How to Get More Protein - Ask a Nutritionist

August 31, 2023

Most people are under eating protein so increasing your intake is often recommended. Are you getting at least four ounces at each meal and two ounces per snack? Tune into this week's episode of Ask a Nutritionist with Brandy to find out new ways to start getting more protein into you diet.

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Welcome to the “Ask a Nutritionist” podcast, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. We are thrilled to have you join us today as we discuss the connection between what you eat and how you feel, and share practical real life solutions for healthier living through balanced nutrition. Now let's get started.

BRANDY: Good morning and welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition's midweek segment called Ask a Nutritionist. My name is Brandy Buro and I'm a Licensed and Registered Dietitian with Nutritional Weight and Wellness. On today's show, I'll be answering a nutrition question we received from our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners.

So the question today is, “I would love tips on how to get more protein into my daily routine.” So a little background on this question. This individual is looking for ideas other than eggs. They're getting a little tired of eggs and they're looking for tips and ideas that would help them increase their protein intake with convenience into their daily routine.

So this is a great question. I actually get this question all the time from my clients in those one-on-one counseling sessions. Increasing your protein intake is often recommended because most people are undereating protein. So it is a big part of the conversations we have in our classes and within our counseling sessions because a lot of people need more protein to support their health and to reach their goals.

Protein amounts recommended & why it’s important

We often recommend that most people aim for at least four ounces of protein per meal and one to two ounces per snack. So four ounces a few times a day, and a couple snacks with one or two ounces. And that's just to maintain strong bones, maintain their muscle mass and meet their nutrient needs, and the list goes on. So we have talked about why it's important to include enough protein in your meal plan, and we've given you some details about, you know, the biochemistry behind that in a couple other episodes of “Ask a Nutritionist”.

So if you're interested to hear kind of a different spin on this topic, take a look at the episode on July 6th. Teresa talks about amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. And on June 22nd I discussed the benefits of animal-based protein. So those are a couple sort of complimentary episodes to tie in with this topic today. 'Cause today we're talking about how, how do I increase my protein intake? How do I do it conveniently? It can be a really big adjustment for a lot of people. So having those convenient options in your back pocket can make a huge difference in hitting your protein goals.

Convenient, real food protein options

So the ideas and suggestions that I'll talk about today will really lean into that idea of convenience; convenient, while still maintaining that real food approach that we at Nutritional Weight and Wellness always encourage. So real food, convenience, and I'll also try to point out some scenarios that they work really well in.

High quality meat sticks or jerky

So at the top of my list when it comes to convenience is a high quality meat stick or jerky. So you do want to look for a high quality option, preferably something that's nitrate free and sugar free, but also looking for something that is grass fed and pasture raised. So that's, those are kind of the three criteria for a high quality meats stick or jerky.

So these are really great for snacks when you're traveling or you know, even in the office to have a little stash there; really anytime you're out and about running errands or maybe on the beach, on a road trip. The reason I love them is because they are shelf stable so they don't spoil and they don't require refrigeration or a cooler. So you can stow it away pretty much anywhere: your gym bag, your desk, your backpack, don't really have to worry about it. It's just kind of there as a little insurance policy for some good protein.

High quality deli meat

So deli meat can also be a good choice that is ready to eat, doesn't require any preparation and it's, it's really versatile. Also with deli meat, you want to be careful about the quality. Get the best quality that fits within your budget. I would prioritize that nitrate free deli meat. But if you can level up and get that organic and pasture raised meat, that's going to be the best that you can find. I'll often do a nitrate free organic turkey deli meat to top my salads for lunch. So I'll just toss together a variety of vegetables and some greens, some olives, and that nitrate free organic turkey. It's a complete lunch, keeps me satisfied, keeps my energy up for the rest of the afternoon.

Another way that I like to use it is roll-ups, a.k.a. Minnesota sushi. So this just involves layering a little deli meat with some cream cheese or avocado, and then you roll that up with a vegetable like sliced peppers or cucumbers, maybe a couple pickles. I think they're delicious. I think they make a really great snack and it's something you can make a big batch of at the beginning of the week. And then you've got some, some good grab and go options for your snacks all week long.

You could even make a little charcuterie board with some nitrate-free deli meat, a few olives and nuts, and then throw in some fresh cut vegetables, maybe some apples or grapes, and you have just a delicious little lunch or a snack that didn't take a lot of time to prepare.

Dairy protein options

Dairy is also a great option if you are someone that can tolerate dairy. And the dairy products that I would consider good sources of protein include cheese, full fat and plain yogurt and full fat cottage cheese. So all of these options are ready to eat so there's no prep work involved on your end and they're very versatile. You could pair that yogurt with some fresh berries and some nuts. You could throw that in a smoothie. However, I do want to warn you that be because it's so convenient, it can be very easy to rely on dairy for your protein option maybe too often.

And variety is the spice of life. And we also just want to make sure you're getting a variety of nutrients. I would suggest thinking of dairy as you know, an option once a day. And we've seen here at the clinic that most people do much better meeting their health goals when they limit dairy to one serving a day or less. So this would be about two ounces of cheese or a half a cup of cottage cheese or yogurt.

