Protein and your body
Protein is one of the most important nutrients in your diet! It is vital to maintain strength and body composition as well as many biochemical uses such as; cell structure and transport. So, it is not surprising that in recent years many so called “healthy diets” advocating large amount of protein have become popular.
But is more protein always the answer?Yona Larner – BC Diets Nutritionist
Firstly, what is protein and why do we need it?
Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids, which link together to form long chains. These chains then fold up to form more complex shapes. The sequence of these amino acids dictates the shape they fold into and the type of protein it is. These proteins then form many of the main building blocks and structures of your body, such as muscle tissue.
Many people will know that muscles, tendons, organs and skin are all made from protein. But they may not know that protein is also used to construct enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters, all of which keep your body functioning at an optimum level. Without enough protein in your diet; your general health, skin, hair, energy levels and body composition would all suffer.
Where do you get amino acids from?
Your body can synthesise some of them itself, but others you need to obtain through your diet. The ones you can only obtain through your diet are referred to as essential amino acids. Meat and animal produce is a great source for these essential amino acids as it is a complete protein. That does not mean that you can’t get them from a vegetarian or vegan diets, you just need to combine foods to make it complete. Try mixing two of the following; grains, legumes, nuts, dairy and seeds to create a balanced meal.
How much protein should you be eating?
Opinions on ideal protein requirement vary considerably depending on where you get your information. In the UK, the recommended guideline for protein intake suggests 0.75g per kilo of body weight. So, if you weigh 60kg, you should eat 45g and if you weigh 85kg, you should consume just 64g of protein per day. To many people, this will sound like a tiny amount as it’s commonly thought that we need much more in our diets and that eating more can help with weight loss.
When it comes to athletes there is a slightly higher requirement due to the repeated damage and repair of muscle tissue. For an athlete wanting to maintain muscle mass the recommendation would be 1.2g per kg and to build muscle mass 1.7g per kg is suggested.
Can you have too much protein?
Protein is a macronutrient, which means it provides energy for our bodies. Too much of any macronutrient (protein, fat, carbohydrate) can lead to weight gain. Eating too much can also upset your digestive system as it is more difficult for your gut to break down large quantities of protein, particularly from animal sources.
Regularly consuming too much protein puts extra pressure on your kidneys and has been linked with kidney stones. It has also been linked with kidney disease in people with a pre existing condition. For this reason, it is recommended to keep protein intakes below 2.5g per kg of body weight, which is classified as the toxicity level.
There is also a strong link between high intake of animal protein and diseases such as; cancer and diabetes. The type of meat also makes a difference. Regular consumption of preserved products such as sausage, hotdogs and bacon, which have added salt and preservatives, show a stronger link with developing cancer in later life. Instead, try to opt for lean meat like chicken or fish, or vegetarian options such as, quorn, tofu or legumes.
It all adds up!
Your protein intake comes from many foods which you may not realise even contain any protein at all. Over the course of the day, many of the foods you eat will contain small amounts of protein, which will all add up. So you may not need to eat as much meat or meat substitutes as you think. So, if you want to add protein to your diet from a non meat source, why not try adding some of the following items to mix up the variety in your diet; potatoes, nuts, oats, broccoli, cottage cheese, greek yoghurt, quinoa, lentils, pumpkin seeds.