What Is Protein And Why Do I Need It?
Protein is found in every living thing, and it is made of various amino acids. While our body can create its own supply of many amino acids, there are nine that we need to get from dietary sources. "Complete" proteins, such as meat, quinoa and soybeans, provide us with all the dietary amino acids that our bodies need, and other good sources of protein include nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and whole grains. Fruits and vegetables also provide some protein. Protein requirements vary depending on age, sex and activity level, but generally you should get 30 to 60 grams of protein a day.
Just because a protein source is "incomplete" does not make it inferior, and the old theory about combining protein sources in a single meal to create a complete protein has long since been discarded. Also, complete proteins are not necessarily healthy foods. Most meats, for example, are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Ounce for ounce, nuts are one of the highest and healthiest sources of protein in the plant world, and they contain many essential amino acids. Peanuts and sunflower seeds lead the pack with 8 grams of protein in a 1/4 cup serving; almonds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds aren't too far behind with 7 grams of protein per 1/4 cup. Other high-protein nuts are walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts (filberts), pistachios and cashews.
More Health Benefits
Nuts are full of fiber and a great source for many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Almonds, for example, provide iron, calcium and vitamin E. Cashews have vitamin A and peanuts offer zinc. While nuts are generally high in fat, it is largely unsaturated, the "good" kind of fat that can lower your cholesterol and boost your cardiovascular health. Many nuts and seeds, particularly walnuts, flax seeds and hemp seeds, are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
A handful of nuts makes a great high-energy snack. Chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds are a healthy, delicious addition to breads, cookies or muffins. Peanuts or cashews are great for sprinkling over a stir-fry, and walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts and almonds can be a hearty component in stews and casseroles. Pine nuts are good for more than just pesto; they can top pasta dishes, and a very tasty pesto can also be made from walnuts or pecans. Peanut butter isn't the only nut butter; there's also almond butter, cashew butter, sunflower butter and others.
A Word About Allergies
Unfortunately, not everyone can take advantage of the health benefits of nuts. Nut are one of the most common allergens, and a severe allergic reaction can be life threatening. If you experience difficulty breathing, redness, swelling, hives or other symptoms after eating nuts, see your doctor immediately.