A Protein-Filled New Year
By Dr. Ileana Vargas

Protein is essential for life as it is needed to build and maintain our body. The cells in muscles, organs, blood, bones, nails, hair and skin are made primarily of protein. The body is unable to store amino acids (the building blocks of protein), the way it stores fat, so we must eat protein daily or the body will break down muscle to get the protein it needs. 

When we think of a food being protein-packed most of us think large portions of animal products, such as poultry, steaks and fish. In reality, there are also protein-packed plant-based foods such as legumes, grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables. Some are even complete proteins meaning they contain all the essential amino acids our body needs, such as quinoa and amaranth. I recommend mixing combinations to make complete proteins such as a peanut butter sandwich, pasta and beans, or rice and beans. 

Health Meets Food makes some of my favorite protein-packed recipes. Why not give these a try? 

Quinoa Pilaf

Quinoa Tabouli Salad

Plant-based proteins also contain vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber. In addition, they are digested and absorbed more slowly which can help slow the absorption of the carbohydrates consumed during the meal. 

It is important to step back and rethink the concept of the “main course” which tends to be composed of large portions of animal proteins. I encourage patients to shift the balance to leaner, smaller portions of meat, fish or poultry (a portion should be the size of your palm or fist). Then, add plenty of vegetables and legumes, such as chili beans, broccoli, spinach or hummus. 

One of my favorite main dishes is En Papillote White Fish, also from Health Meets Food. Shred carrots and butternut squash strips, if green veggies are not popular with your children. The fish is steamed in its juices inside the parchment paper. It’s delicious, but best of all no mess or fishy smell in your home. A great recipe to involve the kids, fun to prepare and wrap! 

White Fish in Parchment Paper

Finally, eggs are an excellent source of protein. Eggs contain all the essential amino acids you need. Part of the issues with eggs is the company they keep, as they usually are served with high fat proteins such as sausages, bacon and cheese. Here is another one of my favorite recipes, a great alternative to the typical egg sandiwch. 

Egg on-the-go Sandwich 

Wishing you a protein-filled 2021! For more information on incorporating protein into your diet, I suggest making an appointment with a registered dietitian at the Berrie Center.