I am writing this article because I am a teenager focused on my fitness and increasing my lifespan.
Have you ever been told you need to eat lots of protein? Protein quality is just as, if not more, important than protein quantity!
Protein quality is determined by the level of the 9 essential amino acids ( EAAs ) in a food. For example, wheat, rice, and corn have low protein quality because they do not contain lots of these EAAs. Foods such as lean meat, dairy, legumes, and soy are high-quality proteins because they have very high amounts of EAAs. You can also combine multiple foods that are low in certain EAAs and high in other EAAs to make a balanced meal. For example, rice and beans alone are not complete proteins but together make a complete protein.
Protein is essential for growing teens, as it is used for wound healing, getting taller, and building lean muscle. However, none of these vital processes can happen if the protein in your diet is not complete. (A protein is not complete if it does not contain all of the EAAs.)
While some processed or lunch meats can be a good source of protein, many are loaded with salt, which can cause high blood pressure and lead to other health problems. Processed meats like bacon and hot dogs have also been linked with an increased risk of cancer, likely due to the harmful substances used in processing the meat.
Good Sources of High-Quality Protein
Fish: Most seafood is high in protein and low in saturated fat. Salmon, trout, sardines, anchovies, sablefish (black cod), and herring are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to decreased mortality and decreased heart disease risk. Experts recommend eating seafood at least twice a week, but I don’t believe you need to eat fish to be healthy.
Dairy products: Products like milk, cheese, and yogurt offer lots of healthy protein. Beware of added sugar in yogurts and flavored milk, and avoid processed cheese like American cheese, as it often contains non-dairy ingredients.
Beans and legumes: Many beans and legumes are full of protein and fiber. Add them to salads, soups, and pasta to boost your protein intake. When shopping for canned beans, choose the low-sodium variety. Experts recommend two to three 1/2 cup servings per day for optimal health.
Nuts and seeds: As well as being rich sources of protein, nuts and seeds are also high in fiber and good fats. Add them to salads or just have a handful as a snack. Keep in mind to eat the salted varieties of nuts in moderation. Experts recommend 1-2 ounces (28g-56g) per day for optimal health.
Tofu and soy products: Non-GMO tofu and soy are excellent meat alternatives, as they are high in protein and low in fat. Plant-based protein sources are also often less expensive than meat.
Protein Powders, Shakes, and Bars
Protein supplements come in many forms, including powders you mix with liquid, pre-mixed, ready-to-drink shakes, or in bars. The most common protein supplements used are whey, casein, and soy powders. Whey and casein are milk-based proteins, while soy is the better choice for vegans or anyone with a dairy allergy. For most people, consuming a nutritionally adequate diet will provide you with enough quality protein, reducing the need for these supplements. However, you may benefit from protein supplements if any of the following applies to you:
- You are starting or increasing a workout program.
- You are trying to build muscle.
- You exercise a lot.
- You find yourself feeling weak while exercising or lifting weights.
- You are switching to a vegan diet.
- You have a small appetite and find it hard to get your protein requirements from whole foods.
I hope this post has helped you realize the importance of high-quality proteins and what they can do for you and your health. In the case of protein, quality is just as important as quality.