Although most of us have adequate protein in our western diet, the trend towards choosing higher protein foods continues. Restaurants are beginning to cater for those who follow the popular Paleo diet, meaning that protein-rich dishes are appearing more frequently on menus as demand continues to rise.
What can you do if you want to increase your protein content?
Start with some basic food swaps:
1. Change your ordinary yoghurt to Greek yoghurt
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Greek yoghurt contains around 10 grams of protein per 100 grams, compared with just 3.8 grams per 100 grams in ordinary yoghurt. Choose plain varieties rather than sugar-laden flavoured versions and sweeten with fresh fruit.
2. Swap white rice for quinoa or buckwheat
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Both quinoa and buckwheat are referred to as complete sources of protein because they each contain all 9 essential amino acids (ones that the human body cannot make). Both also contain around 14 grams of protein per 100 gram serving, which is twice the protein content of rice.
3. Have eggs for breakfast instead of your usual cereal
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One egg contains around 6 grams of high quality protein and is also a complete protein source. Try boiled eggs with buttered toast soldiers in place of a sugary breakfast cereal.
4. Go for a salad with cottage cheese at lunchtime in place of a sandwich
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Cottage cheese has a slightly higher protein content than Greek yoghurt, with around 12 grams per 100 gram serving. It is also a complete source of protein and a versatile food that goes with anything. Choose low sodium and low fat varieties.
5. Try using ground up nuts and seeds as a higher protein alternative to breadcrumbs
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Sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds each have between 18 and 21 grams of protein per 100 gram serving, as do nuts such as almonds and cashews. A ground-up mix of these can be used to coat chicken pieces or fish, as a higher protein replacement for breadcrumbs which average just 13 grams of protein per 100 grams.
6. Nuts and seeds are a much healthier and higher protein snack than a packet of crisps
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With their high protein content, nuts and seeds are much healthier than high in fat (and salt) potato crisps that average only 7 grams of protein per 100 gram portion.
7. We all love French fries but vegetable chips make a great alternative
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French fries or chips are high in fat and contain around 41 grams of carbohydrate per 100 gram serving. With only 10 grams of carbohydrate per 100 grams, vegetable fries are a much healthier alternative. You could try a mix of carrots, sweet potatoes, courgettes and beetroots and, for the healthiest option, roast them in the oven rather than deep frying.
8. Thirsty? Go for a glass of milk instead of juice or soda
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Milk has 3.4 grams of protein per 100 grams compared with just 0.1 grams in 100 grams of apple juice. It has half the amount of sugar too.
9. Swap mashed potato for vegetable mash, noodles for zucchini or squash “noodles” and rice for cauliflower “rice”
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Vegetable noodles provide a healthier, lower carbohydrate alternative to ordinary noodles, with 3.1 grams of carbohydrate in the courgette version versus 25 grams per 100 grams in egg noodles.
As well as making small food swaps there are other ways you can increase your protein intake, such as adding lentils and beans to casseroles. You can also add seeds, such as sunflower and pumpkin, to salads for an extra crunch. The addition of protein powder and dark green veg, such as spinach and kale, to smoothies makes for an effective post workout boost.
As with any food, the principle of everything in moderation applies here. Too much protein can equate to excess calories, which of course will lead to weight gain. Be aware of portion sizes and use lean meat with the fat trimmed off. Spread out your protein intake throughout the day and remember protein takes longer to digest so you don’t need as much of it. In other words it can keep you feeling fuller for longer. As with any diet, variety is key so mix up your proteins too. A range of white meat, red meat, seafood, dairy and vegetable proteins, such as quinoa, tofu and buckwheat, will help ensure that you eat a complete range of essential amino acids.