Canned fish

So my next pick for convenient protein is canned fish. I'm talking like a canned wild caught salmon or tuna. You could even do sardines. And this is a pantry staple for me because I can stock up on that. I don't have to worry about it spoiling, and it's really versatile. I can make it a lot of different ways and I know that it's going to be delicious and nutritious. It's a real food. I love that I can stock up on a couple different varieties of canned fish and I know that I always have a high quality protein on hand for those last minute dinners or those weeks where I'm getting near the end of the week and I'm out of groceries. I know at least I have something I can fall back on.

One of my favorite ways to do it is just plain canned salmon or tuna and add it to a fresh salad. Or I'll make like a tuna salad with a high quality avocado mayonnaise, throw in some seasonings and some crunchy vegetables like some celery peppers, pickles. And I, I do want to point out one of my favorite recipes from our cookbook; I believe this is also on the website, it's the salmon cakes. So they're kind of like a crab cake, but instead of crab, we're using canned salmon.

So the convenience of that canned fish makes this one of my favorite emergency, what's in the pantry kinds of dinners. And I think they're delicious. Sometimes I just plan on making these, even if I, you know, could do whatever I want for dinner and have all the time in the world, but I think they're so good and they're so versatile. I'll eat it over a salad or I'll eat it like a burger with a lettuce wrap with some mayonnaise or it's really good just on its own with a side of a vegetable, like some green beans or some grilled asparagus with a little butter. Take a look at our website,, for that salmon cakes recipe.

Quality rotisserie chicken

And I think we're all familiar with the convenience of rotisserie chicken and I would say this is a fairly reliable protein option when you are pressed for time. But again, you still want to pay mind to the quality. So if possible, look for an organic chicken and scan through the ingredients list to watch out for any artificial ingredients or additives that you're just not sure whether or not they're real food or not. So the co-op might actually be a great place to look for a rotisserie chicken that meets those criteria.

So once you find a good rotisserie chicken, really the sky is the limit for what you can do with it. You can eat it as is with some steamed vegetables or some grilled vegetables, or you can make chicken salad or a quick stir fry. That would be a really great way to use this rotisserie chicken for a quick meal.

Protein powder

So now that we've covered a lot of the more traditional protein options like meat and fish and dairy and eggs, let's shift gears and talk a little bit about some of the lesser known sources of protein. Protein powder I think is one of the most convenient ways to incorporate a good amount of protein and variety into your meal plan because there's a lot of ways to use it.

However, there are a lot of protein powders out there to choose from, and I understand it can be kind of overwhelming. Some of our listeners even expressed that it was a little confusing to figure out which one was the best. So if you need a little more guidance in that area, we actually have a midweek episode that was released January 12th of this year. So Britni actually recorded a little episode about how to choose the right type of protein powder, what some of the benefits are, and overall just kind of what you're looking for for quality.

So generally speaking, what you want in a protein powder is a short ingredients list. It should contain foods, ingredients that you can pronounce that you recognize as real foods and one that does not have added sugar, artificial sweeteners or refined oils. So those are some ingredients that can sneak in, things that you should just be really mindful about. And ideally if you can find a protein powder that is derived from animal-based proteins that is going to improve the the quality and how well your body is able to absorb that, those proteins.

So examples of animal-based proteins would be whey or Paleo powder or maybe even a collagen powder. And there are so many ways to use it beyond just a protein shake, even though that is one of my favorite ways to use protein powder. A protein shake can be a very quick and easy way to get a balanced meal into your day or a snack. It's often a breakfast for myself if I am, you know, pressed for time, I don't have a ton of time to make breakfast, but I can spare three minutes to throw a few things in a blender, I'll often suggest a protein shake as a breakfast for folks that have a very hectic morning getting kids to school. They don't have a lot of time for breakfast themselves, but they have a long commute to work.

So that's something that you can kind of sip on while you're driving without getting into an accident. It could even be something you sip on during that first meeting at work. You know, it's a very discreet way to get some nutrition in. Teachers, you know, that don't have a lot of time to themselves throughout the day, but they need to fuel their bodies, this could be one way to do that. Put it in the thermos, sip on it throughout the morning, you're going to keep your energy up, you're going to prevent a blood sugar crash. So that's kind of how I like to use those protein shakes.

Another convenient way to use protein powder is make your own protein bar. And I prefer to make my own protein bar because it is extremely difficult to find a protein bar that's pre-made that does not contain artificial ingredients, added sugars or refined oils. But if you make your own, you can control the ingredients and it, it really isn't that challenging. Once you find a good quality protein powder, it's as simple as mixing it with maybe some nut butter as a healthy fat, maybe some seeds and then maybe a little gluten-free rolled oats or dried fruit. And right there you've got a perfectly balanced protein bar that you can stow away in your purse or the office and you can make a big batch of them and freeze them for later.

So I really like those two for those on the go situations when I'm running errands or maybe I'm on a long bike ride; really awesome to have an option like that that you know is high quality. Another recipe that you can find on our website that uses protein powder, and I think it's a really, a really clever way to use it, is protein muffins. So there's a few recipes to choose from. There's the blueberry, banana or pumpkin muffins. So this is another example of a balanced snack, meaning it includes all three components of eating in balance: good quality protein, natural fat, and real food carbs.

