Your Reading List

How much protein do you need?

Prairie Fare: Slow-Cooker-Shredded Salsa Chicken Tacos

How much protein do you need?

The other day, I was at the hair salon with my eyes closed and head propped over a sink. I was so relaxed that I was ready to take a power nap. Unfortunately, I could not help but overhear a discussion by strangers at the sink next to me. They were talking about their diets. Of course, they would choose March, National Nutrition Month, to inspire me.

Unfortunately, they had a lot of misconceptions about food and nutrition. I think my eyes popped open like a cartoon character when they began discussing protein powder. I was amazed by the number of protein shakes they were consuming. Then their talk turned to their household budgets and how strapped they were for cash.

I could not escape nutrition even in the hair salon, I thought to myself. I was “off duty,” and their discussion was none of my business. I should have asked for some cotton balls to stuff in my ears. I kept my mouth solidly closed. I think I wounded my tongue biting it.

After the hair salon, I went to buy food, and I passed an aisle packed with large containers of protein powder at about $60 each. I can’t escape this protein, I thought to myself. Did someone extract all the protein from food when I wasn’t looking? Do we have to buy it in powdered form in bulk containers? No, the protein is still in food. It’s far tastier and packed with additional nutrients in food form. I prefer having protein-rich milk, yogurt, meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, beans and lentils than a chalk-like scoop of protein powder.

Yes, protein helps make you feel full, so make use of that fact as you choose your “fuel.” Having eggs or egg whites can push back mid-morning hunger. If I wanted to increase the protein in a breakfast smoothie, I could add some non-fat dry milk powder at far less expense.

Protein powders are especially popular among teen athletes. I have some good news for a tastier alternative for all the parents opening their wallets to buy the powdered protein at their child’s request: It’s chocolate milk. Chocolate milk rehydrates and nourishes your muscles. More than 20 studies have shown that this tasty beverage helps your body recover after a tough workout. It has the right mix of high-quality protein and carbs, and also has electrolytes (minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium) to replenish your body.

What if you are not an elite athlete? How much protein do we non-athletes need? The amount of protein we need varies with our gender, age and weight. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommendations (, women need 5.0- to 5.5-ounce equivalents of protein foods per day and men need 6.0 to 6.5 ounces of protein. An ounce equivalent is one ounce of meat, poultry or fish, one-quarter cup cooked beans, one egg, one tablespoon of peanut butter, or 0.5 ounces of nuts or seeds.

Dry edible beans, peas and lentils are rich sources of protein, and they can “count” as a vegetable or as a protein on your plate. They also provide fibre, folate and potassium. For example, one-half cup of chickpeas counts as two ounce equivalents. Soy foods, such as tofu, tempeh and texturized vegetable protein, also count as protein foods.

Be sure to “bite into a healthy lifestyle” in March. Get your protein but don’t be taken in by the hype. This protein-rich recipe has two sources of protein: animal and plant. If you are looking for some make-it-yourself smoothies, check out the NDSU recipe database.

Slow-Cooker Shredded Salsa Chicken Tacos

  • 1 (16-oz.) jar salsa
  • 1 (16-oz.) package frozen corn
  • 1 (14.5-oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 4 chicken breasts, thawed
x photo: Joe Bryska

Combine the salsa, corn, black beans and cumin in a small bowl. Lay chicken breasts in bottom of slow cooker. Pour salsa mixture over chicken breasts. Cook on low for six to seven hours or on high for four hours, or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of at least 165 F. Shred chicken and serve. Freeze leftovers in meal-size portions. Serve atop whole-wheat tortillas.

Makes 15 servings (about 1/2 cup each).Each serving (without the tortilla) has about 120 calories, 1.5 grams (g) fat, 13 g carbohydrate, 16 g protein and 310 milligrams sodium.

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

Julie Garden-Robinson's recent articles



Stories from our other publications