By Paul Rogers
Protein is important for building muscle tissue and indeed for most types of body tissue. Athletes and bodybuilders need a little more protein than sedentary people, and from the perspective of muscle building, protein synthesis makes few distinctions about the type of protein — as long as complete protein with all essential amino acids is available.
However, some proteins may be more or less healthy depending on how much you eat. Here’s a rundown with evaluation scores out of five, that considers both protein value and health. Be aware that major differences in nutritional values can be affected by how the animal or plant is grown or cultivated.
Beef and Veal – 2.5 Stars
Beef is generally regarded as the flesh of cattle. Veal is from young cattle. When we talk of a “steak” we usually mean a beef steak — although it could reasonably refer to lamb or pork. The meat from free-range, grass-fed cattle may have more healthy omega-3 fats, be leaner and have less total fat, including saturated fat than cattle raised in feed lots and fed mostly grains.
In addition, recent evidence from long-term epidemiological trials have suggested that too much red meat and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.
Beef is rich in iron and zinc.
Pork and Bacon – 2.5 Stars
Pork is meat from pigs. Pork is generally lower in iron than beef, but is also lower in fat (unless you eat fatty cuts like bacon with fat on). Pork is also regarded as ‘red meat’ and has been included in the cancer studies linked to above.
Lamb and Mutton – 2.5 Stars
Lamb and mutton meats are from young sheep and mature sheep and are also classified as ‘red meat’. Mutton tends to have a stronger flavor and is eaten less in western diets than in some international cuisines. Lamb and mutton are good sources of dietary iron; a little higher than pork but less than beef. Good sources of zinc.
Wild Game – 3 Stars
Wild game ticks many boxes for good health — low in fat, high in omega-3 and iron and zinc, and lower in saturated fat. Moderation of red meat should still be a consideration.
Chicken and Turkey – 4 Stars
Chicken and turkey and other ‘white meats are not implicated in the increases of bowel cancer seen with red meats. White meats usually have less than half the iron of red meats but can be high in saturated fat. Free-range and organic may have some nutritional benefits.
Fish – 4.5 Stars
Fatty fish has more omega-3s (in the long-chain form) than other fish. Fish like sardines, anchovies, char, herring and salmon, and cold-water fish rather than tropical fish trend higher in omega-3 fats. Wild and not farmed fish are again the preferred foods Mercury and persistent organochlorine pollutants like PCBs and dioxins can be higher in certain fish, depending on the ocean or farmed environment.
Large fish like swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish are higher in mercury and probably other fat-transported pollutants.
Dairy – 4 Stars (low fat)
Milk, cheese, yogurt and associated foods from animal milk are excellent sources of complete protein and calcium. Non-fat and low-fat milks and products are reduced in saturated fat, which is associated with increased risks of heart disease. Non-fat milk powder makes a good base for protein shakes. Organic, free-range, full-fat milk is likely to be higher in omega-3s.
Eggs – 3 Stars
Chicken eggs are high in dietary cholesterol, but this is does not necessarily increase blood cholesterol in all people. The American Heart Association recommends limiting dietary cholesterol to 300 milligrams per day for healthy people and 200 milligrams for those with cardiovascular disease or diabetes. A large egg has about 190 milligrams of cholesterol.
Eggs contain some iron and the important carotene lutein if birds are fed lots of greens.
Soy and Beans – 4 Stars
Soy beans and other legume products like lentils, chick peas, cannellini beans and borlotti beans are high in fiber and help to reduce blood cholesterol, especially when they replace saturated fat in animal products. Soy is a complete protein, while other vegetable proteins lack some essential amino acids. Beans and rice eaten together deliver complete protein.
Beans have useful amounts of non-heme iron, and are high in magnesium.
Nuts and Seeds – 3.5 Stars
Almonds and cashews lead the pack for nuts with around 15-20 grams of protein per 100 grams. Peanuts rate somewhat higher, but peanuts are a legume not a nut for what it’s worth. On the other hand, raw pumpkin seeds top the lot at about 30 grams/100 grams.
Nuts and seeds are great sources of magnesium and essential fatty acids, and useful sources of iron and zinc. Walnuts, flax and chia seeds are especially high in plant-based omega-3 fats.
Nuts and seeds individually do not supply complete proteins.
Grains – 3 Stars
Rice, wheat, rye, oats, millet, barley, and corn have been staple foods for populations throughout the history of human settlement. Grains supply useful quantities of protein. Oats and hard wheats tend to be a little higher in protein.
Grains individually do not supply complete proteins.
Vegetables and Fruits – 2.5 Stars
Yes, vegetables and fruits of all types contain some protein. Even if not in the class of red and white meats and beans, vegetables and fruits contain sufficient protein to be useful in total consumption patterns. In addition, they are high in health-giving fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants.
Vegetables and fruits individually do not supply complete proteins.