'Eat Right' Challenge, Protein - Day 8

Emma White - Nutritionist

What are protein foods, and what is their role in our body?

Our bodies are made up of protein – so every cell in our body contains it! Hair, teeth, skin, bone, muscles, cells – even essential hormones, enzymes and antibodies that we need to stay healthy are made from protein. So the protein we eat is vital.

Different types of protein contain different amounts of the building blocks of protein called amino acids. Protein from animal sources is known as 'complete' because it contains all the amino acids we need, whereas protein from plant sources doesn't, so we might need to have more – and a greater variety – to achieve the same outcome.

Meat, fish, dairy foods and eggs are all great sources of protein, plus we also find plenty of protein in plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds, pulses and vegetarian alternatives such as Quorn and tofu.

What is so good about protein, and what is the best type to eat?

Because our bodies are made from protein we have to ensure that we top up our protein supplies daily. Our bodies turnover (break down and build up) proteins constantly, so having a good supply of new protein is essential. Protein can help us feel fuller for longer because it takes longer to digest than some other foods. The type of protein you choose is vital because some protein-rich foods may also be high in saturated fats, salt or sugar.

Choosing lean protein is the way forward – see the list below – to help reduce the amount of sat fat in your diet. Although having a steak, burger or cheese sandwich once in a while is fine, try and limit these protein foods and opt for the leaner or plant-based proteins instead when you can.

Quality calories: great protein foods

  • Turkey mince
  • Eggs
  • Chicken breast
  • Salmon fillet (Bonus for heart health)
  • Tuna steak (Bonus for heart health)
  • Cod / Haddock / Plaice – any white fish
  • Quorn mince (P)
  • Soya mince (P)
  • Reduced-fat cheddar
  • Lentils (P)
  • Chickpeas (P)
  • Beans e.g. Kidney, Black Eyed, White (P)
  • Handful of nuts (P)
  • Nut butter (P)
  • Tofu (P)

(P) = plant-based protein

How much protein do I need each day?

Protein requirements can be calculated in a couple of different ways. At Nutracheck, we like to use the % of calories from each of the nutrients as this is an excellent way to balance out the various nutrients in the diet.

The recommendation for a healthy and balanced diet would be to have around 15% of your total calories coming from protein. If you are looking to build muscle and are into the gym, you might want to increase this level slightly. An average woman will need around 40-50g of protein per day, slightly higher for a man, but this is a guide and not set for everyone.

The government advice on protein requirements is based on body size – so an average of 0.75g per kg body weight is another way of looking at recommendations.

If you feel that you'd like to increase the amount of protein in your diet, Nutracheck has a choice of nutrient goals you can set – including a Higher Protein goal. Our nutritionists set this to almost double your protein intake (from 15% to 28% of total daily calories) but still ensure the level is healthy.

Nutritionist Emma White (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.

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