Only two more food groups left to go! We’re working our way through the six food groups, and this week we’ve come to protein sources. (Check out “Food Group Superfoods: Milk Products (Part 7)” for information about yogurt and kefir.) The protein group is a little tricky in some ways because there are both pros and cons to foods in this category. For example, beef often gets a bad rap because of its saturated fat content. (Plus, a new study shows that people who eat too much red meat may have a shortened life span). But beef contains important nutrients, such as iron, phosphorous, and, of course, protein. But I’m not going to “beef” about beef. Instead, let’s look at two animal sources of protein, and then next week we’ll look at two plant sources.
What it offers: No surprise here that salmon is a “superfood.” Salmon isn’t just one type of fish; there are actually several species of salmon. Pacific salmon is comprised of five species: chinook, chum, coho, pink, and sockeye. It’s generally recognized that there is only one species of Atlantic salmon.
Salmon are actually born in freshwater, but tend to hang around in the ocean. They’ll migrate hundreds of miles to return to their birthplace in order to spawn. Salmon farming is big business in many parts of the world, including the U.S., Norway, Sweden, Scotland, Canada, and Chile.
This fish ranges in color from pink to red to orange, and some types, such as chinook and sockeye, are fattier than others. Salmon truly is a nutritional treasure. You probably know that it’s is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which play a big role in heart health by lowering triglyceride levels, protecting against arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) and heart attack, and controlling blood pressure. But that’s not all omega-3s do. They may help prevent or manage a whole host of other diseases and conditions, including depression, prostate cancer, dry eye syndrome, dementia, and inflammation. Besides containing fish oils, salmon is an excellent source of vitamin D, calcium, potassium, protein, selenium, and several of the B vitamins.
Nutrition info: Four ounces of cooked pink salmon has 170 calories, 29 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat (roughly 2 grams of which are omega-3 fatty acids), and only 97 milligrams of sodium.
What to look for/how to use: As with any seafood, buy salmon from a reputable grocery store or fish market. Either wild or farmed-raised salmon is fine, although wild salmon is not always available throughout the year, whereas farm-raised is. The fish should smell fresh and not have any brown edges. Keep the salmon refrigerated until ready to eat. (Salmon freezes well, too.) Remove the skin and bones before eating. Also, don’t overlook canned or frozen salmon, especially if you live in an area where it’s hard to get fresh fish. Besides traditional cooking methods, such as grilling or poaching, try salmon in salads or added to scrambled eggs.
I’ve written about eggs in prior postings. I know — people always worry about eggs and cholesterol. Eggs tend to have a bad (but undeserved) reputation because people dwell on what they were told many years ago: that eggs are high in cholesterol, and that eating them could increase your risk for heart attack and heart disease. But we’ve since learned that this really isn’t the case — it’s saturated and trans fats that are heart disease culprits, more so than the cholesterol found in food. And besides, eggs have so many other good things going for them.
What they offer: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have a few foods to keep you healthy, I’d recommend that you choose eggs as one of your staples. An egg is extremely nutrient-dense, meaning that it contains a large number of nutrients (13 to be exact) in proportion to its calories. Its protein is high quality, almost as good as human breast milk. Also, eggs contain all the essential amino acids, which cannot be made by the body and therefore must be obtained from foods. And you’ll find choline, riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin D, folate, lutein, and zeaxanthin, too (lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids that can lower the risk of developing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration). Research has shown that eggs can be helpful for those trying to lose weight. And believe it or not, eating eggs may actually lower the risk of heart attack or stroke by preventing blood clot formation. Even if you have heart disease and/or diabetes, eggs can still be part of your eating plan.
Nutrition info: One large egg contains about 75 calories, 6 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat and 212 milligrams of cholesterol. Egg whites are just protein: They contain almost no fat or cholesterol, but the yolk is where much of the nutrition is found.
What to look for/how to use: Choose eggs (brown or white) that are free of cracks. Store them fresh in the refrigerator for four to five weeks after purchasing. Hard-cooked eggs will last for one week, refrigerated. You can also choose eggs that have been enhanced with omega-3 fatty acids. Eggs go with just about anything, whether you eat them as part of a meal or use them to make dishes such as pancakes, waffles, or quiche. Hard-cooked eggs travel well and are great to add to a lunch box. Whip up some egg salad (stir in a little Dijon mustard for some zest) or chopped egg to add to a salad. For more info on eggs, check out the American Egg Board’s Web site.
More on protein foods next week!