Protein is the body’s building block. All of a persons organs, including skin, hair, nails and muscles are built from proteins. It is a macronutrient that the body breaks down into amino acids for use in tissue growth and repair. Sufficient protein is needed to repair the body after exercise, in addition to weight management and other factors including meeting an individual’s daily needs. Active people therefore require more protein than other individuals in order to continually meet these needs.
If an individual’s diets contained no protein then in order to survive an individual’s body would start to break down muscles to produce the protein it needed. Therefore it is essential to continually replace what the body uses. This fact is particularly important to certain groups of people particularly children, adolescents and pregnant women who all are in the most need of protein for development.
The proteins a person may eat can be divided into 2 groups, which are known as complete and incomplete. Complete proteins generally come from animal sources and incomplete ones come from plants:
Complete – meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products (e.g. milk, cheese) and soya
Incomplete – cereals, legumes (beans, peas etc.), fruits/vegetables (lower in protein)
When protein is broken down its component amino acids (of which there are 20) join the blood pool, which is then used as needed. Unlike carbohydrates and fats there is no long term storage site for proteins that are not in use. This means that proteins must be taken in regularly and in the correct amounts. Excessive amounts can overload the liver and kidneys and can be converted into fat for storage, albeit not as easily as fats and carbohydrates.
The average recommended protein intake is 0.8g for each kg of bodyweight. For example if you weigh 100kg you should consume 80g of protein per day.
Most people on modern diets consume more protein than the necessary amount required as it may be difficult for people to account for the protein that they may intake during the course of a day. It may also essentially be very time consuming to calculate protein values of the food that a person need to intake. For example it would be assumed that if a person ate 100g of a protein rich food, such as tuna, the individual would get 100g of protein.
However, it’s not that simple as most protein rich foods also contain a lot of water, and contain only 20% protein. This means that if a person required 40g protein they would have to eat 200g of tuna! Additional exercise is required when additional protein is consumed.
In order to achieve appropriate intake levels it is key to have a healthy balanced diet. A simple way to achieve protein intake is to consume high protein foods that would comprise a quarter of the average daily intake with carbohydrates being the other quarter. The other half should be comprised of fresh fruits and vegetables which is recommended by the NHS Food Plate.
Examples of Good Protein Sources
Meats and poultry. Should include lean meat cuts as they contain less saturated fat.
Fish. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines contain more protein than white fish such as cod, plaice and tuna.
Eggs. One large egg can contain as much as 6g. Eggs are an extremely important source of protein for vegetarians.
Dairy products. Skimmed milk, cheese, yogurt and fromage frais. When choosing dairy products opt for low fat alternatives as these will have the fat reduced or removed. Removing or reducing the fat content does not remove the protein because it comes from the milk and not the fat.
Beans. These are a good source of vegetable protein and essential to vegans. Soya beans, kidney beans and lentil too are important. Peanuts (which are actually beans and not nuts) contain almost 25% protein.
Nuts and seeds. Almonds, cashews, walnuts, sunflower, pumpkin and flax seeds contain protein as well as being a good source of many other vitamins and minerals needed by an individual.
Other sources. Whole grains, oats, barley and brown rice. Certain vegetables especially asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and avocado are also suitable sources of protein.
Supplements. Protein supplements such as shakes are available. It should be noted that these shakes may also contain sugars, sweeteners, colours and other artificial flavours to in order to improve the overall taste and should be used in moderation.
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