So moving onto another great protein option is collagen powder. So this is kind of like a special type of protein powder, but it's made up of the amino acids that support healthy tissues. So tissues like your hair, skin and nails, but also your joints and your tendons and your ligaments and your bones. Collagen is really convenient, but it's also a great way to support the health of those tissues. It's often unflavored and dissolves very easily in liquids. And the Nutrikey collagen is derived from grass fed beef. So it's very high quality. So these are all features that make collagen powder one of my favorite protein sources.

So a few ways that I like to use it are simply mixing a scoop in my morning coffee or a cup of tea; it dissolves easily in warm liquids. If you are not much of a coffee or tea drinker, you could mix it in plain water, maybe put a scoop of those Key Greens and Fruits along with it. So it's kind of like a protein enriched drink with a little fruity flavor and some antioxidants from those Key Greens and Fruits. Just put it in a shaker and you're good to go. I, I often do that in the office for like a mid-afternoon snack.

Some of my clients that travel a lot will make little packets with a scoop of collagen, scoop of the Key Greens, and for a little healthy fat they'll use some powdered coconut milk so they can pre-package all of those ingredients and then just throw it in a shaker with some water and they have an instant real food balanced snack. So they just pre-measure those ingredients into like a little Ziploc bag and when they need a little snack, they just throw it in a shaker, add some water and it's done. So I love that idea.

Another thing you can do with collagen powder that I've, I've really been enjoying lately is a chia seed pudding. So this is a really easy recipe that involves simply mixing some chia seeds with a little water and maybe some canned coconut milk or some cream. Then add that collagen powder for the protein, throw in some berries, some kind of fruit for a healthy carb, and then you just kind of let it sit for a few hours or overnight and those chia seeds will absorb the liquid and turn that mixture into a pudding like texture, kind of like a tapioca pudding. So I think it's a really easy recipe. I think it's a great meal prep recipe. You can make several portions all at once and then have like a really great snack ready for you throughout the course of the week.

Bone broth

Moving on to a kind of a, in a similar vein of collagen powder is bone broth. So bone broth is really rich in protein and it's made up primarily of collagen. So you can reap similar benefits from bone broth as you can from collagen powder. And bone broth is made by simmering bones in a little water, maybe with a few vegetables for some extra flavor, but as it simmers, the natural collagens are slowly released from the bone. So what you get is a very protein rich and savory broth, and just one cup of bone broth contains about 10 grams of protein. So just a little over an ounce worth of protein.

So you can sip on that. You can sip on a warm cup of bone broth on a cold day, like doesn't that sound really comforting? And that could be your protein for your snack. How easy is that? You could also use bone broth as the stock in a soup recipe just to increase the protein content a little bit. You can buy bone broth, but again, you have to be careful about what other additives they're putting in it and be mindful about the quality. But it's actually pretty easy to make your own. And it's one of my favorite ways to maximize the value of some of those leftover bones from that roasted chicken or that pot roast or the Thanksgiving turkey. So you really just need some bones and some water and you can kind of add some flavorings as you as you see fit. But that's really all it takes, plus a little time. So highly recommend that. There's actually a step-by-step guide on the website about how to make your own bone broth.

Planning ahead improves success

So before we wrap up on this topic in convenient protein options, I do want to emphasize that no matter what, planning ahead improves your success in having those options available and adding variety to those choices, adding interest to your routine. So at the end of the day, preparing your own proteins at home is really the best way to ensure that you are avoiding some of those harmful additives and nourishing your body with the highest quality you can.

So if you can get into a rhythm where you are preparing your, your own proteins ahead of time, it's a little investment on the front end, but you are creating those convenient options down the line. You are saving yourself a ton of time and a lot of headaches in kind of deciphering like what's best for me later on.

So a couple things that I like to do in my meal prep routine is making some meatballs, you know, very versatile. You can kind of adjust the flavor profile based on what you're in the mood for. You can make a huge batch. They freeze really well. They reheat really well. So definitely consider meatballs as a a meal prep go-to.

Use your crockpot. You know, a crockpot of pulled pork or pulled chicken is an easy way to prepare protein. But then you have a kind of a blank slate. You can portion that out into individual servings, put it in the freezer and pull that out for a recipe or make a burrito bowl or throw it into some soup. It's a very versatile protein and it's something that you can do on your own at home. And I guess the other thing I would suggest is make sure at the very least that you put some of these items on your grocery list and carve out that time to go shopping. You know, prioritize that time, protect it. You could even use a delivery service to try to, you know, maximize the time you have to prepare those foods at home.

So if you have the things on your list, you have those things in your home environment, you at least have good choices close at hand. So I hope these ideas help inspire more variety into your protein choices and help offer some options that are convenient for your lifestyle. Well, thank you so much for listening to Dishing Up Nutrition’s “Ask a Nutritionist”. If you have a nutrition question that you would like us to answer, we invite you to join our nutrition, our Dishing Up Nutrition Facebook community by searching Dishing Up Nutrition in Facebook.

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