Protein (I believe) is an extremely controversial food group which is often associated with the male sex and body builders.  I find protein as a topic rather hard to explain when people ask me general questions about it.  Protein can often get us ‘non health professionals’ confused; so I’m going to try my best to explain protein based on what I have learned (hopefully it’s not too wrong).

By the end of this, I hope you will have a better understanding of protein – please remember I am not a health professional that is regulated unlike dieticians and doctors and you are completely welcome to make your own mind up!  I’d like to touch on how much protein you should have (based on research) from a health promotion perspective, touch on some reasons why you should include protein in your diet and identify a number of easy protein sources.

First, protein is very important; it is one of the basic building blocks of the human body.  Our muscles, hair, skin, cells, bodily fluid, connective tissue, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and DNA are made up of protein.  So what I am trying to say is YES, we need protein in our diet.  If we don’t consume ANY protein at all, our body would start to break down its own muscles to use as energy (think of anorexia) and THAT is scary.  You’ll get seriously ill and die, so don’t ditch the protein.

Protein is an energy source which is known as a ‘macro-nutrient’ (along with carbohydrates and fats).  A macro-nutrient basically means that we need/should consume larger quantities in comparison to ‘micro-nutrients’ (for instance vitamins).  Out of the three macro-nutrients (see above), we do not need as much protein as a source of energy.

It is suggested by recommendations from health experts that our diet should include approximately 15-20% of protein (out of 100% of what you consume in the day) – often depending on body shape, size, gender, activity level and this is where it starts to get confusing because we are all different!  The ‘standard’ method used by nutritionists and dieticians to guestimate our minimum daily protein requirement is to measure .37 grams per pound of body weight.  However (here we go), people engaging in endurance exercise (such as long distance running) or heavy resistive exercise (such as body building) can benefit from ‘additional’ protein in their diets to replenish their muscles AND this is why we often see many gym fanatics consuming protein drinks, supplements and about 20 raw eggs for breakfast.

The problem is, the public are often confused by conflicting messages.  For instance, we are told to eat lots of protein to fuel our muscles, but ‘excess protein’ (protein that we consume but do not use as energy) converts to fat and gets stored in our body. Now, I am not insinuating that protein is the cause of this obesity epidemic, because we do need fat in our diet.  Again, it’s all about moderation and a healthy balanced diet.

The body requires protein for the following:

DNA (also known as Deoxyribonucleic Acid) – Proteins combine with nucleic acids to form nucleoproteins, in the nucleus of every cell in your body. Now, I’m not a biologist but this does sound important!  But! One of my uni house mates is a biologist so perhaps she could enlighten me more about what happens in this process!

Enzymes Proteins which make everything happen, such as: to break down food that we consume for absorption; to regulate the entry of nutrients through cell walls; for the removal of waste-products; to grow, develop, move, reproduce – so basically everything!

Haemoglobin – The protein (with iron), carries oxygen around your body – and oxygen (as you should know unless you’re silly) keeps us ALIVE!

Myoglobin and Elastin – Two main proteins found in muscle fibres – and we need muscle to move.

Bones – Bones are mainly proteins (would you believe?), with calcium, magnesium and phosphate (and again we need bones apparently).

Hormones – Which send chemical messages between nerve cells and to regulate metabolism and who knows what else they do – this is where I need my house mate’s input, or google.

Antibodies – Which circulate in your blood to protect you against nasty viruses.

Keratin –  which forms your lovely hair and nails.

Personally, I consume some form of protein at pretty much every meal.  I generally go for a ‘palm full’ of protein which is what I have read.  I also consume my protein from real food and not protein shakes. Generally though, the average person consumes enough protein in their diet through foods, probably more than they actually need (keeping in mind we consume most of our energy through carbohydrates and fats).

The following foods are good sources of protein which you can include in your diet for breakfast lunch and dinner: Sea food, fish, poultry, red meat, dairy products (milk, non-dairy milk, cheese, and yogurt), eggs, beans, pork, soya, nuts, legumes, quinoa, chickpeas, leafy green vegetables, potatoes, oats and seeds to name a few.

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