Katrina VB. Claghorn, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.
Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: February 1, 2012
Why protein is important
Protein is very important to keep your body functioning and is also needed for growth and repair. Protein is found in almost all body cells and has many roles such as:
To form and maintain muscles, tissues, red blood cells, enzymes, and hormones
To carry many body compounds and medications
To maintain fluid balance
To fight infections and strengthen the immune system
In general, your diet will provide enough protein. However, during cancer treatment (such as surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy) your protein requirements may increase. It is important to be aware of food sources of protein and to include these foods at meals and snacks.
Your protein requirement
To come up with a quick estimate of your protein requirement:
Take your weight (in pounds) and divide by 2
The number you get is the approximate number of grams of protein you need daily
For example: If you weigh 180 pounds, 180 ÷ 2 = 90 grams of protein daily
If you are receiving chemotherapy, radiation or surgery you may need more protein. Your dietitian can help you figure out your protein needs during treatment.
Food sources of protein
Protein is found in both animal and plant foods. Animal sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products. Plant sources of protein include nuts, seeds, tofu and legumes (dried beans, peas and lentils). Grains (cereals, breads and rice) and vegetables contain a little protein. Fruits and fats do not have any protein.
Protein content of foods
Food Serving Grams of Protein
Meat - beef, pork, lamb 3 oz 21
Poultry - chicken, turkey 3 oz 21
Fish 3 oz 21
Egg or ¼ cup liquid egg 1 7
Milk 1 cup 8
Yogurt 1 cup 10
Cottage or ricotta cheese 1/2 cup 12
Hard cheese 1 oz 8
Dried beans and legumes ½ cup 8
Tofu ½ cup 14
Nuts ¼ cup 7
Peanut butter 2 Tbs 7
Vegetables ½ cup cooked 2
Starches -1 sl bread, ½ cup rice 2
or pasta, 1 serving cereal
High protein snacks
Cheese with crackers, vegetables or fruit
Trail mix (mixture of assorted nuts and dried fruits)
Granola, energy and breakfast bars
Cereal and milk
Cottage cheese or ricotta cheese with fruit
Chicken, tuna or egg salad on crackers
Deviled and hard-boiled eggs
Hot cocoa (if using instant cocoa replace water with milk)
Puddings and custards
A glass of regular, flavored or malted milk
Peanut butter on crackers
Hummus (a dip made with garbanzo beans)
Ways to add protein to food
Shredded cheese - sprinkle over vegetables, potatoes, noodles, casseroles, soups or salads
Milk - use in place of water when making soups or cooked cereals
Hard-cooked eggs - chop and add to salads, vegetables or casseroles
Left-over meat, chicken or fish - add to soups, salads or omelets
Nuts and seeds - sprinkle over vegetables, fruits, salads, yogurt, cereal and pasta
Dried beans - add to salads, pasta or soups
Calories and protein
To make sure that the protein you eat is used for important body functions you must eat enough calories. If you loose weight, your body will use protein for energy rather than to support important body functions.
If you are not eating enough protein you may need to use protein supplements. The cheapest and easiest protein supplement is dry skim milk powder. Mix the powder with liquid milk to increase the protein content. Also, add dry milk powder to any creamy foods such as mashed potatoes, casseroles, scrambled eggs and creamed soups. You can also add it to pancake and muffin batter. Use pasteurized egg substitute in shakes and recipes as a protein supplement. However, you should never use raw eggs, due to the risk of getting salmonella.
Double strength milk recipe:
Blend 1-cup dry skim milk powder into 1-quart milk.
You can buy protein supplements at drug stores and health food stores. They are available as powder that can be mixed with liquids or foods.
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