Week 4: Day 5

2021 Wellness Program “The Beauty Chef”

The many functions of protein

If we have learned anything at all from the high protein/low carb diet craze, it’s that protein is very important to good health! The word protein actually comes from the Greek work protos, which means “to come first.” Take this meaning a step further and you get the idea that protein in the diet is vital to health and life itself. Without adequate protein, many things begin to break down or go wrong in the human body. Conversely, too much protein can be the very thing that keeps us from losing weight!

There are thousands of substances in the body that are made up of protein: organs, muscle, blood, and essentially every cell in the body. In order to make up the various protein substances found in our body, we need protein foods in our diet to supply nitrogen. Only protein foods provide us with nitrogen, and the nitrogen is used to make amino acids, the building blocks of protein in the body. Nitrogen is the element that sets protein apart from carbohydrates or fats. Carbohydrates and fats are made of carbon and hydrogen. Only proteins (and the smaller units that make up protein, amino acids), contain carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen.

Protein in the diet is therefore essential for protein synthesis in the body, and is crucial to body regulatory functions, as well as maintenance. Here’s a short list of the very important functions of protein:

  • Blood formation and blood clotting
  • Fluid balance
  • Hormone and enzyme production
  • Visual processes
  • Transport of various substance in the bloodstream
  • Growth
  • Lifelong, continual rebuilding and repair of cells
  • Resistance to infection; immune function
  • Regulation of acid-base balance


Protein and Weight Loss

From the weight loss perspective, protein has proven to be of significant value. Unlike carbohydrates, which provide a quick, immediate source of energy, protein foods slow the rate at which food leaves your stomach. This leads to a greater feeling of fullness, and a longer period of time before you feel hungry again.

Consider the following two breakfast meals:

Meal #1  Meal #2
  • 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal (for example Cheerios®)
  • ½ cup skim milk
  • 1 Banana
  • 2 scrambled eggs
  • 1 slice toast with 1 tsp. butter
  • 1 Banana


  1. Which meal do you think would keep you feeling full or satisfied the longest? ________________
  2. Which meal do you think provides the most protein? _______________

If you answered meal #2, you are correct! The eggs contribute a fairly significant amount of protein, which would provide much more “mileage” as far as hunger is concerned. Although the cereal may be a very healthy one, the small amount of protein provided from the cereal and ½ cup of milk may not be enough to keep you from getting hungry by mid-morning. Think about what you eat for breakfast (and we sincerely hope you are eating breakfast), and how long it takes before you get hungry again. If you are looking to eat again only an hour or two after breakfast, check to see whether you are eating enough protein at that meal!


What Foods Have Protein and which are best?

By now you have the idea that protein should be part of your healthy meals, and that including protein will help with hunger and appetite control. But like other food groups, not all proteins are healthful choices. You have already learned that some forms of fat are bad for your heart (saturated and trans fats). Because unhealthy fats may be present in certain protein foods, it’s important to learn which protein sources have the least amount of fat. High fat protein foods can have a place in a healthy diet, but mostly in small, occasional quantities.

Here are the leaner sources of protein that we recommend you choose most often:

  • Chicken or turkey breast (without the skin & not fried)
  • Fish and seafood (not fried)
  • Lean red meats: beef, pork, lamb – choose cuts such as loin, round, flank, or words such as 90% lean
  • Beans & lentils of any kind: black, kidney, garbanzo, white cannellini, pinto, navy, etc.*
  • Soy and soy products such as tofu, tempeh, veggie burgers, edamame, textured vegetable protein (TVP)*

Some sources of protein have more fat content, but still make healthy choices if portions are kept in check.

  • Skim or low fat dairy foods such as nonfat milk or yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese: choose varieties that have less than 2% milk fat whenever possible*

*Beans, milk, yogurt, or soy foods are actually combination foods, meaning that they also have carbohydrate in addition to protein.

