Most of us think about protein as a muscle-building nutrient that keeps our bodies strong and healthy, but protein does many things in our body way beyond just helping build muscle and aid in post-workout recovery. It’s a component of every cell and is involved in everything from blood sugar regulation to a healthy mood to immune response to better sleep. Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are called the building blocks of protein. While our bodies can make some amino acids (called non-essential), it can’t make all the amino acids (called essential) they need on their own. This means we must eat enough sources of essential amino acid proteins in our daily diets in order to sustain optimal protein.
How Much Protein is Optimal?
So how much protein does a person need? The amount varies based on age, sex and activities level, but can easily be calculated at MyPlate. Those who are lactating or breastfeeding, very active, healing from injury or surgery, or as we age may require more. *It is always best to discuss protein needs with a dietitian or healthcare professional to make sure you are getting adequate intake.
Protein’s Power and Why it Matters
The power of protein lies in the amino acids that comprise the macronutrient we know as “protein.” Complete proteins are foods that contain all nine essential amino acids our bodies can’t produce on their own and we must consume through our diet. While most foods contain protein, animal foods are the best sources of complete proteins, including milk, eggs, cheese, chicken, fish, beef, and more. They are higher in protein per gram than plants and contain all essential amino acids our body needs. Very few plants are complete sources of protein with the exceptions being quinoa, millet, buckwheat, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and some others. You can combine a variety of plant foods, such as brown rice, lentils, chickpeas and other legumes, throughout the day to make complete proteins, but protein needs are easily met from foods from high quality complete protein sources on their own.
Since Lifeway kefir is made from milk, it’s naturally a source of complete protein. One 8-ounce serving of Lifeway Kefir has 10 grams of protein per cup making it a good source of complete protein. Lifeway’s probiotic cultures may also make the milk protein easier to digest for some, as kefir contains enzymes as a result of the fermentation process that helps in the breakdown absorption of protein.
The Best Sources of Protein and the Amino Acids That Comprise Protein Foods
To meet protein needs, you’ll want to eat a variety of plant based and animal protein sources throughout the day. Kefir, yogurt, milk, wild fish, cultured cheeses, eggs, lean poultry and meats, and ancient grains are some of the healthiest sources of complete protein you can get in your daily diet. Between the nine essential amino acids and the 11 non-essential amino acids which our body makes (and also found in foods), the body is able to use the amino acids to build proteins used for everyday health.
The 20 Amino Acids that Comprise Protein:
- aspartic acid
- glutamic acid
*Those with stars are the 9 essential amino acids.
Some of these may sound familiar, such as tryptophan which makes us think of Thanksgiving turkey or a glass of warm milk before bedtime. The reason tryptophan has a connection to sleep is that it’s a precursor in our bodies to the neurotransmitter, serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is also known as the “happy hormone” because it may be related to a decrease in depression, moodiness and anxiety. Our body produces 90% of serotonin in its gut, and adequate tryptophan intake help maintain normal serotonin levels. Glycine is another amino acid that can assist with sleep, with one of the best sources being collagen powder (although it’s not a complete protein source). So be sure to choose wisely when selecting your protein sources and remember it’s best to eat your protein in the most natural form as possible. For protein powders, choose wisely, and if you use a plant-based protein, be sure it’s a complete protein source and as naturally derived as possible.
Proteins help spark a chain reaction in our bodies that trigger neurotransmitters being released, muscles recovery, assist with focus, motivation, and metabolism, and even support blood sugar levels. When we eat adequate protein sources at every meal, our bodies feel energized, level, even keeled, and our mood and energy results in a positive outcome. So next time you feel a little groggy or down, try a high-quality protein meal with some veggies and complex carbs instead of reaching for a pastry, a box of crackers, or sugary cereal to lift your mood.
Our Favorite Protein-Rich Recipes for a Healthier You
To get you started, check out some of our favorite protein-rich recipes!
This recipe is full of flavor and nutrition! Featuring Lifeway plain low-fat kefir and Lifeway farmer cheese, it’s a protein powerhouse that also contains ultra nutrient-dense beets, kale, and carrots giving you everything you need in one meal. For extra heartiness and protein, add some wild rice or cooked quinoa! Get the recipe here.
Want something with veggies, protein, and fruit in one meal? This recipe has got your back and tastes amazing! It also features healthy fats from pecans and chia seeds, along with kale, pineapple, carrots, and Lifeway kefir. Get the recipe here!
Featuring eggs, Lifeway kefir, and Lifeway farmer cheese, these muffins are the perfect breakfast treat that will sustain you. Made with all natural ingredients ingredients, they’re a great way to get the deliciousness of a blueberry muffin and still get a boost of protein. Check out the recipe here.
This is breakfast perfection when it comes to protein! Smoked salmon pairs with Lifeway Farmer cheese to create an omega-3 rich protein meal, plus it contains some veggies and whole grain toast, too. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for a healthy mood, skin, and much more. Check out the recipe here and make this one ASAP.
This is a naturally sweet, protein-rich smoothie that’s easy to make. It features hormone-boosting maca powder, omega-3 rich hemp seeds, collagen powder for healthy skin, and Lifeway kefir for a complete protein source, plus probiotics, calcium, potassium, and vitamin D. It also contains protein powder for added muscle recovery. We love this with Lifeway Strawberry kefir and real frozen strawberries. Get the recipe here, it’s one of our faves!
For more protein-rich recipes, follow us on Instagram to see our latest creations, and be sure to check out our other recipes here for more nutritious inspiration. Take care of your body, it’s the only one you’ve got, friends! #LoveYourGuts with Lifeway. Thanks for being a part of our community!