Commentary: Meat shortage or not, choosing a variety of protein foods can do you good |

Commentary: Meat shortage or not, choosing a variety of protein foods can do you good

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Meat processing plants are closing down in states across the country due to the pandemic, and Colorado is no exception. While there is no shortage of food as a whole in our country, there may be less meat available in grocery stores and markets near you. Some consumers rely on meat as a main source of protein. While meat is certainly a great source of protein, it is not the only source. In fact, many other foods provide quality protein, may be better for your health and cost less.

Protein is essential for the growth and maintenance of all body tissues; it is vital for life. How much protein you need depends on several factors, including age, sex, health status and activity level. To see what your protein needs are, visit 

Eat a variety of foods with protein

Getting protein from a variety of food sources could improve your health. Protein comes from animal foods and plant foods. Meat, eggs and dairy are all animal foods that contain protein. Fish and seafood provide a great source of protein, too. Yet protein also comes from plant foods such as beans, lentils, soy products, nuts and seeds. 

Plant-based protein foods contain fiber, something animal sources do not. Getting protein from a variety of food sources means you are getting a larger variety of other nutrients as well. Fish and plant-based protein foods are lower in saturated fat and higher in heart-healthy fats than meat. So if you can’t find meat in your grocery store, have no fear, other healthy protein foods are near. 

Choose protein foods wisely to save money

Choosing a variety of foods with protein not only has health benefits but can help save you money, too. In general, meat is more expensive than most other protein foods. Currently, if you are lucky to find meat in your grocery store, it will likely cost even more than it had before, as prices rise with a decline in supply. 

To get the quality protein you need, save money and maintain a healthy diet, consider choosing a variety of these non-meat protein sources:

Canned fish: Canned fish provides an inexpensive alternative to its fresh and frozen counterparts. It requires no cooking (though you may heat if you like) and little clean up. Consider canned tuna, salmon and sardines. Use canned fish in salads, pastas, sandwiches or quesadillas, to top a pizza, or simply on top of crackers.

Eggs: Eggs just may be the gold standard of protein. There are 7 grams of protein in one egg. Given their low cost and versatility, eggs just can’t be beat. Think beyond breakfast: Add eggs (fried, poached, boiled or scrambled) to any meal or snack. Add a fried egg to the top of any grain or pasta dish to add protein, stuff a burrito with a scrambled egg in place of meat, or add sliced hard-boiled egg to a salad. 

Dairy foods: Low-fat milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and string cheese are all good, low-cost dairy choices for getting protein. Greek yogurt has more protein than regular yogurt but can cost more. Greek yogurt is strained, removing more liquid, thereby concentrating the protein. Because of this, it takes more milk to make an equal weight of Greek yogurt as compared to regular yogurt, hence a slightly higher cost. 

Beans and lentils: Dried or canned beans and lentils are very low cost and have a long shelf life, so they can be stored easily until needed. One half cup of cooked beans provides 7-9 grams of protein. Beans and lentils are an easy replacement for meat in many meals, and come in all colors, shapes and sizes.  

Nuts and seeds: Get protein from nuts and seeds. When it comes to nuts, peanuts and peanut butter definitely provide the best bang for your buck and can be found almost anywhere. Two tablespoons of peanut butter provide 7 grams of protein. Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are lower cost seed options. Most seeds are tiny but mighty, providing 5-9 grams of protein per ounce. Nuts and seeds make for great snacks or addition to any meal; they can be added to cold cereal, oatmeal, baked goods, pastas, salads and more. 

Consider selecting foods from all of these categories to add sufficient protein to your diet, while also getting the variety of all the other nutrients these foods have to offer. Protein should be consumed as a dietary food source first, and if adequate amounts cannot be consumed, then protein supplementation may be acceptable. Consult your physician or registered dietitian if you feel that you may need protein supplementation. 

For more information on protein or other food and nutrition related topics, visit Jessica Clifford is the Extension Specialist – Nutrition at Colorado State University. She can be reached at

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