In Parts 1 and 2 of SFG’s ‘Rules of Thumb for Healthy Eating’ series, we discussed the importance of fruits and vegetables, and how to choose healthy carbohydrates (yes, there is such a thing as healthy carbohydrates!). In Part 3, we continue highlighting opportunities to make healthy food choices, this time focusing on protein and fat.
Similar to carbohydrates, not all sources of protein and fat are the same.
Part 3: Protein & Fat
- Focus on the type of protein rather than the amount. Science suggests that it is likely the type of protein that makes a difference for our health, not the total amount we eat. Eating healthy protein sources (e.g., fish, poultry, beans, and nuts) can help lower our risk of developing many diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Moreover, some healthy protein sources (primarily plant–derived proteins) tend to also have healthy fat profiles (bonus)!
- If you already consume healthy sources of protein and want to understand whether or not you’re consuming enough or too much, the rule of thumb for a sedentary individual is to consume 0.8 grams of protein per 1 kilogram of body weight. Divide your current weight in pounds by 2.2, then multiply by 0.8 to get your approximate protein needs. Protein needs increase with age and activity level. Research suggests that older adults should consume 1–1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight, and athletes may need up to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight.
- Contrary to what you were told circa the 1980s–Don’t be afraid of fat! It’s not the amount of total fat, per se, that impacts your health, it’s the type of fat. And science tells us that there are healthy fats out there! Poly– and mono–unsaturated fat, which can be found in olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds, are actually beneficial for heart health (by way of acting on cholesterol levels). And while we’ve been told that diets high in saturated fat are linked to risk factors for heart disease, including elevated total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and blood pressure, what we don’t know is whether it is only the saturated fat or saturated fat plus the “other things” (e.g., salt, sugar, and refined grains) also commonly found in the diet that together worsen heart health. Because the science and health impacts of fat are so nuanced, it is important to remember what we do know and not get bogged down in the details (…or the media headlines)–that unsaturated fats are healthy fats and that if you’re following a balanced diet, you’re likely to already be consuming adequate amounts and will reap the (heart health) benefits.
Try this Salmon with Cilantro–Pumpkin Seed Pesto recipe to incorporate healthy fat sources (olive oil and seeds) alongside a healthy source of protein (fish). To find other recipes that incorporate healthy protein and fat sources, look for nut–crusted fish and chicken, or a bean chili topped with avocado. Enjoy!