Better digestion, a healthier heart, weight loss—all of these things begin with making smarter choices about the foods we eat, and protein is an important part of every healthy eating plan. Not only is protein considered an important building block for the body, but including plenty of lean protein in your diet can help you feel more satisfied throughout the day and less likely to experience those pesky cravings that can steer you off course.
A good rule of thumb, outlined in Brenda Watson’s Love Your Heart Eating Plan, is to eat 12 portions of protein daily from sources such as lean poultry, meat and seafood; low-fat cheese and yogurt; eggs; tofu; tempeh; and nuts. Eating protein at each meal and snack will help keep your appetite under control, so 12 portions a day will look something like this:
- Breakfast: 2 portions
- Snack: 1–2 portions
- Lunch: 3–4 portions
- Snack: 1–2 portions
- Dinner: 3–4 portions
Protein for Breakfast Helps with Carb Cravings Later
Studies have found that a high-protein breakfast not only helps you feel full longer after eating, but also helps avoid carb cravings later on. Ever start your day with cereal or a muffin and wonder why you’re craving more carbs mid-morning? Try beginning your day with protein and low-sugar fruits and veggies instead.
Portion Quick Guide
In most cases, 3 to 4 portions of protein would make up a standard serving. For example, a standard grilled chicken breast fillet added to a salad is 3 to 4 ounces—or 3 to 4 portions. Here’s a quick guide to help you get started:
Poultry, meat, seafood, cheese
Low-fat Greek yogurt
1 egg or 2 egg whites
1 ounce (handful)
Tip: Take Your Protein to Go!
To make things easy, incorporate protein snacks into your day by preparing them ahead of time and storing them in containers for easy-to-grab snacks when you need them.
You can add brain health to your list of reasons to eat more fish. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine recently completed a long-term study on how diet and lifestyle factors affect brain health and found that eating baked or broiled fish at least once a week can promote healthy brain function later in life.
The research team gathered data from more than 260 people during the study, during which participants routinely underwent high-resolution brain MRI scans to measure brain function. Regular fish eaters showed a greater volume of grey matter (responsible for routing sensory and motor stimuli) in the brain areas involved in memory and learning.
But why only baked or broiled and not fried fish? “Baked or broiled fish contains higher levels of Omega-3s than fried fish because the fatty acids are destroyed in the high heat of frying,” said lead investigator Dr. Cyrus Raji. Fish is an excellent lean protein source and many studies have linked fish-derived Omega-3 fatty acids to optimal health. Here’s a simple and delicious recipe you can try today!
Savory Mediterranean-Style Baked Fish
Two 4-oz. white fish fillets (flounder or tilapia)
One 10-oz. bag fresh spinach
2 small plum tomatoes, sliced
2 shallots, sliced
1 tbsp. chopped black olives
1 tbsp. capers
2 tbsp. fresh orange juice
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Directions: Preheat oven to 400°. Place fillets in a shallow glass baking dish; top with spinach, tomatoes, shallots, olives and capers. Drizzle orange juice over entire dish. Bake for about 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Sprinkle with pepper and serve hot.
Not a big fan of fish? Consider taking a high-concentration, purity-guaranteed fish oil supplement each day to reap the Omega-3 benefits!