Along with carbohydrates and fat, protein is a macronutrient, meaning we need to consume these three types of foods on a daily basis for general health and wellness. Understanding your own body’s needs for proteins will help you to greatly improve health and wellness.

Human being might all need macronutrients, along with a variety of vitamins and minerals, but the types and amounts of these foods differs with each person. It’s become quite complicated for people, determining how much protein they need and in what forms. Each diet says something different: meat causes cancer vs. you can never obtain enough protein from vegetarian sources, such as beans. We need a lot of protein vs. we eat way too much protein on the SAD (Standard American Diet of processed foods and take-out foods). So, what’s the answer?!

First, let’s start with an understanding of what protein in general does for us. Protein is required by the body for the growth, maintenance and repair of all cells. Protein is a major component of all muscles, tissues and organs and is vital for practically every process that occurs within the body such as metabolism, digestion and the transportation of nutrients and oxygen in the blood. It is also necessary for the production of antibodies, which fight against infection and illness, and is the main nutrient that keeps our hair shiny and healthy, our nails strong, our skin fresh and glowing and our bones strong and healthy.

Animal sources of protein include poultry, beef, lamb, pork, other animal meats, and dairy. If you decide that animal meat belongs in your diet, go for the highest-quality source you can find. Cattle raised on factory farms in America, which is where the majority of Americans get their beef from, are fed grain and grain by-products. Unfortunately, grass is the only food cows can really digest properly, save for their mother’s milk when weaning, so the grain diet can cause them to become ill. This necessitates the need for antibiotics. Cows are often fed hormones in order to fatten them more quickly and/or to produce more milk. They also live in cramped, dirty, stressful environments. When you consume this type of meat, you are consuming sick, stressed, dirty, antibiotic- and hormone-laden beef. Look for words like organic, grass-fed, and pastured to ensure you’re eating meat with all the unnecessary “additives.”

As far as dairy concerned, it is a relatively cheap protein source that some respond to well, while others experience acne, gas and cramping, and congestion when consuming milk. Yogurt is an excellent source of protein, as well as healthy bacteria that aid in digestion. Cottage cheese is especially inexpensive and high in protein.

Beans are a wonderful way to add high-quality, plant-based protein to your diet. They are high in iron, B vitamins and fiber, and are versatile enough that you may never tire of them. There is concern around beans causing gas. This can be true, as they are high in fiber, so if you’ve been eating a low-fiber diet, start slow and small. Look for smaller beans, such as adzuki beans and lentils, and eat small amounts to begin with.

Certain grains are also good sources of protein. Quinoa in particular is excellent, containing 8 grams of protein per serving, quite high for a grain. Its nutty, fluffy texture lends quinoa well to a variety of savory and sweet dishes.

Nuts and seeds can be another great protein source. Carry them with you for a quick snack on-the-go.

My best suggestion is to experiment. Spend a few days eating a high-protein diet, including protein at every meal. How do you feel during and after? How is your digestion? What about your mood? Do you feel satisfied for hours afterward? Then spend another few days eating more carbohydrates in the form of whole grains and fruits and vegetables. On which diet do you feel your best, digest most completely, and feel satisfied for the longest amount of time? Also experiment with different types of protein, be it animal-based or plant-based, and determine what works best for YOUR body. Enjoy the process and listen to your body!