Food mysteries – Part 4: Exploring protein

Let’s explore the mysteries of protein, which is found in meat, fish, eggs, legumes and many other foods.

Unsalted peanuts are a great source of protein.
Unsalted peanuts are a great source of protein.

Protein is needed by all parts of the body for growth and maintenance of body cells. When our body is growing, cells must be made constantly. Youth are growing rapidly at different stages of their life. A diet with protein helps to make sure new cells are being made, maintained and replacing old cells.

People often think of meat for protein, but another great source of protein is legumes. Legume is a term used to categorize all kinds of beans and peas. Northern beans, black-eyed peas, chick peas or garbanzo beans, kidney beans, split peas, lentils, peanuts and soybeans are all legumes. In addition to protein, legumes along with meat, fish and eggs also contain fat, vitamin B and minerals such as iron.

Iron is important because our bodies use it to help make substances in our blood, which carry oxygen to all cells. When youth are growing, cells are needed to take oxygen all over the body and iron is needed to help do that. Foods rich with iron include meat, poultry, eggs, fish, spinach, dried apricots, prunes, raisins, whole grains and molasses.

A fun activity Michigan State University Extension suggests that can be done with kids to help explore protein is to make peanut butter. Take 1 cup of unsalted shelled peanuts and put them in a plastic bag. Youth can use a rolling pin or a full 2 liter bottle and roll the peanuts. With pressure, the peanuts should get crushed and turn creamy the more they are crushed. Turn the bag inside out and scrape the peanut butter off the bag and onto crackers or toast.

To learn more about healthy eating and ways to keep kids active, visit your local MSU Extension office.

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