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The Power of Protein

Protein is found in virtually every part of your body, from the hair on your head to the nails on your toes. Protein helps your body repair existing cells and build new cells. So it goes without saying that protein is essential for your health and well-being.

Foods containing protein include meat, poultry, fish, tofu, beans, eggs, nuts, dairy products and whole grains.

Most Americans get plenty of protein. However, because some high-protein foods can also be high in saturated (bad) fat, it's a good idea to pay attention to your protein sources.

What your Body does with Proteins

Eat a food with protein and your body breaks it down into what are called amino acids. Amino acids are what your body needs to make its own protein. Your body cannot make all of the amino acids it needs. Some must come from your diet.

There are two types of protein that come from your diet:

Complete proteins contain all the amino acids your body needs to build its own protein and stay healthy. Animal sources of protein such as meat, poultry and fish, are generally complete proteins.

Incomplete proteins, on the other hand, do not contain all of the amino acids your body needs. They need to be combined with other protein sources (for example, rice with beans) to make a complete protein. Incomplete proteins are usually found in veggies, nuts, beans, grains and in fruit. One exception: Soybeans, which are a complete protein.

While vegetable sources of proteins tend to be incomplete, they are by no means inferior. Quite the opposite. They are high in nutrients and fiber and often contain less fat or "good fat" such as the fats found in nuts. Animal sources of protein, on the other hand, tend to be higher in saturated (bad) fat.

Protein and the Food Pyramid

Here are general MyPyramid recommendations on protein:

Low-fat or lean meats and poultry Baking, broiling or grilling Variety-adding fish, beans, nuts and seeds.

And here are some ways to include these high-quality, lower-fat proteins into your diet:

Choose more fish and poultry, less red meat. Fish and poultry (with the skin removed) are good sources of lean protein, meaning they don't come with a lot of saturated (unhealthy) fat. If you do choose red meat, choose leaner cuts.

Add nuts and seeds for snacking. They provide protein, other healthful nutrients and good-for-you fats. They're also filling.

Try beans, peas and lentils. Not only are they good sources of protein, they are low in fat and high in vitamins and minerals. If you get most of your protein from vegetarian sources, be sure that you eat complementary proteins-foods that, when eaten during the same day, form a complete protein such as rice and beans, corn and beans, milk and wheat cereal.

Try soy. Soybeans, as mentioned earlier, are a complete protein. Tofu is a great highprotein, low-fat alternative to red meat.

HEALTHY EATING PRIMER

Carbohydrates
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Fiber
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Fat
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The Power of Protein
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Healthy Weight, Healthy Living
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