The Importance of Including Protein in Your Diet
Protein is one of three macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates). Protein is vitally important for health, there are essential amino acids (proteins) that are required for good health that your body can’t make, and you must get them from your diet.
Here are some examples of what is protein used for in the body?
- Good skeletal health.
- Building blocks for most bodily structures eg skin, organs and muscles (prevents muscle wastage).
- Precursors (building blocks) for neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, melatonin and GABA which control how we mentally and emotionally feel as well as how we feel physically (being low in these neurotransmitters can cause anxiety, depression and sleep issues).
- Blood sugar regulation.
- Satiety (feeling full and satisfied after eating).
- Provides the transport of nutrients, oxygen and waste throughout the body, providing the structure and contracting capability of muscles.
- Creating collagen for connective tissues of the body and to the tissues of the skin hair and nails.
What is the best source of protein?
Protein is found in meat (red/white), seafood, eggs cheese, nuts, seeds, tofu, some vegetables and legumes. The most complete form of protein is one that contains all its amino acids. This complete form of protein is only sourced from animal products and few exceptions mainly soy. The bioavailability (ability to be absorbed and used in our body) of protein from plants is low and the bioavailability of protein in animals is high including: pork, beef, lamb, chicken, kangaroo, fish, cheese and eggs etc.
Animal protein contains important fats and fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K. Vitamin A is required for digestion of protein so it is important to eat foods rich in vitamin A. Vegan diets contain carotenes (pre vitamin A) but no actual vitamin A. Adequate fats and a healthy digestive system are required for your body to convert carotenes into active vitamin A, so vegans can be deficient in vitamin A. If you are vegan, you will need to combine 2 out of 3 of the following proteins at every meal to get a full protein 1) nuts/seeds 2) sprouted seeds 3) legumes, or you will become deficient in protein over time. You will need to ensure good digestive function and may also need to take supplements.
Is there such a thing as too much protein?
Protein as indicated above is critical for the human body to function at an optimum healthy level and a protein deficiency can lead to muscular deterioration, diabetes type 2, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, obesity, poor sleep, anxiety and depression. It is very important to ensure that enough protein is obtained in the diet! However I don’t advocate a very high protein diet, each individual has different requirements for protein so it needs to be assessed on an individual basis.
In someone who already has existing kidney disease, a high protein diet can affect kidney function. This is because one of the main biological functions of kidneys is to metabolise and excrete nitrogen by products from protein digestion. It is important to note that protein does not cause kidney disease.
Eating too much protein at a meal can cause an insulin response the same as carbohydrates (this is a common mistake when people go on low carb diets thinking they can eat unlimited amounts of protein) without affecting their blood sugar or their weight. The average person would benefit from approximately 25-30g protein per meal; examples below. Think palm sized for red meat and hand sized for white meat/fish.
|Examples of 25g protein|
|80g pork OR 80g beef||210g tofu|
|80g chicken OR 2 slices of roast Lamb||3 rashers of bacon OR 150g ham|
|100g tuna OR 100g salmon||5 eggs|
Fiona Kane, Nutritionist, Informed Health Nutritional Wellbeing Centre