Processed meats such as bacon and many luncheon meats are quite high in fat and sodium. Deli ham or turkey may be lean, however if salt or sodium is a concern, you will want to limit these items. Other luncheon meats such as bologna, salami, olive loaf or liverwurst are examples of very high fat meats. We recommend that you choose processed meats less often, and opt for other sources of lean protein.

One of the reasons we have spent time to distinguish between lean and high fat protein foods is because there is a fat gram and calorie difference. For each ounce consumed, any protein food will contain 7 grams of protein; but that’s where the similarity ends. An ounce of a lean protein food, such as skinless chicken breast, has just 45 calories and under 3 grams of fat per ounce. Compare that to an ounce of a high fat protein, such as a hot dog or slice of bologna: for each ounce you consume there’s 100 calories and 8 grams of fat per ounce! Take a look at this chart; can you see how the choice between lean or high fat makes a huge difference in the calories?

Protein, Fat, & Calories for One Ounce Protein

Carbohydrate Protein (grams) Fat(grams) Calories
Lean meat (round, poultry white meat without skin, fish 7 0-3 45
Medium fat (ground beef, egg, poultry with skin) 7 4-7 75
High fat (bacon, luncheon meat, cheese, hot dogs, sausage) 7 8+ 100

Which protein foods do you eat routinely?

It’s time to check in and see which types of protein foods you eat. Think about what improvements you could make in your protein choices.

List three protein foods that you eat on a regular basis; note whether they are lean, high in fat, and/or highly processed. If it’s a high fat protein, what do you think you could have instead?

High protein foods that I eat: Lean or High Fat and/or Processed? If high in fat or processed, what am I willing to try instead?

Protein and Vegetarian Concerns

Some people make the choice to become vegetarian. Depending on their selection of protein foods they may never or rarely eat meat, fish or poultry. Instead they may choose to rely on various plant-based foods for their protein sources.

There are many types of vegetarian food plans. Some people follow a vegetarian style of eating, but eat fish or certain forms of dairy food. Others avoid all foods of animal origin. When well planned, any form of vegetarianism can be healthful.

Type of Vegetarian Diet Foods that are included Protein sources excluded
Lacto-ovo Milk & dairy, eggs, grains, vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, seeds Meat, fish, poultry
Lacto Milk & dairy, grains, vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, seeds Eggs, meat, fish, poultry
Vegan Grains, vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, seeds Eggs, meat, fish, poultry, milk, dairy, any other products made from animal sources such as butter, lard, honey

*main protein source

Animal based proteins are complete proteins. Vegetarians who include eggs or dairy consume complete proteins, because these are animal source foods. A food that is a complete protein has all essential amino acids necessary for building new proteins in the body.

Strict vegetarians can meet their protein needs when they consume a wide variety of plant proteins, and combine those plant proteins at meals. When plant proteins are combined, it assures that all of the essential amino acids are consumed. It is the essential amino acids that are needed for building new proteins in the body, and to help your body use protein for growth and repair.

Examples of excellent plant food combinations include:

  • Grains and beans
  • Grains and nuts
  • Nuts and beans
  • Vegetables and beans

Shopping: Choosing Lean sources of protein

You have learned that foods from the protein group provide vital nutrients for your body’s health. However, many can be high in saturated fats that raise cholesterol and increase the risk of coronary heart disease. Choosing lean cuts of meat and other low-fat protein sources at the grocery store can help you get the nutrition your body needs without this added risk. You will still be getting a great source of complete protein, rich iron source, and B vitamins.

Your local grocery store will be packed with thousands of options for you to obtain your protein. Some of them are great choices, while others may not be, despite what their labels might claim, so it is important to read carefully. Keep in mind that according to the USDA, lean meat has less than 10g of total fat, 4.5g or less of saturated fat, and fewer than 95mg of cholesterol in a 3.5oz portion. That’s less than 3g of fat per 1 oz.

In general, red meat such as beef, pork, and lamb has more cholesterol and saturated fat than chicken, fish, and vegetable proteins like beans.

