Your Questions Answered - Protein, Carbs, Fibre, Calories and Weight Gain

Emma Brown - Nutritionist | 11 May, 2017

What's the negative to a high protein diet and how do I reduce it?

High protein diets can be great – especially for people trying to lose weight or build lean muscle mass. This is because protein is more satiety than carbohydrates or fat, so eating a high protein meal will ensure you get fuller faster and stay feeling fuller for longer. Protein is also essential for building muscle, so anyone following an exercise plan for muscle gain needs to ensure they're eating an adequate amount of protein.

The down side is only if you eat an excessive amount over a period of time. Eating excess protein which our body doesn't need can put a strain on our liver and kidneys, as they work to metabolise it. The exact level at which protein could be harmful is not fully know, but the Department of Health advises that double the recommended intake of 55g per day (so 110g) should be fine long term.

It's likely that even above this amount will be fine to a point – any excess protein which our body doesn't need for muscle repair or making hormones for example, can be converted and used as energy or stored as fat.

In terms of reducing your protein intake, unless these are excessively high, there really shouldn't be a need. If you are concerned, perhaps try reducing the portion size of the higher protein foods in your diet – so meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt and beans for example. Use your diary targets to see how much you're getting each day. But as I say, if you're not regularly exceeding 110g or so, then there's no cause for concern.

Hope this helps!

I would like to know what carbs I should eat and what should be avoided?

Carbohydrates are an important part of our diet as they're the body's primary source of fuel and they also tend to be the biggest contributor of fibre in our diet. Getting the right types is important to ensure you're getting the best nutrients.

Carbohydrate foods to opt for are wholegrain and high protein versions such as:

  • Wholemeal bread
  • Wholewheat pasta
  • Wholegrain rice
  • Wholegrain cereals such as Shredded Wheat and Weetabix
  • Oats
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Fruits and vegetables

These foods offer fibre, protein, B vitamins and other vitamins and minerals. The one's to limit are the refined versions such as white bread, white pasta, sweets and chocolate. These offer a dose of carbs, but with far less or none of the above important nutrients. They are also broken down into sugar faster in our body, which causes the spike in blood sugar that's often followed by an energy crash later.

But here at NC we believe in moderation, so you can have a little bit of everything – nothing has to be entirely avoided. It's just a case of managing portion sizes and frequency of treat foods to once a week or very small portions.

Hope this helps!

Should I eat if I'm not hungry but I'm still very short of my daily calorie allowance? Thanks

To explain, your targets are calculated specifically for you as they take into account your personal details such as gender, age, height, weight and activity levels. Your allowance is then set at a level that's appropriate to produce weight loss at a healthy and sustainable rate of 1-2lbs per week. For this reason, we do recommend you stick as close to your allowance as you can on most days.

That said, some members will have higher targets than others, as it all comes down to you personally. If you do have a particularly high target and feel you're struggling to eat up to it, it's fine to eat a little under. As long as you're not regularly going below 1,400 calories per day as a man, this should be fine.

The important thing is to keep an eye on is your rate of weight loss. If you're losing at a healthy rate of around 1-2lbs per week, then you're getting the right balance. But if it's regularly more than this, then you're likely not eating enough calories. Also consider that the lower you start off at, the harder it will be to reduce your intake to ensure weight loss continues long term. So if you have a fair bit to lose, you may want to aim for closer to your target, so that you can gradually reduce this as you lose weight.

Hope this helps!

If I am trying to put on weight should by balanced eating ratio be different? Like 40/40/20 (car/prot/fat)? I would love to put on weight in a healthy way! I exercise 5 times a week, 2 days tennis or HIIT and 3 days resistance training.

If you're trying to gain weight, then yes it's important to do this in a healthy way, but you also need to increase the nutrients that are richer in calories to help you with this. Because of this I would suggest that your calories from fat would need to be higher than 20%, but you can still achieve this through choosing the healthier fats such as oily fish, nuts and seeds. As you are clearly very active, and weight training too, having adequate protein is important too, however 40% calories from protein is probably a little high. I would suggest a slight change to a 40, 30, 30 (carbs/protein/fat) ratio to see how you get on. This will support your training through enhanced protein intakes, but will also ensure you are getting enough fats in your diet.

And of course you should also be looking to increase your overall calorie intake to support weight gain too. There is a helpful FAQ on the website with some additional information which you may find useful.

How to gain weight healthily

Hope this helps!

Could you please advise on foods that are low carb and calories, but can boost my iron levels which are very low at the moment?

Foods rich in iron include red meat, fish, dark green leafy vegetables such as curly kale, spinach and broccoli, nuts and seeds and iron fortified foods such as breakfast cereals. We also know that having foods or drinks rich in vitamin C at the same time as iron rich foods can help with iron absorption. So for example, having a glass of orange juice, with a breakfast of iron fortified cereal, may help with the absorption of the iron.

Increasing your intake of green leafy vegetables is a good way to increase iron, but keeping calories and carb levels low. Choose lean red meat such as lean steak or 5% fat minced beef as a good iron source, but with lower calories.

Hope this helps!

I am having trouble understanding about sugar and fats in the new extra nutrition page. For example if I am over on fats but it is from good fats like avocados and oily fish does it matter ? Or say over on sugar from dates or fruit rather than mars bars. Thanks very much

The short answer is, no it doesn't matter – especially when it comes to sugar. If you're eating lots of fruits, vegetables and milk products for example, these will likely take you over the allowance. But these aren't the sugars we're concerned with, it's the one's from added sources such as chocolate and cakes which you need to limit. Fruits, vegetables and milk products bring with them beneficial nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and calcium – so are great to include in our diet. These nutrients can also affect how quickly they're broken down and therefore the effect the sugar has on your body.

Total fat is a little more tricky – the type of fat definitely plays a part. But fat is the most energy dense nutrient at 9kcals per gram no matter where it's coming from, so watching our total intake is important for keeping calories in check. However in terms of health, unsaturated fats can be beneficial. These are found in oily fish, avocado, nuts and olive oil. If you find you go over your total fat intake for the day, but a large proportion is from these healthy sources – then don't be too concerned.

Hope this helps!

Nutritionist Emma Brown (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.