Simple ways to add protein to your diet

Protein helps to build our muscles, but that doesn’t mean you need to consume a 16-ounce steak to meet your daily requirements. There are easy ways to boost the protein content of popular snacks throughout the day by adding protein-rich foods into the mix, such as milk, eggs, yogurt, legumes, cheese and nuts.

On coffee breaks, it’s easy to reach for sugary, carb-heavy snacks such as processed muffins and cookies, alongside an Americano. But even healthier snacks, such as a piece of fruit, won’t keep you feeling full for long.

“I love the idea of people grabbing fruit or veggies for a snack, but they’re not going to be as filling as if it includes a protein source,” says registered dietitian Jennifer Sygo. She recommends pairing carbs that contain fibre with protein to fuel muscles and maintain energy levels until your next meal.

Milk, yogurt and cheese are strong dietary sources of protein, and an easy way to bump up the protein content of snacks or light meals — such as adding yogurt to a smoothie, firm cheese to a salad, or converting your coffee or tea to a latte by adding milk.

Along with carbs and fats, protein is one of three nutrients that provide us with energy. Scientists have now discovered more than 30,000 proteins in our bodies, each made up of a set of building blocks called amino acids. Nine of these amino acids are considered essential because our bodies can’t manufacture them; they can only be found in food sources.

A complete protein contains all nine essential amino acids in a form that can be easily digested and absorbed. Milk, for example, is considered a complete protein, because every glass has all nine essential amino acids.

Protein is required for metabolism. This process involves both catabolism (the breakdown of molecules for energy) and anabolism (the synthesis of compounds needed by body tissues, such as muscles for growth). Our muscles are constantly in balance between the two, but for anabolism to take place, we need to fuel our muscles with protein.

And dairy protein may have an added advantage over other protein sources.

“Dairy protein contains all essential amino acids, and contains one in particular that researchers are interested in called leucine,” says Sygo. Leucine is thought to trigger the process of building muscle in the body. “Dairy protein, based on the evidence we have to date, is one of the best ways, if not the best way, of triggering the muscle-building process.” Milk products higher in protein include milk, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and firm cheeses such as cheddar.

Aside from looking for complete protein sources, it’s important to consider other nutrients provided by those food sources. “Milk products provide the benefit of added calcium as well as up to 15 other nutrients, a lean cut of meat provides B12, zinc and iron, and pulses are rich in fibre and folate,” says Sygo.

It’s also important to choose foods that contain complete protein that taste good. “That’s the way to look at it,” she says. “We don’t eat nutrients, we eat food.”