofu/soy and quinoa.
Another big difference between the two types of proteins is the amount of protein in each source.  Animal sources of protein often times contain more protein per gram than plant protein.  In most cases, you can get more “bang for your buck” with animal sources of protein because you can get more protein while consuming fewer calories.  See the table below for examples..

Animal sources are more “protein dense”.  Something to think about if you are concerned with calories!  You’d need to eat 400 calories worth of peanut butter (4Tbsp) to get the same amount of protein in 100 calories worth of chicken breast (60g portion)!  Thinking back to Bethany’s challenge to get 25-30grams per meal – that’s A LOT of peanut butter sandwiches (disclaimer: I am a huge fan of peanut butter, not trying to turn people off of it, just showing the difference in protein content!).
Other differences exist between animal and plant proteins including types of fat in each source, amounts of fat, cholesterol content, iron and zinc content (and absorption issues), but I wanted to focus on the basics: which foods have animal and plant protein and how much protein are in some common examples.  If you have questions about other aspects of the animal vs. plant proteins then please feel free to speak with Bethany!

Stay tuned for more detailed posts in the coming weeks in this “Protein Series”. We welcome any and all questions you may have on protein for future blog posts!

Check out this delicious chili recipe that is packed with BOTH sources of protein: animal and plant.  It also meets Bethany’s Protein Challenge criteria (25-30grams).  Chili is such a great “make ahead” dinner – it freezes very well and it is often better the second or third day!
Have this with a glass of milk and you have a very hearty and filling meal! Enjoy
Yield: 6 Servings

1lb (454grams) extra lean ground beef (or try ground turkey or chicken)
1 16oz (480ml) can of stewed/crushed tomatoes
1-16oz (480ml) can of kidney beans (or try chick peas or pinto beans), drained
6 cups rice, cooked
1 tsp each of salt, pepper, chili powder – feel free to add in any other spices you like!
OPTIONAL: green pepper and corn or any other veggies you like! The more the better

1. In a large pot, brown the ground beef.  Drain fat, if any.
2. Add the tomatoes, beans and spices (and corn/peppers if using).  Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer.
3. Simmer for up to 1 hour – the longer the better. Depending on how thick you like your chili, you can add some low sodium chicken or vegetable borth to thin it out if desired.
4. Serve the chili over 1 cup cooked rice (per person)

Calories: 478kcals         Carb: 64g      Protein: 34g        Fat: 9g     Fibre: 6g

Clark, N. (2008). Nancy Clark’s sports nutrition guidebook (4th ed.). Chestnut Hill, MA: Human Kinetics
Health Canada. (2008). Nutrient values of some common foods. Ottawa, ON. Publications Health Canada.
Health Canada. (2007). Canada’s food guide to healthy eating.  Ottawa, ON.  Publications Health Canada.

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