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How to make the healthy choice when it comes to protein

Protein is one of the building blocks of body tissue, and also serves as an important energy source. There are many good sources of protein available – here's your guide to choosing wisely.

One small thing: In the mood for a juicy steak? Opt for ostrich steaks – they're far leaner and just as delicious.

It's a fact – you need protein to keep your body functioning well. Protein forms an important component of every cell in your body, and is necessary to build and repair muscle, skin, nails and hair, and to make hormones and enzymes.

Now you know why you need protein, here's where to find it.

Foods that contain protein (some contain more than others)

Mostly protein: Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and tofu Some protein: Legumes, nuts, nut butters, seeds, seed butters, milk, cheese, cottage cheese, soya beverages and yoghurt Little protein: Wholegrain breads, rice, pasta, quinoa and barley

Tips to help you make healthy protein choices

Choose lean meats and skinless poultry

  • When shopping for beef, choose well-trimmed cuts of sirloin or extra-lean mince.
  • When it comes to pork, opt for lean ham, pork tenderloin or loin chops.
  • Always remove the skin from chicken – it's high in saturated fat. White meat is also healthier than dark meat as it contains less fat.
  • How you cook your meat matters – use cooking methods that require less fat, such as baking, broiling, grilling, roasting or braaiing.
  • Go easy on the sauces and gravy – don't drench your meat or poultry in fatty cream or butter sauces or gravy. Use marinades made from lemon, garlic, yoghurt, herbs and spices instead.

Eat more fish

  • Fish is a great source of protein and omega-3 fats. Regularly eating fish rich in omega 3s can reduce your risk of heart disease. (Dietitians recommend two 120g servings of fish a week.)
  • Great choices of fish include mackerel, salmon and sardines.
  • The healthiest ways to prepare fish include baking, broiling, grilling or poaching.

Choose meat-free protein alternatives

  • Beans, lentils and tofu are all great sources of protein. Many non-animal sources of protein are high in fibre and low in saturated fat. They'll also help you maintain a healthy weight because they keep you fuller for longer. An added bonus? They're good for your heart.
  • Nuts, seeds and nut butters offer good sources of protein and healthy monounsaturated fats. Add them to salads, cereals and yoghurt.
  • A word of caution: nuts and seeds are high in fat and kilojoules so remember to watch your portion size. A reasonable portion size for nuts and seeds is ¼ cup (60g) and two tablespoons for nut butters.

There are also a number of health benefits to following a vegetarian diet, including a lower risk for obesity, heart disease and certain types of cancer. Vegetarianism may not be for everyone, but why not try it for one day a week and join the Meat-Free Mondays campaign?

How to get more vegetable protein in your diet

Here are some great ideas:

  • Add almonds or pumpkin seeds to a bowl of oats.
  • Add chickpeas, lentils or black beans to your salad.
  • Opt for a slice of toasted seed loaf with hummus.
  • Use quinoa instead of pasta as it has a higher protein content.

If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit To get in touch with us, email