Why we need Protein

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We are always told we need protein right, but quite often people don’t actually know why they need it or what function protein has in the body. Whenever I ask my clients if they know what a protein is, most of them say “a steak”, “fish” or “egg” and this is correct, all of these foods do provide a source of protein. However, they are not the only source of protein, there are many more including vegetarian sources which often get forgotten. The other important thing that I would like to highlight is that you need to eat some protein with EVERY meal (and I’ll explain why shortly) and many people are not doing this as they are relying on carbohydrates as their main food source and protein is only consumed once or twice a day. I am going to explain to you what protein is and why it is so important in the body.

What is Protein?

Protein is made up of amino acids (a type of molecule) and we need twenty two amino acids to make up the different proteins in our bodies. Of the twenty amino acids, eight are considered ‘essential amino acids’ which means that we can only obtain them from our diet; the rest can be manufactured by our bodies. We can obtain these eight amino acids from various animal and plant-based foods. If we eat an animal product (meat, fish, eggs or dairy) then we are eating a ‘complete protein’ and what this means is that it contains all eight essential amino acids in the correct ratio for the body. Plant-based proteins (nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, grains) on the otherhand are considered an ‘incomplete protein’ as they lack the complete range of essential amino acids. HOWEVER, the correct ratio of all the eight essential amino acids can be obtained from plant foods by combining two or more of the plant protein food groups –  I will explain how to do this shortly.

What foods do we get proteins from?

As I have already mentioned, we can get our protein from a variety of dietary sources including both vegetarian and animal sources. Here are some of them:

Vegetarian Sources of Protein

  1. Legumes - black eyed peas, chickpeas, lentils, sprouted legumes, black/broad/kidney/lima/mung/navy/ beans.
  2. Grains & Seeds - rice, wheat, corn, rye, bulgur, oats, millet, barley, buckwheat, spelt, kamut, quinoa & pumpkin/sesame/sunflower/linseeds.
  3. Nuts - cashew, walnut, Brazil, pecan, pistachio, almond, hazelnut, macadamia.

** In order to obtain the correct ratio of the eight essential amino acids the body needs, you need to combine two or more of the food groups listed above.**

So for example, you would need to eat nuts with seeds, or beans with rice. If you ate oats with seeds (even though this is a great combo) you would not get all the eight amino acids as these are both from the same group. By adding a few nuts to the meal would however make it a ‘complete protein’.

Animal Sources of Protein

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Yoghurt

Why is Protein important in the body?

Protein is essential for the maintenance of good health and vitality. It plays many important roles in the body and without protein, our bodies simply wouldn’t function properly.

  • It helps to anchor blood sugar levels which is why it is important to eat protein with carbohydrates as it will prevent your blood sugars from spiking.
  • It provides a steady supply of fuel for the brain.
  • It is needed to make hormones, antibodies, enzymes and tissues (such as muscles, hair, tendons and ligaments.
  • It plays a pivotal role in tissue repair and regeneration.
  • It assists in maintaining the proper pH and water balance in the body.

How much protein do I need?

The amount of protein that a person needs will depend on their age, size and level of activity during the day. As a rule of thumb, you can work out how much protein you need by multiplying your weight in kilograms by 0.8 if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, and up to 1.8 if you exercise regularly.

So for example, if you weigh 70 kgs and don’t really do any exercise you would do the following calculation:

  • 70 x 0.8 = 56 g of protein per day

If you have an active lifestyle and do some form exercise every day then you would need slightly more protein.

  • 70 x 1.8 = 126 g of protein per day

Pregnant or breastfeeding women and athletes usually need slightly more protein as they are expending a lot more energy than the average person.

So, that is Protein in a nutshell! If you have any further questions about protein, please feel free to comment below and I will do my best to answer them for you!

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Michelle is a qualified Naturopath, Nutritionist, Reflexologist and Reiki practitioner who is passionate about living a holistic lifestyle and helping others to achieve their health goals. She is also a Jungle Body Dance Fitness Instructor, which not only keeps her fit but also helps her to inspire others to feel confident and get in shape.

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