Did you know that the word protein originates form the Greek work Protos, meaning first? This reflects how important protein is in our body with it being the second most abundant compound in our body, behind water. Unfortunately, there has been lots of misinformation circulating about protein and how much we need in our diets. Here’s some evidence based information on this essential nutrient to cut through the confusion.
Lego blocks and protein?
The building blocks of protein are called Amino Acids and there are two types: Essential amino acids which cannot be produced by our body so need to be consumed in our diet and Non-essential amino acids which can be produced by our bodies. Amino acids are like Lego blocks; you can’t build a whole Lego house without all the blocks and we can’t build the protein our body needs without all the amino acids.
Why do we need protein?
There are numerous functions of protein in our body including repair and growth, structure of our body tissues, regulation of metabolism, aiding our immune system and muscle contraction just to name a few. Protein is also the primary component of our hair, skin and nails. If we eat too much protein, the nitrogen waste is excreted in our urine putting stress on our kidneys and may also cause dehydration. If we don’t eat enough then the numerous functions that rely on protein are compromised and the body starts to take it from existing body stores such as hair, skin, nails and muscle.
How much do we need?
There are specific calculations for protein requirements based on age, gender, health status and physical activity levels and are calculated according to body weight. These calculations are based on what is required to maintain good health. The teenage years are the second fastest period of growth in our lives (the fastest being the first 12 months), so we need a higher intake during these years. Once we reach the age of 70, our body’s ability to grow and repair reduces so our protein needs also increase. For those who like to build muscle or compete in body building competitions, protein requirements are slightly higher. Those who have undergone bariatric (weight loss) surgery, also have a higher requirement. Here is a breakdown of the general requirements for the general population:
Recommended Dietary Protein Intake per Day
Age Male – grams per kilogram of body weight Female – grams per kilogram of body weight
14-18 0.99 0.77
19-70 0.84 0.75
Over 70 1.07 0.94
Before you get confused with these calculations, generally, 15-25% of your daily food intake should be protein, which is dependent on your personal health needs. Your dinner plate should contain about 50% vegetables (3 serves) , 25% protein foods (1-2 serves) and 25% carbohydrate foods (1-2 serves) which consist of grains, cereals and starchy vegetables such as sweet potato.
If you are not sure of what one serve is, you can print out our free poster here and use it as a guide.
Food sources of protein
All animal products are good sources of complete protein, which contain all the essential amino acids. Plant based sources also contain protein, however many do not contain all the essential amino acids (soy is an exception). Here is a brief list of protein foods:
• lean meat, poultry and fish
• dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese
• soy products such as tofu
• seeds and nuts
• legumes such as chick peas and lentils
• grains and cereals
Triathletes, Body builders and Bariatrics
If you have specific dietary requirements then we can write up a personalised meal plan for you. Two of our dietitians specialise in athletic diets; Loretta has previously competed in triathlons herself so specialises in endurance type events and Jo is currently in training for her fourth body building competition so is specialised in strength and conditioning.
For those of you who have undergone bariatric surgery or are attempting weight loss, Christie is your dietitian. Christie runs our bariatric programs so can write up a personalised meal plan just for you.
We have developed a recipe for those looking for a high protein breakfast or snack. Our members’ recipes are only available to those who subscribe to our newsletter. You can subscribe here. For regular new recipe ideas and tips, be sure to read our fortnightly newsletter. Save the link to your favourites bar for easy access.