Let’s talk about complete proteins. Did you know that chicken is one of the few protein sources that provides our bodies with a high-quality complete protein? Complete proteins are an essential nutrient for health. They are:
- important for building, maintaining and repairing muscle, skin, hair and bones;
- critical in the production of hormones and enzymes;
- made up of small molecules called amino acids, which are linked together like a string.
Our bodies can produce certain amino acids, while other amino acids are classified as essential. Essential amino acids cannot be made by our bodies and can only be obtained through the foods we eat. The great news is chicken contains all of the essential amino acids our bodies need to stay healthy.
Difference between complete versus incomplete protein
Proteins can be classified as complete or incomplete based on the amino acids they contain. A complete protein contains all 9 essential amino acids, whereas proteins that do not are classified as incomplete proteins.
Complete proteins are found in animal-based foods such as chicken, eggs, beef, pork, turkey, fish, and dairy products. Very few plant foods provide a complete source of protein. In fact, there are only three plant proteins that contain all 9 essential amino acids: buckwheat, quinoa, and soybeans.
When consuming incomplete sources of protein such as pulses (legumes or beans), nuts, or grains try adding another protein choice to your meal to ensure you are getting all of the all of the amino acids needed for health.
How does protein helps build and repair muscle?
When we participate in everyday activities or strenuous exercise, muscle fibres become broken down and depleted. Amino acids from protein-rich foods help to repair muscles and make them stronger in the process.
About 35% of our daily calories should come from protein. An individual requiring 2,000 calories in a day, it is recommended that they consume up to 700 calories from protein. For example, a man living a sedentary lifestyle should consume around 56 grams of protein each day and a woman about 45 grams. For individuals who are more active a higher protein intake is recommended.
Aim for 30 grams of protein per meal
As a reference a 100 gram portion of chicken breast, about the size of a deck of cards, contains 30 grams of protein. When comparing the amount of protein in a chicken breast to other sources of protein such as tofu, lentils or quinoa, the amount you would need to eat to obtain 30 grams of protein is typically more than double in comparison to the quantity of chicken.
Here’s what 30 grams of protein from a variety of foods looks like:
- 1 chicken breast (100 g, 3 oz or the size of deck of cards)
- 5 eggs
- 4 cups cooked quinoa (720 g, 25 oz)
- 5 cup cooked lentils (300 g, 12 oz)
- 5 cups tofu (280 g, 10 oz)
Looking for meal suggestions to help you increase your protein intake?
- Breakfast: try a spinach and feta cheese omelette. Eggs are a great source of protein. Two eggs contain 12 grams of protein, and the feta cheese also contains additional protein.
- Snacks: 23 almonds contain 6 grams of protein, and 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt contains 10 grams.
- Lunch: try a quinoa chicken and berry salad for a protein-packed lunch. Quinoa is one of three plant proteins that contains all 9 essential amino acids. Approximately 1 cup of quinoa provides 9 grams of protein. Add in half a chicken breast for an additional 15 grams of protein.
- Dinner: make a chicken and lentil casserole served with a side of barley. This combination incorporates plant and animal sources of protein.
Recipes for enjoying chicken
Including chicken in your meals is an easy and nutritious way to increase your protein intake. Chicken is versatile and there are many different cuts to enjoy including: whole chicken, breasts, thighs, drumsticks and ground chicken. Here are some of our delicious recipes to try:
Whole chicken is a great option if you’re looking for something that requires minimal preparation time. A whole chicken can typically be roasted in about 90 minutes, in an oven set to 375°F. Using a meat thermometer to ensure it is a foolproof way to ensure that your chicken is properly cooked. The internal temperature reading on the thermometer should read 180°F, when inserted into the thickest part of the breast meat.
Our Roast Chicken with Lemon and Herbed Butter is a delicious recipe your entire family is sure to enjoy.
Skinless chicken breasts are a cut that contains the lowest fat content, and provides a variety of nutrients such as potassium, vitamin B6, B12, phosphorus, and magnesium. Chicken breasts are a great option for any meal as they can be prepared quickly in many different ways including baked, pan fried, or grilled.
Bruschetta Chicken is one of our favourite ways to enjoy chicken breasts.
Drumsticks are an easy economical choice for families. Even very young children love them because they can pick them up and feed themselves. Not only are they a terrific source of protein, they contain high amounts of easy to absorb iron called heme-iron.
Try our Coconut Lemongrass Chicken drumstick recipe. It can be marinated the day before and be ready to go on the grill the next day for a quick weeknight meal.
Ground chicken can easily be substituted in any recipe that calls for ground meat. It is a lean source of ground meat and makes an excellent addition to soups, pasta sauces, meatballs, or tacos.
If you’re looking for a twist on a classic frittata recipe, try our Chicken and Vegetable Frittata for a great Sunday morning brunch option to share with friends and family.
Food for thought
Chicken has exceptional nutritional value and is an excellent source of high-quality, complete protein. It is lower in saturated fat than most other meats and provides many other essential nutrients required for optimal health. Chicken is naturally low in sodium, carbohydrates, and is trans-fat free. Including chicken as part of your healthy diet, paired with other fresh food choices, is a terrific way to help you stay healthy and help you meet your daily protein needs.