Power Up with Pork: Protein
In this new series, our resident dietitian Vincci Tsui highlights the key nutrients found in pork and their benefits!
More often than not, when people talk about protein nowadays, their thoughts end up turning to protein powders, protein bars, shakes and bodybuilders. In reality, protein is a nutrient that everyone needs, and it is best to get it from real food – not only is it more delicious, but you are also getting the benefits of all the other nutrients in protein-rich foods that may not be found in protein supplements.
Why is protein important?
Protein is often considered the “building blocks” of our bodies because they can be found pretty much anywhere – in our muscle, hair, skin, bones, internal organs, you name it! Not only do they form the structural basis of our larger tissues and organs, they also make up the different enzymes throughout our bodies that fuel the chemical reactions that allow us to function, as well as the hemoglobin in red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout our bodies.
Protein has also been gaining more attention lately for its role in satiety and blood sugar control. Protein-rich foods and meals take longer to digest, which help us feel fuller for longer. The slower digestion means that it takes longer for carbohydrates in our foods and meals to be converted into sugar and released into our bloodstream, so you get a slow, steady release of sugar (and energy!) and avoid the roller coaster of sugar highs and crashes. Both of these features can help curb unnecessary snacking or overeating, which can aid in weight loss.
How much protein do I need?
The Institute of Medicine recommends that healthy adults get 0.8-1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. So, a 154 lb (70 kg) person would need 56-70 g of protein per day. Emerging research shows that protein intake higher than recommendations can produce additional benefits, such as muscle building, preservation of lean body mass in older adults, and weight management, without risk of damaging the kidneys as was previously thought.
In my clinical experience, many people meet or exceed their protein needs, but it is poorly distributed, with most of their protein intake happening at supper time. My advice is to try to include a protein-rich food in every meal and snack. For example, if you have a slice of toast with butter as your breakfast, add a slice of ham and/or egg, replace the butter with peanut butter, or have it with a glass of milk. If you usually just have a piece of fruit as your snack, pair it with a handful of nuts, a slice of cheese or a container of yougurt. Even if you don’t notice any change in your hunger/fullness levels, eating habits or energy levels, a recent study from the University of Texas showed that when protein intake was distributed evenly throughout the day, protein synthesis in the muscles were 25% higher than those that distributed the same amount of protein unevenly (i.e. a little bit of protein at breakfast and lunch, and a large amount of protein at supper).
What are some examples of protein-rich foods?
Most protein-rich foods are generally found in the Meat & Alternatives and Milk & Alternatives food groups from Canada’s Food Guide. A 75 g (2.5 oz) serving of pork has about 20 g of protein. Other examples:
- 75 g (2.5 oz) serving of meat, poultry or fish: 15-30 g
- 150 g (5 oz) tofu: 25 g
- ¾ cup Greek yogurt: 18 g
- ¼ cup pumpkin seeds: 12-17 g
- ½ cup cottage cheese: 15 g
- ¾ cup beans, peas or lentils (legumes): 10-15 g
- 50 g (1.5 oz) cheese: 10-15 g
- ½ cup edamame (green soybeans): 12 g
- 2 large eggs: 12 g
- 3 Tbsp (1 oz or 30 g) hemp hearts/hemp seeds: 10 g
- ¼ cup nuts: 4-9 g
- 1 cup milk: 8 g