Protein, one of the three macronutrients, is essential to the body to build and repair tissues, make enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and other body chemicals. Protein makes up the structure of our cells, organs, and muscles in our bodies.
If I asked you to fill out a food log, how much protein do you think you’re getting in a day? Would it be about your bodyweight in grams? This is one the simplest additions you can make right now to see improvements in your mood, energy, skin, digestion, hormones, and metabolism.
Complete vs. Incomplete Protein
Complete proteins are high-quality proteins that contain the essential amino acids we need for basic body function. These proteins are more bioavaiable and easily absorbed, found in meats, eggs, fish, poultry and dairy. Incomplete proteins are a lower quality protein that don’t have the necessary amino acids, found in grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. It’s also important to note that while these foods do contain protein, they are higher in other macronutrients (either carbs or fat) so the ratio should be considered when aiming for satiety and blood sugar balance. They have protein, but are not necessarily a significant source of protein. Despite conventional wisdom, soy is not a healthy food or good source of protein and shouldn’t be consumed unless it is fermented and traditionally prepared.
We need protein:
- to make hormones
- to stabilize our blood sugar
- to keep a healthy metabolism
- to keep our energy steady
- to create feel good neurotransmitters, which means happy mood and less anxiety
- to keep you fuller for longer – there’s a reason it’s hard to overeat a steak, but easy to polish off a bag of chips and not feel full
The protein in our food is used to make the amino acids that then go on to create our hormones – and I mean all sorts of hormones like the ones that help with digestion, skin health, reproduction, mood, and energy. If you’re having trouble with cravings or sleeping, snacking on protein and getting more in throughout the day can make a huge difference. Not all protein is the same though. That stuff in your muscle milk or protein powder from GNC? It’s loaded with soy or whey protein isolate, maltodextrin, fructose, natural flavorings and colorings, oils, and other nutrient-void inflammatory ingredients that cause inflammation in the body. Think about always pairing macronutrients with the most micronutrients to get the most caloric, healthiest bang-for-your buck.
Good news is, real and healthy protein foods taste good and are easy to get if you know the right sources. That’s why I’m sharing with you my favorite high protein snacks that are rich in nutrients and anti-inflammatory. You can also use them to balance out a meal by adding healthy fats (avocado, coconut oil, butter, ghee, nuts, seeds, olives) and a good serving of vegetables.
High protein snack options
- Protein smoothie – this one is my go-to, but you can swap out the banana for any other type of fruit. If you’re someone who skips breakfast regularly, and easy switch to help your metabolism and hormones is to get 15 grams of protein within an hour of waking up. Throwing a smoothie together like this is an easy way to do it.
- Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides are a must if you want to have healthy skin, metabolism, and digestion. You can add it into smoothies, make protein bars or balls, homemade gummies, or blend it with coffee or tea.
- Clean protein bars – there really aren’t many out there so I’m going to tell you the easiest, cleanest ones that you can get are RX bars, EXO bars, Primal Kitchen bars, and Epic bars. If you have any other clean options without soy, corn, sucralose, artifical flavors, and milk products. The less ingredients, the better.
- Eggs, yolk included – do not cause high cholesterol (sugar does that). Easy to boil and take with you. You can also make scrambled egg muffins as a quick grab-and-go breakfast or snack.
- Protein powders – like protein bars, it’s hard to find clean brands without fake sugar, soy, and gluten; I recommend plant protein (not because I’m a vegetarian or vegan) but because they are usually easier on the tummy than whey protein, but some of these options are whey if it works for you.
- Essential Living Foods – Wild Protein Pure Whole Food Vegan Protein
- Matthole Valley – Goat Milk
- Bulletproof Whey Protein
- Onnit Hemp Force
- Tera’s Whey
- Garden of Life – RAW protein
- Manitoba Hemp Protein
- Nutiva hemp protein
- Natural Force Organic Whey
- Naked Whey Protein
- Perfect Plant Protein Brown Rice & hemp
- Hemp seeds – You can find these in a bag and just sprinkle them on top of salads, sweet potatoes (my fave) or veggies. 4 tablespoons pack about 15 grams of protein, and you get the healthy fats too!
- Clean meat – Applegate deli meats (chicken, turkey, salami, ham), free-range turkey and chicken, grass-fed beef
- Clean seafood – wild caught salmon (smoked, canned, filet), sardines, & tuna
Easy (make ahead) homemade protein options
- Egg muffins
- Meat sauce – just saute grassfed beef, free range ground turkey or chicken, groud pork, or a blend of each in a couple tablespoons of ghee. Add in your favorite tomato sauce (without added sugar) or homemade spaghetti sauce.
- Crockpot chicken – throw a couple pounds of chicken breast or thighs in a crockpot, add your favorite salsa or homemade version, set to low and let it cook for 4-6 hours. Pull apart with a couple forks and you have chicken for the entire week! If you can’t get through it all, you can freeze whatever you don’t eat and save it for later.
- Burger pattys
- Protein bars
These are all recipes that don’t take a ton of time and you can freeze to have for later.
If you’re getting through the day with low energy, have trouble sleeping, dealing with hormonal imbalances, feel anxious or stressed all the time, or always feel hungry and never fully satisfied, adding in these protein-rich snacks and more protein into your diet in general can be a huge help.