If you want to stay healthy, you need to eat at least a small amount of protein each day, since your body breaks down the protein into the amino acids it needs to repair any damaged cells in your body. The structure of skin, muscles and organs relies on protein. Most foods contain at least a little protein, but the best sources include lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds.
Between 10 and 35 percent of your daily calories should come from protein. Women only need approximately 5 ounces of protein-rich foods per day to meet their needs, since they also get small amounts of protein from foods in the other groups, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Eat a variety of protein-rich foods, including fish and beans or other vegetarian protein sources at least a few times a week.
Eggs, Meat, Fish and Poultry
The serving size of fish, meat or poultry equals 3 ounces, which is about the same size as a deck of cards.One egg is also equal to one serving, and it counts as a one-ounce equivalent of protein. Fish is one of the healthier choices in this group of foods, since it contains heart-healthy omega-3 fats and tends to be lower in calories than meat or poultry. When you opt for meat or poultry, choose the leanest cuts and cook them without added fat to help keep you from getting too much cholesterol and saturated fat.
Legumes and Soy
Eating meals containing dried beans and lentils is one of the least expensive ways you can meet your recommended protein intake. A serving is a half cup of cooked beans, which counts as a two-ounce equivalent of protein and also provides you with fiber. Beans don't contain all of the essential amino acids, but as long as you also eat grains, nuts, seeds or animal-based protein at some point during the same day, you will ingest all you need.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are also good sources of protein, and eating them in moderation may lower your heart disease risk. Since these are a bit high in fat and calories, the recommended serving size is a bit smaller, with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or half an ounce of nuts counting as a one-ounce equivalent of protein. Most of the fat in nuts is the healthy unsaturated type, and they also provide vitamin E. As with beans, they don't provide all of the amino acids, but eating a variety of protein sources during the day helps make up for this.
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.