Protein is an essential macronutrient that is used by the body as a source of energy. It also helps to build and restore muscles and body tissues. Protein is found in an abundance of different foods, and as such, the majority of Canadians consume enough protein per day to avoid any major health concerns. It is also important to note, however, that not all protein sources are created equal, and some may even have a detrimental effect on overall health. In this article, we’ll explore some different protein sources, where protein is located on a nutrition label, as well as some helpful tips to ensure that you are getting the right types of protein to boost your healthy eating routine.
Understanding Protein on the Label
Unlike fat or carbohydrates (the other macronutrients), protein has no % Daily Value on a nutrition label. This is because the majority of individuals consume enough protein, so it isn’t a health concern for most people. Nonetheless when looking at a nutrition label, it is important to note how much saturated fat is included in a single serving of your high-protein food. This is important to know as consuming foods with saturated fats can increase your levels of LDL (or ‘bad’) cholesterol and can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Knowing this information will help you to determine which proteins you should include more often in your diet, and which ones you should try to limit. For example, in the nutrition label below we can see that one burger contains 19 grams of protein. We can also see that one burger contains eight grams of saturated fat, or 40% of our Daily Value of saturated fat. A good rule of thumb to follow is that 5% Daily Value or less of a nutrient is considered a small amount, while 15% Daily Value or more is considered a high amount. So, in the case of our burger, while 19 grams is a good amount of protein, there is also a very high amount of saturated fat, something that should be limited in a healthy diet.
Compare this to the nutrition label below, where we can see that ½ can of our product contains 15 grams of protein, and only 0.2 grams of saturated fat. This would be a good example of a product that could be substituted in for a protein product that is also high in saturated fats.
Choosing Healthy Sources of Protein
A good way to include high protein foods in your diet without adding a lot of saturated fat is to replace some common animal proteins with plant-based proteins. Eating nuts and seeds, legumes, and whole grains are all a great way to maintain your health, and the health of the planet. Try mixing and matching different sources of plant proteins to ensure that you are getting all of the essential proteins to help your body build and restore muscle and body tissues.
Some examples of plant proteins include:
- Tofu & tempeh
- Nuts & Seeds
- Flax seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
- Whole grains
Another way to include high protein foods in your diet without adding saturated fat is to include more lean cuts of meat, while limiting processed, and red meats.
Sources of lean meat include:
- Most fish and seafood
Red and processed meats are generally higher in saturated fat, so limiting these meats or replacing them with some of the above leaner options is a great way to limit your intake of saturated fats.
Sources of red and processed meat to limit include:
- Hot dogs
By enjoying more variety in your protein sources, and including plant protein whenever possible, you can be sure that you are incorporating the proper amount of vitamins and nutrients that are essential for a healthy eating routine.
Protein is a key part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. Understanding how to compare the amount of protein to the amount of saturated fats on a nutrition label can help you incorporate proteins that are also beneficial to your cardiovascular health. When choosing proteins at the grocery store, try to limit the amount of red and processed meats, and opt for more lean meats or plant-based proteins such as lentils, beans, or tofu. Picking proteins this way can help ensure that your body is getting the essential nutrients it needs to support and build muscle and body tissues and have a continual source of energy.
Health Canada. “Protein.” Government of Canada, 22 Jan. 2019, www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/nutrients/protein.html.
Diabetes Canada. “Nutrition Therapy.” Diabetes Canada, 2020, diabetes.ca/health-care-providers/clinical-practice-guidelines/chapter-11.
The Nutrition Source. “Protein.” Harvard School of Public Health, 24 Mar. 2021, www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/.