It's week 15 of the Habit-A-Week Challenge, where you make one small change each week to make your life a little healthier. If you've been following along, and have kept each healthy habit as the weeks passed, you now have 14 great new healthy habits in your life! And I bet you've lost weight, too if that was one of your goals. Sticking to small changes over time really does give results without being painful. If you are just joining us, or if you slipped up along the way, just start right here and work on this week's habit. When the Challenge ends (next week!), you can go back to Habit #1 and keep working on them, one per week until you have revamped your life dramatically without a ton of effort. For last week's habit (and links to all the previous habits), click here.
This week we'll focus on getting enough protein in our daily diets. Protein is important to build healthy muscle (and I don't mean bulking up. Remember, your heart is a muscle, and you certainly want that to be healthy!) Your skin and organs also are composed of protein, and it is important for tissue repair and for making hormones and enzymes. Protein also helps you stay satisfied and not get hungry as often. If you eat a meal with very little protein, you might feel hungry soon afterwards, leading to too much snacking.
So how much protein is enough? Most experts recommend a protein intake of 15 to 30% of your daily calories. The RDA for protein for your body weight is 0.8g per kilogram. You can try out a protein calculator like this one or this nifty one, which not only gives you your RDA but also has some cool information about dietary protein.
Foods that contain all 20 of the amino acids we need for growth are called complete proteins. These include animal proteins such as meats, fish, eggs, and milk. There are also a few non-animal complete proteins including hemp, quinoa, and soy. Proteins that don't have all of the essential amino acids are incomplete proteins, such as whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and some vegetables. You can get all of your protein needs in a vegetarian diet by combining complementary proteins to make a complete protein. For example, beans + rice or peanut butter + wheat bread.
You can figure out whether or not you are getting enough protein by logging your food for a few days on Sparkpeople (free) or any other calorie/nutrition logging site. At the end of the day you can easily see how many grams of protein you have eaten, and which meals were lacking.
Also, be aware that some protein sources may also include high cholesterol or saturated fat. Beef is generally higher in saturated fat, so experts recommend limiting red meat. High-quality proteins that are healthiest include fish, chicken breast, egg whites, beans, nuts, and whole grains.
Some ideas for getting protein into your diet:
Breakfast: Egg whites or Egg Beaters, scrambled or in an omelet with veggies and low fat cheese. Add protein powder to a breakfast smoothie, or to your oatmeal. Add nuts to your oatmeal; a spoonful of peanut butter is really good in oats, too!
Snacks: a handful of almonds, a low fat string cheese, or some hummus with carrot sticks. I also enjoy peanut butter on apple slices. And don't forget the crunchy roasted chickpeas!
Lunch/Dinner: fish or chicken is a great main course, but you can also get plenty of protein in a lentil soup, refried beans, salads with chickpeas or beans. Bean soup is fantastic. Vegetarian chili over brown rice is great too!
Feel free to add your favorite protein-rich meal and snacking ideas to the comments section. I always love to get fresh ideas for the menu!
If you already get plenty of protein, focus on the quality of the protein you eat. Try to get more from vegetarian sources. Add fish at least twice a week to your diet. Try and cut back on red meat; once a week is plenty... less is great, too.
When you get enough good proteins in your diet, you'll feel better. Eating a handful of nuts is so much better for your body than eating a protein-devoid 100-calorie pack of Oreos! Improve your diet... improve your life :)
Watch for an update on how I'm doing, either this evening or tomorrow. It's almost the end of the month! Do your best to have a healthy week.