Am I getting enough protein in my diet?
Updated: May 17, 2021
Meeting protein requirements is a common concern for many of my clients.
Reasons for concern often include:
Building lean muscle
Following a vegan/vegetarian/"flexitarian" diet
The World Health Organisation and numerous countries have formulated macronutrient recommendations for protein ranging between 10 and 35% of total caloric intake. The distribution of macronutrients should be individualised within these recommended ranges and should be based on the needs and preferences of individuals.
Why is protein so important?
1. Muscle building and repair
High quality proteins including lean meat, skinless chicken, fish, eggs, low-fat or fat-free dairy products and a combination of plant proteins are important in the diet to provide essential amino acids necessary for building and repairing muscle tissue.
2. Vitamins and minerals
Proteins are also good sources of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A (healthy immune, healthy eyes), many of the B group vitamins (energy levels, brain function), iron (transport of oxygen) and zinc (healthy immune). Fish oil from salmon, mackarel, herring, anchovies and sardines is an important source of omega-3 PUFAs including EPA and DHA which contribute to neurodevelopment and cardiovascular health.
3. Fullness and blood sugar stability
Of all of the food groups, protein offers the highest fullness value. Including a small amount of protein at each meal helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer and more satisfied throughout the day. Protein also delays absorption of carbohydrates and thus helps to stabilize blood sugar levels when combining carbohydrate rich foods with proteins at meals/snacks.
What types of proteins should we be choosing?
Current evidence emphasises that protein from animal sources should be reduced, while the intake of plant proteins should be increased. This does not mean that you need to cut out animal proteins completely, but taking the approach of consuming less animal protein each week is a sustainable and healthy lifestyle choice.
Plant proteins are rich sources of antioxidants and are generally low in saturated fat and high in fibre. Research has shown that a consistently well balanced, predominantly plant based diet, high in fibre encourages good bacteria growth in the gut. Conversely, a poor diet which is high in saturated (animal fat) as well as trans fats (baked goods) and sugar can induce an imbalance between good and bad bacteria in the gut and may be a precursor for disease.
An additional benefit of plant-based proteins are that they are also generally more affordable than animal protein sources.
Plant-based protein sources include:
Soy (which provides all essential amino-acids) e.g.tofu/tempeh/edamame beans/TVP
Legumes (beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds)
Legumes need to be combined (or complemented) with grains such as rice, pasta, bread since they only provide some essential amino acids.
Generally, people think that they need to consume much more protein than is actually necessary. For those aiming to improve body composition or manage weight, more attention should be given to portion control and type of protein (lean protein versus high fat protein).
If you are training at a higher intensity or more than once a day, special attention needs to be given to amount and timing of protein consumption for muscle building and repair (and carbohydrates for replenishing glycogen stores).
Vegans or vegetarians need to be more conscious when it comes to protein intake to ensure a balance and combination of proteins.
Healthy tips for getting in enough protein:
Aim to include protein with each meal or snack.
Use your palm size as a guide for the amount of protein that you should include at each meal.
Incorporate 1-2 matchbox sizes of protein into snacks.
Choose plant based proteins on a more regular basis, and enjoy animal proteins less frequently.
Choose lean proteins (skinless chicken, oily or white fish, remove visible fat from meat and choose low fat/fat free dairy products) and limit processed meats when choosing animal proteins.
Include fish, especially oily fish like salmon/trout/mackarel/fresh tuna/sardines/pilchards in a palm size portion at least twice a week.
Choose real food as first choice before protein shakes. I will discuss this further in another post.
Some protein rich, balanced snack ideas:
Cottage cheese and high fibre crackers or cut up/baby vegetables
Boiled egg and raw vegetables such as cucumber/carrot sticks
Hummus and cut up vegetables
Steamed edamame beans
Lean biltong and cut up vegetables
Veggie filled egg frittata muffin
Low fat plain yoghurt with nuts/seeds
Peanut butter/handful of nuts with a fruit/vegetables
For personalized guidance in making healthy food choices or planning a diet that works best for you book a consultation here: https://www.gabimeltzerdietician.com/book-online.
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