Wanting to meal plan with all the right foods? Dr Joanna McMillan shares the best tips to get you on your way.
First off – let’s define protein. Protein is an essential macronutrient that the body and cells need to function properly. Despite what people may think, it’s not just the gym-enthusiast that needs to be thinking about their daily protein intake to function at their best – it’s all of us.
Protein plays a critical role in not only helping to build and maintain muscles, but also to repair wounds, create new cells, build signalling molecules, fuel your energy by carrying oxygen throughout your body and promote appetite control.
Not all proteins are created equal
The higher the quality of the protein, the better the balance of amino acids present and the easier it is for the body to digest and use. Animal proteins such as eggs, meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products have an excellent amino acid profile and are easily digested, which result in greater amino acid availability for the body.
In fact, eggs are one of the most affordable sources of natural, quality protein that you can find. Adding just one serving of eggs to any meal or snack that provides 20 per cent of the recommended daily intake of protein for men and 27 per cent of the recommended daily intake for women.
Go for whole foods > processed, packaged foods
It’s important to make the foundation of your diet whole, minimally processed foods. Spotted a pre-packaged health food? My general red flag is that these are usually ultra-processed and won’t deliver you the adequate amount of protein and other nutrients you need to keep your body functioning at its best throughout the day.
These packaged ‘health foods’ tend to come with a price tag. It’s Important to remember that you can benefit from all the substances found naturally in whole foods, such as antioxidants and various types of fibres. The full array of these substances are only found in natural whole foods and not in packaged foods or supplements.
A few affordable foods that I suggest keeping on your shopping list that are sure to help you hit your protein threshold without hurting your wallet include things like; eggs, rolled oats, nuts, legumes such as lentils and soybeans as well as yoghurt, tofu, halloumi, and canned tuna.
Remember to spread your protein evenly throughout the day
We often only think of protein at dinner time. But the latest research suggests that it’s not only important to ensure we are meeting a certain threshold for protein each day, but we are distributing our protein intake across each meal.
Most of us don’t eat enough protein for breakfast and then tend to eat too much at our evening meal. Getting your hit of protein in the morning can be as easy as whisking a few eggs for breakfast or having a bowl of yoghurt and rolled oats.
Throughout the day, grabbing a handful of nuts, digging into a can of tuna or even pre-boiling a few eggs to eat on the go can be a great way to up your protein.
When it comes to lunch, my tip to keep costs low and ensure you are getting a good hit of protein at your midday meal is to buy pre-made roast chicken from the supermarket and shred it up at the beginning of the week to throw into a salad or with a side of quinoa. After a vegetarian option? I love to simply add canned beans or chickpeas to a lovely big bowl of salad with plenty of veg and a dressing of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic.
When it comes to dinner, nothing is wrong with the classic meat and three veggies. That way you can be sure you are getting your nutrients from your vegetables while packing a hit of protein with your meat. If you’re vegetarian, why not try a bean or lentil curry at dinner, or even a green vegetable stir-fry packed with spinach, asparagus or broccoli and topped with crispy tofu.