Facts on Protein

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What is protein?

Protein is one of three macronutrients needed to keep you healthy.  Protein is found in all cells in your body and is used to support the growth and repair of body tissues such as muscles, tendons, membranes, organs, bones, skin, hair and nails.  Your body also requires protein to make enzymes, hormones and antibodies.

What foods contain protein?

Protein is mainly found in meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu and fortified soy beverages.

How much protein do I need?

Health Canada recommends adults 19 years and older get 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.  For example, a 70-kilogram (154 pound) male requires 56 grams of protein per day, while a 58-kilogram (127 pound) female requires 46 grams of protein per day.

This protein recommendation is for normal, healthy individuals eating a typical mixed North American diet.  Individuals that have physiological, health, or lifestyle characteristics may require tailoring of specific requirements and should consult with their healthcare professional. 

The following groups have different protein needs than outlined above and should consult with a healthcare professional:

  • Children and adolescents
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women

Do vegetarians need more protein?

Current evidence suggests vegetarians that consume complementary mixtures of plant proteins do not require a separate protein requirement as these plant proteins can provide the same quality as that from animal proteins.

Are Canadians consuming enough protein?

The latest Canadian Community Health Survey shows Canadian adults are consuming 17% of their total calorie intake as protein, which falls on the lower end of the recommended 10 – 35% of daily calories from protein.  

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How to make healthier choices

Canada’s Food Guide recommends eating vegetables, fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods often to develop a healthy eating pattern and maintain your health. 

You should aim to fill ¼ of your plate with protein foods at each meal.  Canada’s Food Guide also recommends choosing protein foods that come from plants more often.  Plant-based protein foods can provide more fibre and less saturated fat than other types of protein foods. This can be beneficial for your heart health.

Try incorporating some of the following plant-based protein foods:

  • Dried beans, peas or lentils that you can soak and cook at home or choose low sodium canned beans, peas and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds without added fat, sugar or sodium.  As well, choose nut butters such as peanut butter with peanuts as the only ingredient.  Choose nut butters with little or no added sugar, sodium and saturated fat.

Eat fish more often. Choose fish that has not been breaded, battered or deep fried and look for canned fish that has little or no added sodium.

Choose lean meats such as skinless chicken and meat prepared with little or no added sodium, saturated fat or prepared in rich sauces.

Choose unsweetened lower fat milk and dairy products.  As well, choose low sodium and unsweetened soy products and fortified soy beverages.

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Ideas for incorporating more plant-based proteins in your diet

  • Add beans, peas and lentils to soups, stews and casseroles. Try a vegetarian chili with black beans and chickpeas.
  • Try a mixed bean salad with cucumber, grape tomatoes and peppers
  • Make your own chickpea hummus and dip with veggies for a snack
  • Add tofu to your favourite vegetable stir fry
  • Make lentil tacos and bean burritos

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