Protein is an essential nutrient that acts as a building block of every cell in our body - from our hair, skin and nails to our muscles, organs and even hormones.
Some of the foods highest in protein include meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Of course individual requirements vary, but for the average person, 2 to 3 portions of these foods will provide adequate protein per day, as well as other important vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc and B vitamins.
As an example, one portion is the equivalent to about 100g (raw weight) of meat, fish or chicken, or 2 eggs, or 1 cup of legumes. Further information regarding portions and food groups can be found at www.eatforhealth.gov.au.
Here’s a few tips for maximum health benefits within this food group:
Limit processed meats such as bacon, sausages, salami and pies. These are typically very high in salt, unhealthy saturated fat and preservatives and increase your risk of diseases such as certain types of cancer and heart attacks.
Choose lean, fresh meats such premium / ‘heart smart’ mince, skinless chicken breast, tenderloins or thigh fillets, lean pork/lamb/beef steaks with visible fat trimmed before cooking and kangaroo. Minimise higher fat meats like chicken wings, drumsticks and chops.
For heart and brain health, eat fish or seafood 2-3 times per week including some oily fish such as salmon or tuna, ideally local and sustainably sourced. Tinned or frozen varieties are fine, just check for added salt, preservatives and sugar.
Include at least one vegetarian meal per week using plant protein such as legumes (lentils, peas and beans), tofu or tempeh. These go well in soups, salads, curries and stir fries and are ideally paired with a high protein whole grain such as quinoa or brown rice. Swapping some meat protein in your week for a plant-based alternative is fantastic for an incredible number of reasons including improvements for inflammation, gut health, mental health, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, the environment and even savings on the grocery bill (legumes are so cheap!).
Eggs were a source of confusion for a long time with the thought that they increased cholesterol, however this has now been proven incorrect! The Heart Foundation recommends 6 to 7 eggs per week.