Boneless skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets are the leanest meats you will find, so definitely add these to your shopping list. When you purchase ground chicken or turkey, look for words such as ground chicken breast or turkey breast or lean on the label. This form of ground poultry is very lean and has little fat. Plain old ground chicken or turkey on the other hand, contains dark meat, and often the poultry fat or skin in the product. When you use this form of ground chicken or turkey, it is not any lower in fat than ground beef. This means that you may be no further ahead in cutting down on fat than if you were to use ground beef!

Several varieties of fish have an excellent source of protein and other healthy properties, even though they are considered fatty fish. This is because they’re paired with healthy amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can help lower cholesterol and inhibit inflammation! Wild salmon, albacore tuna, rainbow trout, and even sardines are good options for omega-3 fatty acids. All types of fish are considered good sources of protein and should be on your shopping list; try to include at least one fish from the “fatty fish” category for the omega-3 fatty acids every week.

Keep in mind that fish is a good choice, as long as it is prepared in a healthy way. Deep fried fish may taste delicious, but it is not low in calories, nor is it the healthiest choice! With so many varieties to choose from, we recommend that you purchase fresh or plain frozen fish when you shop, and include it in your meals 2-3 times as week! Tuna or salmon packed in water make economical options as well.

Many people feel that they must give up beef in order to be healthy. If you have already given up beef, there is no reason to make a change in your diet. On the other hand, if you really would have a hard time giving up beef entirely, here is a helpful chart for selecting leaner cuts of beef when you do purchase them.

Leaner Cuts of Beef

Beef Cut Calories* Saturated Fat (grams) Total Fat (grams)
Eye Round 144 1.4 4.0
Sirloin Tip 143 1.6 4.1
Top Round 157 1.6 4.6
Bottom Round 139 1.7 4.9
95% Lean Ground Beef 139 2.3 5.1
Chuck Shoulder Pot Roast 147 1.8 5.7
Flank Steak 158 2.6 6.3

* Calories & fat based on 3-ounce serving, visible fat trimmed.
Source: USDA, Agricultural Research Service, 2008. USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21

Beef and pork have many important nutrients such as iron and B-12, and both can be healthy if you choose wisely and eat it in moderation. When choosing pork, look for the terms pork loin, tenderloin, and center loin. Cuts are now labeled with the percentage of fat they contain, so stick to 90-95% lean whenever possible.

Beans, legumes, peas and lentils are among the healthiest sources of protein, are naturally fat free, and are also high in fiber and iron. Look for different types of beans like chickpeas, black beans, or soybeans. Tofu, veggie burgers, tempeh, and edamame are also lean and healthful. These vegetable-based choices can be combined with whole grains to make complete proteins and a delicious meal. You won’t find any other protein food source as economical as beans and lentils!

Nuts, seeds, and nut and seed butters provide protein and healthy fats, so don’t be afraid to add these to your grocery list. Commonly eaten nuts and seeds include almonds, Brazil nuts, peanuts, and pumpkin seeds. They provide high-quality protein, are super-convenient, high in fiber, and taste great. Remember to check the label, and avoid ones that are roasted with added oils and salt. Some of these items are tougher to digest – so remember to soak your beans and nuts overnight. With nuts, once they have been soaked and dried you can roast them in your oven to get that nice crunch!

Low-fat dairy products provide a great source of lean protein, with vitamin D and calcium as well. Choose fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. Eggs are also of high quality protein and can easily fit into a healthy diet! Again, many foods from this group can be high in saturated fats and cholesterol, so it is important to check nutrition facts and lists for added ingredients.

Remember, limit your purchases of fatty cuts of meat, full-fat dairy, regular ground beef, hot dogs, bacon and processed luncheon meat. When looking at packages, look for words such as, “round,” “loin,” or “sirloin.” Don’t forget to vary your protein for a well-rounded, healthy diet!

