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Get Lean With Protein

Protein is a calorie sizzler, an immunity booster and the holy grail of a healthy, strong body. But you need to know how much to eat, and when, to get the benefits: Too much or too little of the stuff can jeopardize your well-being. Learn how this wonder nutrient can help you burn more calories!

Proteins are macromolecules made up of 20 different amino acids, compounds that help control hunger and build muscle, skin and more. Eleven of the acids are nonessential, meaning our body produces them, so we don’t need to get them from food. The other nine are essential—we can’t make them and must replenish our supply from one of two camps:

Complete proteins contain all nine of the essential amino acids and include animal products (meat, fish, dairy, eggs) as well as soybeans and quinoa.

Incomplete proteins, as the name suggests, fall short. “Nuts, seeds and grains are all missing or low in the same essential amino acids,” says Diane McKay, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition at Tufts University. “Legumes, fruit and veggies all lack other essential amino acids.” Combine one food from each incomplete group and, voilà, full package. In an ideal world, you’d have complete protein at every meal to ensure all nine essential amino acids are there when you need them. But that’s not always possible or even necessary. A quick rule of thumb: If you have only incomplete proteins at one meal, have complete ones the next time you eat.