Easy protein fixes

If you need energy, you’re better off reaching for a protein-rich snack than fuelling the body with caffeine or other stimulants. A bite of Applewood cheddar, for example, provides stable energy and feeds that savoury craving — and will help the body maintain an even level of energy instead of a spike-and-crash response.

‘Easy’ dietary proteins that are portable and convenient for everyone from office workers to moms-on-the-go include nuts, seeds, legumes and milk products, such as Greek yogurt or a piece of Cheddar cheese. Greek yogurt, for example, has about 17 grams of protein for a ¾ cup serving.

Jennifer Sygo, a Toronto-based registered dietitian, recommends mixing food sources to boost the protein content. That could mean making a smoothie with Greek yogurt and a sprinkling of hemp seeds, or a salad with slices of hard-boiled egg, cubes of cheddar cheese and a handful of walnuts or pumpkin seeds. “Even the milk in a latte could serve as a protein source,” she says.

“When you’re planning your snacks, include nutritious carbohydrates — one that’s got some fiber in it — and pair that with some protein,” says Sygo. Easy proteins include nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews) and seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds), which can be tossed onto Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, and paired with whole-grain crackers or rice crackers. For those who work in a nut-free environment (or are sending their kids to a nut-free school), seeds are a good alternative to nuts for boosting protein in common snacks.

“The seeds that tends to be highest in protein are hemp seeds,” says Sygo. “They’re not usually eaten by the handful, but they could be mixed into yogurt or put into a smoothie as a way to bump up protein.” Dipping veggie sticks into hummus or black-bean dip, or pairing them with cubes of Swiss or Havarti cheese, also bumps up the protein content.

Including protein in snacks and quick meals helps to maintain an even energy level and provide fuel for activities — and get office workers through that afternoon slump. But not all proteins are created equal. When adding protein to snacks or quick meals, look for high-quality protein sources.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and our bodies need a range of them for muscles to develop, perform and recover, and to help maintain muscle mass as we age. Some amino acids can be manufactured by the body, but others can only be supplied by protein from food sources; these are called essential amino acids. Complete protein sources are those that provide the full range of these essential amino acids.

Milk, for example, is considered a source of high-quality protein. It contains two types of protein: whey (20 per cent) and casein (80 per cent). Both contain all essential amino acids sufficient to support the multiple roles of protein in the body.

It all adds up to feeling full, maintaining an even level of energy and having fuel to get through whatever the day throws at you.

Snack it Up

Eating a snack such as yogurt or cheese, or simply drinking a glass of milk, can take the edge off your appetite and help prevent mealtime overeating. Here are a few ways to add high-quality protein to snacks and quick meals:

  • Pair cubes of cheddar, Swiss or Havarti cheese with apple slices.
  • Serve cherry tomatoes and bocconcini on a stick.
  • Dip raw veggies into yogurt flavoured with pesto, curry or mustard.
  • Dip fresh fruit in yogurt, then sprinkle with coconut, pumpkin seed or dark chocolate shavings.
  • Freeze yogurt mixed with fruit for homemade popsicles.
  • Add fruit to cottage cheese and sprinkle with cinnamon.