Cooking: Grill, Broil, or Stir Fry

Preparing meat, poultry or fish is easy when you choose methods such as stir frying, grilling, or broiling. In module 2 you learned about the various styles used to cook foods in a healthy way. Below is a handy chart that you can use to mix and match your protein sources with other foods for a tasty and quick meal! This method utilizes some stir fry technique or simply cooking on the range top.

Mix & Match – Meal time Success – Serves 4

Choose One Meat/Protein
(1 lb.)
Choose as Many as You Like
Choose 1
2 cups Cooked
Choose 1
Beef, Lean & Trimmed of fat Broccoli, Cauliflower, Asparagus Brown Rice 1 tsp. Basil/Garlic
Chicken, Skin removed Carrots or Snap Peas Whole Grain Pasta 1 tsp. Garlic/Thyme
Pork, Trimmed of Fat Low Sodium Canned Tomatoes Whole Wheat Tortilla Salsa, to taste
Seafood Mushroom Quinoa, Kasha or other Whole Grain of Choice 1 Tb. Rice Wine Vinegar
Peppers & Onions 1-2 Tb. Low Sodium Soy Sauce or Teriyaki Sauce
Bagged Coleslaw Mix ½ cup Low Sodium Broth
Mixed Frozen Vegetables 1 tsp. Mrs. Dash®/or Low Sodium Seasoning Mix

Stir fry directions:

  • Prepare meat/protein by cutting into bite sized strips.
  • Prepare vegetables (as needed) by washing and cutting into bite sized strips.
  • Heat a 12” non-stick skillet and add 1 Tb. vegetable oil to pan.
  • Add meat/protein to pan and cook for 3-5 minutes or until cooked through. Transfer to clean plate.
  • Add vegetables and quickly cook for 2-3 minutes
  • Add meat back into pan; add seasoning of choice.
  • Serve with grain/carbohydrate of choice.

Grilling or Broiling:

To grill or broil protein foods, it is important to do so over low to medium heat so that lean cuts are not dried out. Brushing the meat, poultry or fish with olive oil beforehand helps to keep foods tender and moist while cooking. Try a mixture of herbs or spices sprinkled on or rubbed into the meats or poultry. Tougher cuts of meat work very well if marinated in advance: marinades containing lemon juice, vinegar, or tomato juice are helpful for the tenderizing process before grilling; add a bit of oil to the marinade as well.


Fitness: Get Walking!

There is probably no easier way to become more active than to start walking on a regular basis. For most people who have not been physically active, this will likely be the most logical place to begin. Walking is easy and requires no special equipment other than a sturdy pair of shoes or sneakers. Muscles used during walking helps to increase endurance and prepare you for more strenuous types of exercise in the future.

If you have not been active for a while and want to start a walking program, it is important to start out slowly and gradually work your way toward more time and higher intensity. When you start, walk at a pace that is comfortable for you. Don’t forget to wear your pedometer if you have one, and enjoy the great outdoors!

If you live in an area that has very cold or hot temperatures at least part of the year, plan ahead for an alternate activity that you can do when the weather keeps you indoors. Many people continue to walk outdoors year round, but when conditions are icy, bitterly cold or extremely hot, it may be best to take the exercise indoors. A treadmill or walking DVD program may be the perfect substitute! Watching TV or listening to music can make walking on a treadmill less boring.



Weekend Work:

  • Assess Your Kitchen – Make a list of the items you might like to replenish.
  • Build your menu for next week. It is important to meal plan in order to stay on track.
    Look at the Snacks portion of the cookbook – Have healthy items on hand. PUT IT ON YOUR PREP LIST!
  • Spiced and seeded crispbreads (pg. 119)
  • Kale chips ( there is a fancy recipe on pg. 128)
  • Enjoy the process! I know that when I prepare food at home that I really enjoy the moment. Enjoy knowing that you are preparing healthy, gut-improving food items to enjoy all week!
  • When looking at proteins, remember we need organic, grass fed, hormone and pesticide free.

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