Joseph F. Sullivan Center


proteinProtein is an important food for your body because it needs the amino acids that are broken down from protein. Amino acids function as building blocks for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, blood, enzymes, hormones and even vitamins! Protein helps with tissue repair, providing energy for the body, and helping the immune system fight off illness. Some of the nutrients provided by protein include:

  • B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, B6): help body release energy, play a vital role in nervous system, help form red blood cells and build tissues
  • Vitamin E
  • Iron: used to carry oxygen in the blood
  • Zinc: necessary for immune system functioning and biochemical reactions
  • Magnesium: used for building bones and releasing energy from muscles
  • EPA and DHA: these are omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood and these may reduce the risk for heart disease

What kind of proteins to eat?

Did you know? Cholesterol is only found in foods from animal sources. High cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease! Saturated fats raise LDL cholesterol (for more information on cholesterol, click here). LDL cholesterol is the bad cholesterol. Foods in the protein group can be high in saturated fat, so you should avoid fatty cuts of beef, pork and lamb, sausages, hot dogs and bacon. Other foods high in cholesterol include egg yolks and organ meats (like liver and giblets). 

To get enough healthy protein in your diet, try to stick to fish, poultry, and vegetable protein-like beans! Some other vegetable sources of protein are nuts and whole grains. Vegetable sources of protein also have fiber, vitamins and minerals, so you're getting more nutrients in your diet than basic protein. Some vegetable sources of protein include: 

  • Kidney or pinto beans
  • Baked beans
  • Black beans
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Hummus
  • Nuts (remember to choose unsalted!)
  • Soy products: tofu, tempeh, veggie burgers

*Tip: When eating nuts an seeds, eat them in small portions and use them to replace other protein foods because they are high in calories. Also remember to choose unsalted nuts and seeds to help reduce sodium intake. 

If you love red meat, and can't live without it, try to stick to the leanest cuts possible. Choose moderate portion sizes, and only eat it occasionally. The leanest beef cuts include round steaks and roasts, top loin, top sirloin, chuck shoulder and arm roasts. 

The USDA recommends at least 8 oz of seafood each week to help reduce risk of heart disease. Fish is full of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Salmon, trout and herring all have high amounts of omega-3's. 

Tips to keep it lean:

  • Buy skinless chicken parts, or take the skin off before cooking. Boneless skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets are the leanest poultry choices. 
  • Trim away all visible fat from meats and poultry before cooking.
  • Boil, grill, roast or poach meat or fish instead of frying.
  • Drain off any fat that appears during cooking.
  • Skip breading on meat, poultry or fish--it adds calories and allows room to soak up fat during frying.
  • Prepare beans and peas without adding fat.
  • Choose and prepare foods without fatty sauces or gravies.

For vegetarians, getting enough protein can sometimes be hard! Sources of protein for you guys include: eggs (for ovo-vegetarians), beans, peas, nuts, nut butters and soy products (tofu, tempeh, veggie burgers). For more information from the USDA for vegetarians, click here!

So, how much protein?

The amount of protein your body needs depends on your age, sex, and level of physical activity. Recommended amounts are as follows:

  • Children: 
    • 2-3 years old: 2 ounces
    • 4-8 years old: 4 ounces
  • Girls: 
    • 9-18 years old: 5 ounces
  • Boys: 
    • 9-13 years old: 5 ounces
    • 14-18 years old: 6.5 ounces
  • Women: 
    • 19-30 years old: 5.5 ounces
    • 31+ years old: 5 ounces
  • Men:
    • 19-30 years old: 6.5 ounces
    • 31-50 years old: 6 ounces
    • 51+ years old: 5.5 ounces

These specified amounts are appropriate for individuals who get less than 30 minutes of physical activity each day, beyond normal daily activities. Those who are more physically active may be able to consume more while staying within calorie needs. 

And, how much is an ounce?

In general, 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, 1/4 cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds can be considered as a 1 ounce equivalent from the protein foods group. A good tip is using the size of the palm of your hand for meat servings (see photo to the right). For an in-depth chart, click here!

Information provided by the USDA