Heart Healthy Portion Sizes: Protein

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If you’re like many Canadians, almost every meal that you have throughout your day has some form of protein. We as Canadians believe this to be a part of a normal diet, but in fact, most of us are getting far more protein than what we actually need (American Heart Association).

The belief that protein is essential at every meal, still resonates with many families, stemming from the great depression, when protein was unaffordable and wasn’t easy to come by. Today, it is much more affordable to buy meat, but we have still held onto that idea, which so many of us have characterized as a normalcy to our diet.

Why is it harmful to have too much protein?

Protein is an important part of any Canadians diet, but often the problem that many Canadians face is that the extra protein that we’re consuming comes from meats high in saturated fats, which can elevate cholesterol levels. The amount of meat that we consume also tends to be much more than what we should have on a daily basis, which tends to make us feel more full and usually prevents us from consuming other food groups like fruits and vegetables.

How much protein do you actually need?

The amount of protein that you should consume during a day depends on your age and weight, but the Dieticians of Canada recommend that if you’re eating meat for your protein, that you choose small portions of lean, well-trimmed cuts of meat. A small portion is about the size of a deck of cards (75 grams or 2 ½ oz).

Choosing the right kind and the amount of protein:

  • When choosing a protein, opt for low-fat options, such as lean meats, skim milk or other foods with high levels of protein. Legumes, for example, can pack about 16 grams of protein per cup and are a low-fat and inexpensive alternative to meat.
  • Choose main dishes that combine meat and vegetables together, such as low-fat soups, or a stir-fry that emphasizes veggies.
  • Watch portion size. Aim for 2- to 3-ounce servings.
  • If you’re eating a snack, look for healthier alternatives. Opt for a plate of raw veggies rather than items like cheese. Cheese has protein too, but it also has fats.
  • Fish and other seafood: Opt for fish that provides omega-3 fatty acids. 2-3 servings per week.
  • Nuts, seeds, beans and legumes: 5 servings per week. Example: Tbsp of peanut butter, or 2 Tbsp of nuts or seeds.
  • Poultry, meat and eggs: Lean and extra-lean; skin and visible fat removed. 8-9 servings per week. Example: 3 oz cooked meat or poultry.