The Recommendation: Make 1/4 of your plate from the protein group.
When most people think of protein, they see visions of a nice piece of sizzling nyama choma (fire roasted meat). However, there is more to protein foods than our beloved Nyama Choma. Some plant foods as well as other animal flesh and animal products all contribute to provide variety in this essential nutrient..
Animal and Animal sources
Animal and animal sources are probably the most popular source of protein. They encompass all forms of animal flesh and food products that we get from animals. Eggs, milk, cheese, beef, goat, chicken, fish, wild game, pork, rabbit and mutton are common examples of foods in this group. While the protein amount per gram (ounce) is almost always the same in most meat products, portion control should be exercised as some cuts of meat are higher in cholesterol and fat which has negative impact on heart health and weight managemen. To decrease fat intake follow some of these tips:
- Choose lean cuts of meat such as top round of beef
- Eat chicken and poultry without the skin (most of the fat lies right beneath the skin)
- Enjoy fish at least twice a week
- Boil, broil, bake roast your meats instead of frying
- Choose low fat dairy products (cheese, yogurt, milk)
- Consume no more than 3-4 whole eggs per week, especially if your cholesterol is high. (egg whites are okay).
Legumes, nuts and beans are wonderful sources of protein and the African diet is extremely rich in these with ingredients such as dry beans, dry peas, nuts, soya and lentils featuring on our plates regularly. They contain no cholesterol and fat and are thus better options for protein than animal and animal products. Precautions to minimize the amount of added fat must however be taken when preparing these as it is quite easy to turn these healthy foods into higher fat ones . For example, adding too much palm oil when cooking beans may negatively impact the fat content of an otherwise healthy dish. Rather, add only small amounts as needed for taste.
Why protein matters
Protein foods are rich in a variety of nutrients such as protein, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, biotin, vitamin E, iron, zinc and magnesium. Plant protein foods however also contain fiber, folate and potassium. Fish and seafood products are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which help in brain development and the prevention of heart disease. For this reason, make sure that you eat seafood (including fish) at least twice a week. Protein is the “building block” for the body. Muscles, enzymes, hormones, blood and tissue all need moderate amounts of protein to function. They help the body release energy from food and when you injure yourself, it is protein that promotes the regeneration of skin and tissue to close wounds.
Take home message
Watch your portions: Take a nice long look at you palm, just your palm, no fingers included……take your finger from your other hand and trace the perimeter of your palm. Now look at how thick your palm is. The recommended portion size of meat at a meal is about the size of your palm, no fingers included and same thickness. If you have a bigger palm, you get more meat!
Go For The Lean Animal protein can be high in fat. Choose fish, white meat of poultry and plant sources (beans, lentils, soya etc) instead of high fat cuts.
- Introducing “My African Plate”- A Guide to Healthier Eating! (theafricanpotnutrition.com)
- Grains on” My African Plate.” (theafricanpotnutrition.com)