It’s well known that protein is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet, but why is that?
What is protein?
Proteins are made up of amino acids. Our bodies use these as building blocks that make and repairs tissues (including muscles, bones and organs) within our bodies. You can find proteins in a variety of foods such as animal products, soy products and plant proteins. It can be hard to consume an adequate amount of protein for a number of reasons. Protein rich foods are often more expensive, meaning it may not be reasonable for every household to eat more protein. Also, sugars and carbohydrates have a high palatability which means the body craves them more than proteins.
What are the benefits of protein in our diet?
- Reduced hunger
Our bodies hunger is driven by the need for protein. When we have a low protein diet, we often need to consume a lot more food in order to reach our target protein amount. An increase in protein intake means that we need to eat less food throughout the day in order to feel satisfied, making us feel more full with less food.
- Reduced cravings
Cravings are different from hunger as the focus is on eating as a reward for the brain, not as a way to gain nutrients. When we increase the amount of protein in our diets, our brains crave less food, resulting in less late night snacking.
- Maintaining weight loss
Protein improves your metabolism and as mentioned before, also reduces your food intake and reduces your cravings for food. These combined can help to keep weight off in the long term.
- Reduces blood pressure
Protein has been linked to decreasing blood pressure levels. This reduces your risk of other serious illnesses such as heart attacks, stroke and chronic organ diseases.
- Injury repair
Amino acids contained in proteins are essential in building tissues within the body. This means that protein consumed in food can help speed up the recovery of our bodies after an injury.
What foods contain protein?
You can find protein in a variety of foods including animal products such as meat and dairy, soy products, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, and lentils. Eating protein from an animal source is considered high-quality protein as they contain all kinds of essential amino acids. Plant proteins are considered incomplete proteins as they are often missing one or more types of essential amino acids. People who eat vegetarian or vegan diets can be at risk of protein deficiency as high-quality proteins come from animal products. However, if you eat a wide variety of different food types then you will consume enough protein types to avoid deficiency.
It is recommended that you eat around 0.36 grams of protein per 0.8kg of your body weight. This works on average to 46 grams per day for women and 56 grams per day for men.
Above are some important reasons to ensure you’re consuming enough protein in your diet, but studies show that very high protein diets are not effective and may be dangerous.
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(1) Better Health Channel Victoria. 2020. Protein, Healthy Eating. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/protein#:~:text=Protein%20is%20an%20important%20part,used%20as%20an%20energy%20source.
(2) Gunnars, K. 2019. 10 science-backed reasons to eat more protein, Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-reasons-to-eat-more-protein#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2
(3) Gunnars, K. 2020. Protein intake – how much protein should you eat each day, Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-protein-per-day#:~:text=Most%20official%20nutritional%20organizations%20recommend,for%20the%20average%20sedentary%20man