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How to Add More High-Quality Protein to Your Diet

by Wendy Allen

Jan. 16, 2020

by Wendy Allen

Special diets and cleanses come and go, but one thing has remained the same when we look into actual diet trends: Protein

Whether it's a diet with a foundation of high protein, or a lifestyle of choosing balanced healthy proteins, this one factor has not changed like fat, carbs and alternative sugars have over the years. And it won't. Why? Because our bodies need protein to function. Protein builds muscle, repairs tissues, grows hair, and even repairs our cells. DNA is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Since we need it so much, we believe it should be of the highest quality. And it doesn't always have to be meat!

Here’s What to Look For

There are all sorts of articles out there about getting more protein into your diet, but how many are focusing on the quality of that protein? It's not always about quantity—quality matters a whole lot too. 

#1: Organic

Organic is a biggie. This little green seal covers so much more than just the obvious no toxic pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones and GMOs. It requires a lot of real, green pasture for cows and plenty of appropriate outdoor access for other species. It is an act of Congress that has real, legal consequences if a farm, processor, or brand goes out of line. Organic protein is something to favor if you’re able. Read more about what certified organic means.

Two tan cows graze green grass with their heads close together.

Jersey cows happily graze on the Johnston family’s Spring Valley Farm in western Oregon.

#2: Grass-fed

Whether meat, dairy or eggs, grass makes a huge difference in the animal's quality of life, which then translates to higher quality food. Organic grass-fed whole milk has been shown to have a whopping 147% more omega-3 and 125% more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than non-organic whole milk. Grass-fed meat has higher levels of omega-3 and an ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 too. 

Grass even matters for eggs, one of the highest-quality and easily digestible sources for protein. Hens that are free to forage outside in grass will scratch and peck—normal bird behaviors—and eat a more varied diet that includes bugs and bits of grass as well as their usual feed ration. (What do Organic Valley free-range hens eat?) As one of the best sources of non-meat protein, organic eggs are high on our list.

More Grass = Happy, Healthy Animals 

How do we know our animals are happy? Our farmers have decades of experience observing their cows, pigs, and chickens, and noting their behavior to make sure they’re living low-stress lives. We even have on-staff veterinarians dedicated to cow health and happiness. Healthy, happy cows will be more social, will move around easily, and will eat and rest at predictable intervals—and we’ve noticed they do more of these things when they’re outside, on grass. It’s the same with our birds. Happy hens enjoy scratching the ground, hunting and pecking for bugs and seeds, and dustbathing.

Egg white omelette folded over sauteed mushrooms, tomatoes and green onions with shredded cheese and a sprig of cilantro for garnish.

Egg whites contain all the protein in an egg, so an egg white omelette filled with vegetables and a touch of shredded cheese is a great way to balance your protein sources.

#3: Balance 

It’s well documented that Americans eat more meat than anywhere else in the world—between 200 to 250 pounds per person per year, depending on what source you see. But meat shouldn’t be your sole source of protein. Swapping in vegetable proteins here and there is an obvious tip, but remember that milk, cheese, and eggs are also great sources of non-meat protein with the added benefit of including healthy fats. Variety and balance are good for our health as well as our planet.

How much protein do you need? It’s...complicated. Although the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight, what’s right for you depends on your gender, weight, activity level, general diet, whether you’re pregnant or nursing, and other nutritional factors. It even depends on what organization is making the recommendations. In short, we suggest doing some research to determine your own personal needs and consulting with a professional if needed.

5 Easy Protein Swaps

Keeping these staples on-hand will ensure you have a wide variety of high-quality protein sources that you can grab as you’re rushing out the door or cooking up a healthy family meal.

1. Swap protein powders for Organic Valley Fuel®

Powdered protein shake mixes and other protein beverages have ingredient labels that read like tongue-twisters and can taste chalky and weird. Organic Valley Fuel, on the other hand, has recognizable ingredients (some are fair trade too!), 20 grams of protein, no added sugars, no lactose, no growth hormones, and none of the weird chalky texture you get from powdered mixes. Plus, it’s more convenient than powders since it’s already mixed and ready to go. We love the coffee flavor for a morning protein boost with a little kick of caffeine, and the chocolate and vanilla flavors for a post-workout recovery drink (a nice switch from peanut butter and bananas).

Contributed photo: @moments.with.liv.and.isla

Mom and daughter enjoying a glass of Organic Valley Ultra-Filtered Whole Milk

2. Grab Organic Valley Ultra™ over regular milk

Our ultra-filtered milk has 50% more protein than regular milk, half as much sugar, it’s lactose-free, and it’s the only organic ultra-filtered milk on the market right now. Quadruple win! Ultra-filtration takes out more than half the water and sugars in the milk, leaving behind higher concentrations of organic protein that was already in the milk—nothing is added to it. It’s fantastic for both adults and kids. Use it in smoothies or cereal, or have a glass of Chocolate Ultra as an afternoon snack. (Read all about how Ultra works here!)

3. Pack Mighty Organic Snacks and skip gas station meat snacks

When you’re craving protein on the run, those gas station beef sticks are easy and may tame a rumbly tummy, but how much do you know about where the meat came from and how it was raised? Not much. What about the artificial fillers those snacks might contain? Instead, Mighty Organic jerky, sticks and bars are a fantastic swap—high in protein, certified organic, humanely raised, and no nitrates, nitrites or other nonsense.

A plate of yellow scrambled eggs next to a glass of milk and a whole egg, all in front of a carton of Organic Valley Omega-3 Eggs and a carton of Organic Valley Omega-3 Milk.

The chickens that lay our Omega-3 Eggs spend lots of time outside scratching in the grass and socializing. Their eggs get an omega-3 boost from flaxseed in their diet. (Our Omega-3 Milk also gives a fatty acid boost alongside the protein you expect from our high-quality milk.)

4. Swap regular eggs for Organic Omega-3 Eggs

Although organic eggs will have a similar nutritional profile as non-organic eggs, this is another food where how the animal is raised makes a difference in the quality. Organic chickens aren’t given feed grown with pesticides, herbicides, or GMOs, and they get plenty of outdoor space to do chicken-y things. But one additional swap will give an extra nutritional boost to this source of high-quality protein: Omega-3 eggs come from chickens who were also fed flax seed. The high omega-3 content in the flax transfers to their eggs, which gives us humans a nutritional bump too. On the go? Good to Go™ hard-boiled egg two-packs have 12 grams of protein and are perfectly packaged for tossing into lunch boxes or grabbing as you’re heading out the door.

<p>These healthy grilled chicken kabobs are a great source of lean protein, and organic means no antibiotics, toxic pesticides or synthetic hormones too!</p>

These healthy grilled chicken kabobs are a great source of lean protein, and organic means no antibiotics, toxic pesticides or synthetic hormones too!

5. Choose organic, grass-fed meat over conventional grass-fed meat

Choosing organic meat is an area where you can do a lot of good for both yourself and the farm! 100% grass-fed organic meat shows higher omega-3 levels, a healthier fat profile, and it’s a high-quality clean protein since the animals wouldn’t have been fed pasture grown with pesticides and herbicides. Organic pasture-raised meat is also an excellent option if you’re someone who cares about the animal’s quality of life. Remember, not all grass-fed meat is organic, so look for the USDA Organic seal too!

Although we offer organic meat, we also recognize that Americans consume more meat than most of us need, which is why we put so many non-meat options on our list. There’s a lot wrong with raising animals on an industrial scale, so we fiercely believe in raising animals humanely on pasture by small family farmers who can give plenty of attention to their animals. 

If you’re looking for more variety and attention to detail in your protein game, we’re here for you!