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Ask Tufts Experts March 2017 Issue

Q. I get my protein from dairy, such as cheese and milk, as well as in health shakes and smoothies. Is protein from dairy as good as from meat?

A. Yes, the protein in dairy is as good as from meat; it is considered a high-quality source of complete protein. V. Paige Murphy, a 2017 master's candidate at Tufts' Friedman School and a dietetic intern at Frances Stern Nutrition Center at Tufts Medical Center, explains: "Fortunately for those who avoid meat and meat products, there are numerous other suitable protein sources to choose from. Protein is comprised of ‘building blocks' called amino acids that our bodies need to function. Though meat is a notable protein source because it contains all nine of the essential amino acids (which we must get from food), it is not the only one - eggs, dairy and soy products (like soy milk and tofu) also provide all of the essential amino acids in the desired proportions.

"Also, because protein is found in virtually all foods (except fats and oils), albeit smaller amounts in some, it is likely you are also obtaining protein from other unmentioned parts of your diet. Plant foods like beans and lentils not only provide protein, but unlike meat, they also boost fiber intake. Other plant-based protein options include whole grains, nuts, seeds and nut butters. Although these plant proteins are not considered high-value proteins from a biological standpoint, consuming a variety of such sources throughout the day will provide plenty of essential amino acids. As always, a healthy dietary pattern is one that is diverse and encompasses all of the food groups (but doesn’t have to include meat). If you follow that advice, you'll get enough protein without needing special foods."

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