NNMC Picking Protein: What About Protein Powders?

First, let me start by saying that I can't believe this the last post of the National Nutrition Month Challenge! March sure has flown by. I'd love to hear your feedback about the challenge, how it went for you, and if you would like to see more challenges in the future. This blog is it's best when the content is relevant to you, so, as always, let me know what's on your mind. With that said, we are closing out this week about protein with some information on protein powders. From whey to soy to pea to hemp, there are a lot of options out there. Most people use them after a workout to boost muscle growth. Because protein is used in the body to build and repair, this makes sense. But is it really necessary? You won't be surprised to hear me say that I think using whole foods is always the best option. I like to have a little protein after a workout, but mine comes in the form of an egg, yogurt, or handful of nuts. Unless you're a professional athlete, I don't think it's worth it. Plus, we know that getting protein isn't difficult if you're eating a variety of nutritious foods and have enough to eat overall. With all that said, many people like adding a scoop of protein powder to a post-workout shake or a breakfast smoothie. If this is you, the important thing is to make sure you're getting a quality product. You don't want anything that has artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors. But remember, this is still a processed food and, I say, you're always better off sticking to the real thing.

What was your favorite part the challenge? The most difficult? Would you like to see more challenges in the future?

NNMC Picking Protein: Garlic-Lime Shrimp Skewers

Putting something on a skewer instantly makes it seem fancier. Plus, it can trick you into eating less because the food takes up so much more room on the plate. If you don't have skewers or it isn't warm enough to grill, you can also cook the shrimp in a pan on the stove-top (that's what I did). Shrimp are a great lean protein option and they take on other flavors quickly so no marinating is required. A simple toss will do.

Garlic-Lime Shrimp Skewers

serves 4-6


2 lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lime*

3 cloves garlic

1/8 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste


1. Combine extra virgin olive oil, lime juice, garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

2. Add shrimp and toss to coat.

3. Put shrimp on skewers and grill. Alternatively, skip the skewers and sear in a pan over medium-high heat.

*Tip: To get more juice out of a lime, heat it in the microwave for 10-20 seconds. Then, roll the lime on the counter under your palm. Slice it in half and juice as usual.

NNMC Picking Protein: Chipotle Black Bean Burgers with Avocado-Yogurt Sauce

Ok y'all, this is possibly the best thing I've come up with to-date. The burgers are moist and flavorful and the avocado-yogurt sauce brightens it up and adds a creaminess without being too heavy. This is going to be a go-to dinner for me from now on and I hope it will be for you too! It's not just something you make for the vegetarian in your life. You'll be fighting them to get your hands on one.

Chipotle Black Bean Burgers

serves 4


3 cups cooked black beans, mashed

1/2 cup sweet potato puree

1/2 cup corn meal, plus more for dusting

1 chipotle in adobo, minced (comes in a can, freeze the rest)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Juice of 1 lime

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 head green leaf lettuce


1. Combine all ingredients except oil and lettuce in a large bowl and mix until well combined (I use my hands).

2. Divide into 4 equal portions and form into patties, about an inch thick.

3. Heat oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Dust top side of burgers with cornmeal and put in the pan, cornmeal side down. Cook for about 2 minutes, dust exposed side with cornmeal, flip, and cook for another 2 minutes.

4. Serve on lettuce leaves with Avocado-Yogurt sauce (recipe below).

Avocado-Yogurt Sauce

makes approximately 1 cup


1 avocado, pureed

1/4 cup plain, organic yogurt

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt


1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and serve.

You can also serve the burgers on whole wheat buns, but I find that, because the burgers are bean based, it ends up being too starchy. Plus, using the lettuce adds a nice crunch. Also, the avocado yogurt sauce would be great on pretty much anything. I dipped my fries in it with delicious results.

NNMC Picking Protein: The Vegetarian Way

It's a common misconception that it's hard for vegetarians to get the protein they need. The truth is, if you're eating a variety of foods including nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs, legumes, and grains, this usually isn't a problem. The major concern for vegetarians is ensuring they get all of the essential amino acids they need. You see, proteins are made up of amino acids. Some of these amino acids are non-essential, meaning we don't need to consume them in the diet because the body can make them on its own, and others are essential because we must get them from outside sources. Animal products contain all of the essential amino acids. This is called a complete protein. Meat falls into this category, but so do dairy products and eggs, which most vegetarians eat. So the next question is, how do you make a complete protein from non-animal sources? This is where using complementary proteins come in. You can combine foods to make a complete protein as one food will fill in the holes for the other. The standard rule for this is pairing a grain and a legume. Examples include whole wheat toast (grain) with peanut butter (legume) or brown rice (grain) and beans (legume). Also, these foods don't have to be eaten together to get the desired effect. A vegetarian should just eat them both within the same day. This is a great rule to know even if you're not a vegetarian because meatless meals are becoming more commonplace all the time. Also, if you have a vegetarian in your life this can help you plan balanced meals when you're cooking for them.

