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Protein; Animal vs Plant (macros part 2)



Quality & quantity. Both are important.


It's difficult to escape the hype around protein in the wellness world, especially if you follow any fitness influencers online. Whilst it's true that you need enough protein every day to fulfil your body's needs, do you really need as much as the wellness industry has led you to believe?


WHY DO WE NEED TO EAT PROTEIN?

Protein is essential within our bodies; it provides the building blocks for body structures (blood, muscles, bone), enzymes (speeding up chemical reactions), some hormones, the constant repair and turnover of cells, fluid balance (e.g. blood pressure), cell receptors, antibodies, transport proteins (e.g. transporting iron around the body), buffers (pH balance) and more…!


Proteins are made of individual amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that we need, 11 of which we produce ourselves, and 9 that we need to consume in our diet, which is why these ones are called ‘essential’.


IS MEAT THE BEST PROTEIN SOURCE?

It's a good idea not to base all your protein needs around meat alone, and here's why.


It's true that meat is a protein-rich food but we can also find protein-rich foods in the plant world, particularly in legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans). Diversifying the types of protein-rich foods we include in our meals is a great idea and making sure you pack in the plant-based proteins throughout your week will also help you to hit your fibre and antioxidant targets too!


If you are a meat eater by all means enjoy animal foods as part of your balanced diet but try not to make it a large part of every meal to avoid the negative consequences of eating lots of meat such as an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers.


Plant foods contain all essential amino acids, in varying amounts & ratios. Some contain higher amounts of protein so make sure you include a variety of these foods when planning your meals, such as beans, pulses, grains, tofu, tempeh, and nuts, but you will also accumulate protein from other sources in smaller amounts throughout the day.


HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO I NEED?

The average person needs about 0.75g of protein per kg of (lean) body weight, per day. More if you are active, pregnant or lactating, or recovering from illness or injury. It’s important that you get enough protein, from a variety of sources to balance all the amino acids. BUT more is not better! Excess (animal) protein can increase the risk of coronary artery disease, cancer, bone disorders, and is stressful on the kidneys and liver. With plant foods you can increase this daily target to account for the slightly lower digestability of plant proteins.


It used to be believed that those consuming a meat-free diet must work hard to combine all essential amino acids in every meal in order for them to be utilised by the body. As with many unproven theories, this concept has now been proven false. Non-meat eaters and meat eaters alike should aim to include a variety of different foods containing protein throughout the day/week and it is not necessary to over burden our meal planning with these extreme measures.


Contrary to popular belief, protein deficiency is not a common issue in developed countries. In fact, the opposite it true. In order to consume enough protein we must consume sufficient calories each day and in order to get the right types of proteins, we must vary our diet, making effort to consume some of the protein-rich sources above too. For example, eating 3 meals per day will very likely provide you with adequate protein. If we go further by making these meals 'protein-rich' including tofu, beans, lentils etc we will be more than covered for our protein needs.


Here's an example of 3 simple meals in a day and the total calories and protein contained within:

Breakfast: porridge oats with mixed berries, almonds, ground flaxseeds, and oat milk.

Lunch: stir fry with brown rice, tofu, broccoli, black beans, carrot, tahini and soy sauce.

Dinner: wholemeal pasta with lentils, mushroom, peas and tomato sauce.

This lot totals 216% of my required daily protein, or 99.5g, and also meets all of the individual amino acids required. This day of eating also supplies my calorie requirements (2228) enabling my energy needs to also be met.


The great thing about plant protein is that there's no real down side to consuming lots of it, and the body will just use what it needs. There is however a detrimental effect seen in the high consumption of animal protein, with an increased risk of the diseases listed above.


So why then is protein so prominent in the health and wellness industry? Marketing my dear, and regurgitated rhetoric. Over-selling the urgent need for you fix your protein deficiency (which you don't have) urges you to run out and quickly stock up on all things branded 'high protein'. It also satisfies many people's tendencies to eat a high animal-based diet as people love to hear good news that alines with their bias, thus selling more products and dieting books etc.


Any doctors in the house? Please comment below how often you have diagnosed a patient with protein deficiency? I didn't think so :)

 

To learn more about nutrition and how it effects your health, sign up to my mailing list here to stay up to date. This post is part 2 of a series about Macronutrients.

For a tailored nutritional plan that suits your specific macronutrient needs, book a consultation today. Head over to the booking page here for more information.


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