Incorporating Protein into Your Diet


Protein has become the buzziest macronutrient in recent years with the increased popularity of Paleo-style diets, which emphasize consumption of fruits, vegetables, meats and fish and avoid dairy and grain, and a revitalized interest in strength training through workouts such as CrossFit.

Understanding protein, however, can be a different story.

Protein, comprised of essential and non-essential amino acids, impacts immunity, the body’s ability to heal, satiety, bone health and muscle health, according to a presentation given during the annual BlogHer Food Conference in November by Dr. Jared Dickinson, assistant professor of exercise science and health promotion at Arizona State University.

While the acceptable macronutrient distribution range put forth by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institutes of Medicine recommends that an individual take in 10 to 35 percent of his or her daily calories in the form of protein, a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that across all age groups, most people barely exceed 10 percent of daily caloric intake from protein.

Of similar significance, according to the USDA, when Americans do consume protein, older adults in particular tend to consume less than the minimal amount needed to promote muscle stimulation at breakfast and just hit the minimal amount at lunch. Instead of protein distribution that skews heavily towards dinner, a study published in 2009 in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care recommends that older adults aim to consume 30-35 grams of protein per meal and young adults consume 20-25 grams of protein three times a day as well, rather than consuming nearly half of the day’s protein as tends to be the norm.

Animal products, including dairy, contain substantial amounts of protein, but protein is also available through plant sources such as soybeans and almonds. While older adults, who naturally lose muscle mass as they age, in particular need to ensure adequate protein consumption for optimal health benefits, athletes of all ages see increased muscle stimulus from consuming proteins containing essential amino acids, which are those that do not naturally occur in the body, after participating in resistance exercise.

Combining protein sources within one meal can help individuals hit the recommended amount of protein per meal. Andrew Zimmerman, executive chef at Sepia (123 N. Jefferson), demonstrated four recipes during BlogHer that assist with this. The following two recipes, taken together, provide 35 grams of protein, which would promote maximal muscles stimulus to an older adult.

Tuna & White Bean Salad (makes four servings, approximately 22 grams of protein per serving)
6.5 oz. can tuna in olive oil, not drained
15 oz. can white beans, drained & rinsed
3 light green ribs celery, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, peeled, thinly sliced, rinsed
24 grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 roasted red bell pepper, peeled, seeded, & diced
1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded & cut
1-2 tbsp. best quality red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. parsley
1 tbsp. torn fresh basil
2 heads Boston lettuce

  • In a bowl, lightly crush the tuna with a fork.
  • Mix the tuna, its oil, and all the ingredients except the lettuce.
  • Put the lettuce on four plates and top with the tuna mixture.


Roasted Spiced Carrots with Yogurt Sauce (makes four servings, approximately 13 grams of protein per serving)
3 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 sprigs thyme
3 lbs. carrots, peeled & cut
2 tsp. curry spice mix
Pinch of salt & black pepper
1/4 c. parsley leaves
1/2 c. loosely packed arugula leaves

For the dip:
2 c. Greek yogurt
3 tbsp. tahini paste
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, microplaned

  • Preheat the oven to 425F.
  • Place the first seven ingredients in a bowl and toss. Put them in a large sauté pan or a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until cooked through.
  • To finish: spread the dip on four places, top with the carrots, some parsley and arugula leaves. Serve.