The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted just about every facet of our lives. One of the latest impacts of the coronavirus is in regard to this country’s food supply, especially meat and meat products. Some major meat processing plants have temporarily closed as a result of the pandemic, and you may be already feeling the pinch as the amount and selection of meat products in grocery stores have been affected. Some supermarkets chains, including Kroger, Hy-Vee, Giant Eagle, Wegmans and Costco, have even started to limit the amount of meat that you can purchase at one time.
It’s challenging enough to stand in grocery store lines, scramble to find toilet paper and Clorox wipes, and face empty shelves at the store. Now it’s become difficult to find the types and quantity of meat and poultry that we’ve taken for granted would always be available. What does this mean for your meal planning? How can you ensure that you get enough protein in your meals?
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How much protein do you need?
The National Academy of Medicine determines recommended intakes of all nutrients, including protein. For adults, the minimum amount of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, or a little more than 7 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. So, for a 140-pound person that would be about 50 grams of protein per day, and for a 200-pound person, that’s about 70 grams of protein per day. The National Academy of Medicine also give a pretty wide range of what’s acceptable for protein intake: anywhere from 10% to 35% of daily calories. It’s pretty uncommon for healthy adults in this country to be deficient in protein, mostly because there are plenty of foods (both animal and plant-based) that contain protein.
The amount of protein that YOU need can depend on other factors besides age and gender. Many people with diabetes consume a higher protein diet to help with blood sugar management and weight loss. Athletes, bodybuilders and people recovering from illness or surgery typically have higher protein needs. Others may need a more moderate protein diet if they have kidney disease. And, of course, personal dietary preferences play a role; for example, someone who follows a vegan eating plan may consume less protein due to the nature of the diet compared with a person who prefers eating more animal-based foods. If you’re not sure about your own protein needs or have concerns about what is the best eating plan for you, check with your dietitian, diabetes educator or healthcare provider.
What are common sources of protein?
Chances are, you can rattle off foods that contain protein with ease. But it never hurts to review them again! When we think of protein foods, we tend to think of animal sources of protein, which include:
· Meat: beef, veal, pork, lamb, game (rabbit, venison, buffalo)
· Poultry: chicken, turkey, duck, goose, pheasant
· Seafood: fish, clams, oysters, shrimp, lobster, crab
· Dairy foods: cow or goat milk, cheese, yogurt
“Red” meat, which includes beef, pork, lamb and veal, tends to be higher in unhealthy saturated fat, as are processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausage and colds cuts (and they’re typically pretty high in sodium). For these reasons, it’s best to choose leaner, lower-sodium versions of red meat, and limit them to no more than a few times per week.
Poultry (without the skin) is a healthier choice than red meat because it’s lower in saturated fat. Seafood, especially fatty fish like salmon, is also highly recommended due to it’s omega-3 fatty acid content, which is a type of fat that supports heart health. In fact, health experts recommend eating seafood at least twice a week.
When it comes to dairy foods, it’s generally recommended to go for lower-fat versions of milk, yogurt and cheese to limit saturated fat intake. And eggs are a great source of protein (plus they are carb-free).
Of course, how you prepare your protein foods makes a difference, too, in your health. Breaded veal or chicken (think veal parmigiana) means additional calories, fat and carbs). Frying any food automatically jacks up the calorie content. Baking, broiling, grilling, boiling and poaching are healthier ways to prepare foods.
How much protein is in animal foods?
Here’s a simple way to determine the average protein content of protein foods:
1 ounce of a protein food contains 7 grams of protein
That means that eating a 4-ounce chicken breast contains about 28 grams of protein. An 8-ounce glass of milk contains 8 grams of protein. And a large egg contains 6 grams of protein.
Besides animal foods, what are other sources of protein?
