Protein is good for the body in many ways. Here are 10 key facts to know about this important nutrient:
1. Protein is found in foods from both plants and animals, such as:
• Beans and peas.
• Dairy products, like milk, cheese and yogurt.
• Meats and poultry.
• Nuts and seeds.
• Soy products.
• Whole grains and vegetables, in lesser amounts.
2. Most people, 9 years and older, should eat 5 to 7 ounces of protein a day, depending on their overall calorie needs. Many of us already eat plenty of protein.
3. Protein plays a key role in many body processes, such as blood clotting; fluid balance; immune response; vision; and the production of hormones, antibodies and enzymes.
4. Protein is also part of every cell in the body. It's necessary for growth and development.
5. Your skin, hair, nails, muscles, bones and internal organs all contain a lot of protein. Almost all body fluids have protein in them too.
6. Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids in healthy amounts. Animal foods—such as dairy products, eggs and meats—and soy are complete protein sources.
7. A protein is incomplete if it's missing, or doesn't have enough of, one or more essential amino acids. Most plant foods are incomplete sources of protein.
8. You can pair two incomplete proteins, at the same meal or throughout the day, to form a complete one. Eating rice and beans together, for example, makes for a complete protein.
9. Snacks can be good sources of protein. Try peanut butter on whole-grain crackers, a hard-boiled egg, hummus or yogurt.
Some proteins are better for you than others. For example, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such a salmon or albacore tuna, are good for your heart. Many deli meats, on the other hand, are high in fat and sodium, which are not heart-healthy. You'll want to eat less of those types of protein.
Sources: U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Food and Drug Administration