Are you a vegetarian? Do you have a close friend of relative who follows a vegetarian diet?

NNMC Picking Protein: Lemon-Herb Roasted Chicken

Roasting a whole chicken is a delicious way to get dinner on the table that is also economical. Plus, you can use leftovers to make new dishes like soup or, in my case, quesadillas. Don't forget to save the carcass to make some homemade stock!

Lemon-Herb Roasted Chicken

serves 4-6


4 lb. organic chicken

1 lemon, quartered

6 sprigs each of fresh sage, thyme, and rosemary

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

Kitchen twine


1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.

2. Pat the chicken dry and place on a cutting board used for meats. Remove any organ packets that may be in the cavity. Then, stuff the cavity with lemon wedges and half of the herb sprigs.

3. Mince the remaining herbs and combine in a small bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Rub some of this mixture under the chicken's skin into the breast, leg, and thigh meat.

4. Truss the chicken to maintain a compact shape for even cooking. This video from Alton Brown gives great instructions (it's how I learned). He's using a turkey, but you get the idea.

5. Now, spread the rest of the herb/oil mixture onto the skin of the chicken, rubbing it in and ensuring even coverage.

6. Place chicken in a roasting pan on a wire rack. Distribute you favorite veggies in the bottom of the pan for roasting or add a little water or stock to prevent any drippings from burning and setting off your smoke detector. Cook for 1-1.5 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.

7. Allow the chicken to rest for 20 minutes and then slice for serving. Enjoy!

NNMC Picking Protein: Be a Picky Eater

The quality of the food you eat can make a huge difference in your health. This is especially true when it comes to animal products. The methods used to produce dairy products and meat are far from being natural processes and this trickles down to us when we ingest these foods. For example, conventional beef is raised in crowded feet lots where they are fed corn, rather than the grass they are designed to eat. This causes changes in the environment of their digestive tract which allows for the growth of potentially harmful microorganisms, such as E. coli, which would normally not be present. Also, the fatty acid content of the meat is much different from its grass-fed counterparts. In addition, these animals are pumped with antibiotics to fight off diseases that wouldn't be a major concern if the animals weren't raised in such deplorable conditions. The antibiotics also serve a second purpose of boosting growth. It's unknown how this works, but it's effective, so we do it anyway. Then some growth hormones are thrown in for good measure. This is why it is so important to be a picky eater when it comes to your meat and dairy. Choose organic in the grocery store and go the extra mile to seek out local producers who you can talk to directly. They will often use practices that go even farther than the federal organic standards and you'll also be supporting your neighbors and local economy while forging new relationships that help build your community. To find a local producer in your area and start a conversation about the way they raise their food, go to eatwild.com or visit your local farmers market.

NNMC Picking Protein: You're Getting Enough

Because protein is so important to our health, there seems to be a lot of concern with getting enough. Well, I'm here to tell you that, if you have enough food to eat and you're getting the variety you should, this won't be a problem. Now, I'm not saying that getting adequate protein is not an issue for some people. Lots of people around the world are struggling with this right now because of lack of access to food or a lack of resources to purchase food. It is a real problem that I do not want to minimize. But, for those of us who have an adequate diet, getting enough protein is usually not a concern. So how much protein do we need? Well, we're gonna have to do a little math. For the average, healthy adult, the standard is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram body weight per day. For example, if someone weighs 150 lbs, you divide that by 2.2 to convert to kilograms. This comes out to 68.18 kg. Then, multiply this number by 0.8 to get 54.5 grams of protein per day. That's not a lot. What does that look like in real food? 4 oz lean meat has approximately 28 grams alone (and most meat-eaters eat a much larger portion). A cup of black beans has 15 grams and a cup of milk has 8g. Add in two slices of whole wheat bread (about 3 grams of protein each), and we're at 57 grams of protein total.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you should limit or track your protein intake. For some medical conditions, protein restrictions are necessary, but, if you are healthy, you don't need to worry about it. Also, it's important to note that it's not hard for those who follow a vegetarian diet to get enough protein either, as long as they are not living on chips and cookies. Eating foods like beans, whole grains, eggs, and dairy products makes meeting the protein requirements more than doable. So, while protein is essential to living a healthy life, try not to get wrapped up in all the hype. If you're eating a variety of whole foods and have enough food to eat overall, you will likely be just fine.

National Nutrition Month Challenge: Picking Protein

For the fourth and final week of the challenge, we'll be talking all about protein. This macronutrient gets lots of time in the media. From exercise to weight loss to vegetarian and vegan diets, it seems like everyone is talking about it. Protein is essential in our diet as it provides the building blocks for things like tissue repair, growth, making hormones. This week, I'll be writing about protein sources, how much protein we need, and also posting some recipes. Good luck in this final week and happy cooking! With love,