You don’t have to eat animal foods in order to meet your protein needs. This is good news if you choose to follow a vegan or vegetarian eating plan, if you are on a food budget, if you don’t care for the taste of animal foods, or…if you’re faced with a limited selection of meat, poultry and seafood, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are some plant-based foods that not only provide protein, they provide a lot of other important nutrients, as well, literally giving you more “bang for your buck”:
Besides protein, this grain (actually, seed) contains lysine (an essential amino acid), fiber, iron, manganese and antioxidants. One cup of cooked quinoa provides:
· 222 calories
· 39 grams of carbohydrate
· 8 grams of protein
· 4 grams of fat
· 5 grams of fiber
· 3 milligrams of iron
You might turn up your nose at beans, but thanks to the wide variety, you’re sure to find at least one type that you like! Kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, cannellini beans and chickpeas are a few fan favorites that star in popular dishes like chili, black beans and rice, hummus and refried beans. In addition to protein, beans contain key vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, folic acid, potassium, iron and magnesium. One half-cup of cooked beans provides:
· 122 calories
· 22 grams of carbohydrate
· 8 grams of protein
· 1 gram of fat
· 8 gramsof fiber
For more information on beans, including recipes, check out The Bean Institutes website.
You might shudder at the thought of eating tofu, but really, consider giving it a chance. Tofu is made from soybeans that have been curdled and pressed into a block (similar to how cheese is made). It’s a staple in Asian dishes, and it’s extremely versatile, as it’s texture can range from smooth and silky to crispy and crunchy. Tofu has very little flavor on its own, but when it’s cooked with other ingredients, it takes on the flavor of those ingredients. Along with protein, tofu contributes iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, manganese and isoflavones. One half-cup of tofu provides:
· 94 calories
· 2 grams of carbohydrate
· 10 grams of protein
· 6 grams of fat
· 0.4 grams of fiber
· 7 milligrams of iron
· 434 milligrams of calcium (if prepared with calcium)
For a tasty way to prepare tofu, check out this Tofu and Vegetable Stir-Fry recipe.
Nuts and nut butters
Nuts and nut butters provide protein, along with a decent amount of healthy fat. Nuts also contain fiber, magnesium, selenium, vitamin E and antioxidants. The nutrition content of nuts will vary from nut to nut, but in general, an ounce of nuts provides between 5 to 6 grams of protein. If you prefer nut butter, a 2-tablespoon serving of unsalted nut butter provides:
· 188 calories
· 6 grams of carbohydrate
· 8 grams of protein
· 16 grams of fat
· 2 grams of fiber
· 208 milligrams of potassium
Beware: Nuts and nut butters are quite high in calories and fat, so keeping an eye on portions is a must if weight loss is your goal.
Seeds are another tasty way to get protein into your meals and snacks. Like nuts, seeds contain healthy fat, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The nutrients in seeds will vary from seed to seed, but as an example, here is the nutrition breakdown for 1 ounce of chia seeds:
· 139 calories
· 12 grams of carbohydrate
· 4 grams of protein
· 9 grams of fat
· 11 grams of fiber
· 179 milligrams of calcium
Keeping up with your protein needs
Faced with a decreased supply of meat, you may need to rethink your menu. Here are some tips that can help:
· Plan at least one meatless meal every week. For ideas, visit the Meatless Monday website.
· Stretch out your meat, poultry or fish. In other words, combine meat with plenty of vegetables and some grain foods to make your meat go further. Stir-fries, tacos, burritos, soups, stews, salads and casseroles are great ways to make less seem like more.
· Mix a “filler” food into ground beef or pork, such as lentils, beans, tofu, oats or mushrooms to add volume.
· If you eat animal foods, don’t overlook eggs (they make a great omelet and frittata!) and Greek yogurt (perfect for smoothies and as a topping) as ways to sneak in some protein.
Remember, too, to pay more attention to your blood sugars if you are changing up your meal plan. Checking before and two hours after eating a meal is a good way to learn how different meals (and snacks) impact your blood sugar.
Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read “Coronavirus and Diabetes: What You Need to Know,” “Healthy Eating During Hard Times” and “Avoiding Coronavirus With Diabetes: Stock Up and Stay Home, CDC Says.”