Chicken and chickpeas just aren’t comparable. Understanding different sources of protein and how they affect the body is essential.
If you’re striving to eat well, a good understanding of protein is essential. All proteins aren’t created equally, so it’s important to understand your protein options and to make sure that your choices are healthy ones that will keep you and your family strong.
The vital importance of protein
“Nutrition has become very confusing for the average consumer,” says Gina Sunderland, Food and Consumer Relations Specialist Dietitian with Manitoba Chicken Producers. “There are many competing voices, and it’s hard to sift fact from fiction.”
Sunderland advocates for coming back to basics and key nutritional foundations. And when it comes to foundations, protein is, well, foundational.
Protein is one of the three macronutrients — along with carbohydrates and fat — that our bodies need for energy and optimal functionality.
“Protein is essentially the vital building block that we need for life,” says Sunderland. “It’s required for creating every single cell in our bodies, and it helps us build and maintain lean body mass. It’s also critical for healthy skin, hair, and nails, and it even plays an important role in bone health. It also helps our immune systems to function optimally.”
Not all sources of protein are created equally
While many foods are rich in protein — including meats, beans, lentils, quinoa, tofu, nuts, and seeds — Sunderland notes that it’s important to understand the different types of protein and how they affect the body.
“Protein is made up of components called amino acids,” she says. “Some amino acids are considered essential, meaning our bodies can only get them from our diet. Animal-based sources of protein provide the full complement of amino acids that our bodies need. The vast majority of plant-based proteins don’t contain the full complement.”
Canada’s Food Guide recommends filling a quarter of your plate with a protein source, and considering that the average Canadian requires about 25 grams of protein per meal, lean meats like chicken make nutritional sense. “If you chose lentils as your protein source, you’d need to eat a lot more than a quarter of your plate of them,” says Sunderland, “and you still wouldn’t be getting all those essential amino acids.”
The importance of making informed decisions
Chicken has other nutritional advantages, too. “The type of iron in chicken and other animal-based proteins is heme iron, which is significantly easier for our bodies to absorb than iron from plant-based sources,” says Sunderland. “Animal-based proteins like chicken also contain other key nutrients like vitamin B12, which is important for red blood cells and preventing anaemia.” Chicken is also minimally processed and naturally low in salt and saturated fat.
While some people opt for plant-based meat alternatives, Sunderland stresses the importance of making educated decisions. Canadian-raised chicken ticks all the boxes when it comes to sustainability, nutritional value, and animal welfare. While choice and variety are important, make sure your choices are well-informed.