top of page

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:

  • Exercise/sport

  • 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.

Special considerations:

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:

  1. Aim to include protein with each meal or snack.

  2. Use your palm size as a guide for the amount of protein that you should include at each meal.

  3. Incorporate 1-2 matchbox sizes of protein into snacks.

  4. Choose plant based proteins on a more regular basis, and enjoy animal proteins less frequently.

  5. 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.

  6. Include fish, especially oily fish like salmon/trout/mackarel/fresh tuna/sardines/pilchards in a palm size portion at least twice a week.

  7. Choose real food as first choice before protein shakes. I will discuss this further in another post.

Some protein rich, balanced snack ideas:

  1. Cottage cheese and high fibre crackers or cut up/baby vegetables

  2. Boiled egg and raw vegetables such as cucumber/carrot sticks

  3. Hummus and cut up vegetables

  4. Steamed edamame beans

  5. Roasted/air-fried chickpeas

  6. Lean biltong and cut up vegetables

  7. Veggie filled egg frittata muffin

  8. Low fat plain yoghurt with nuts/seeds

  9. 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:


  1. Australian National Health and medical research Council and the New Zealand Ministry of Health. 2006. Nutrient reference values for Australia and New Zealand: Including Recommended Dietary Intakes. Canberra: Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the New Zealand Ministry of Health.

  2. World Health Organisation/Food and Agricultural Organization. 2003. Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Disease. Report of a Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation. Chapter 5: Population nutrient intake goals for preventing chronic-diseases. Geneva: World Health Organisation.

  3. Becker, W., Lyhne, N., Pedersen, A.N., Aro, A., Fogelholm, M., Phorsdottir, I., et al. 2004. Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2004- integrating nutrition and physical activity. Scandinavian Journal of Nutrition. 48(4):178-87.

  4. Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board, 2002/2005

  5. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products Nutrition and Allergies (NDA). 2010. Dietary Reference Values. Parma: European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

  6. Venter, C.S., Vorster, H.H., Ochse, R., Swart, R. 2013. “Eat dry beans, split peas, lentils and soya regularly”: a food-based dietary guideline. S Afr J Clin Nutr. 26(3):S36-S45.

  7. Schonfeldt, H.C., Pretorius, B., Hall, N. 2013. “Fish, chicken, lean meat and eggs can be eaten daily”: a food-based dietary guideline for South Africa. S Afr J Clin Nutr. 26(3):S66-S76.

  8. Melina, V., Craig, W. and Levin, S., 2016. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: vegetarian diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 116(12):1970-1980.

  9. Kushner, R.F., 2014. Weight loss strategies for treatment of obesity. Progress in cardiovascular diseases. 56(4):465-472.

  10. Grave, R.D.,Centis, E., Marzocchi, R., Ghoch, M.E., Marchesini, G. 2013. Major Factors for Facilitating Change in Behavioural Strategies to Reduce Obesity. Psychology Research and Behaviour Management. 6:101-110.

  11. Smuts, C.M. & Wolmarans, P. 2013. The importance of the quality or type of fat in the diet: a food-based dietary guideline for South Africa. S Afr J Clin Nutr. 26(3):S87-S99.

  12. Sacks, F.M., Lichtenstein, A.H., Wu, J.H., Appel, L.J., Creager, M.A., Kris-Etherton, P.M., Miller, M., Rimm, E.B., Rudel, L.L., Robinson, J.G. and Stone, N.J., 2017. Dietary fats and cardiovascular disease: a presidential advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 136(3):e1-e23.

  13. Schwingshackl, L., Schwedhelm, C., Hoffmann, G., Lampousi, A.M., Knüppel, S., Iqbal, K., Bechthold, A., Schlesinger, S. and Boeing, H., 2017. Food groups and risk of all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 105(6):1462-1473.

4,718 views0 comments


bottom of page