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Being protein smart

It seems the world has become obsessed with protein and there is an overwhelming amount of information about this simple macronutrient.

Proteins are fundamental in the structure and function of our cells. Following water, proteins are the next most abundant element in our bodies. For an adult man weighing 70 kilos about 16 % will be this macronutrient, i.e. about 11 kilos. The majority of this will be musculature (43 %), the rest will be found in different systems of our body. It is recommended that an adult gets a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of their body weight. An acceptable protein intake for a sedentary man is around 50 grams per day and 40 grams for a sedentary woman.

The building blocks of protein are called amino acids. These are the small lego-like pieces that form their main structure. There are 21 amino acids required for the production of protein and these are all metabolically essential. Some of these particles are ingested in their natural form and others can be made in our bodies from other metabolic precursors. In other words, our body is clever enough to outsource the production of the amino acids we don’t ingest. Out of the 21 amino acids 9 are strictly found in our diets (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine). Humans do not have ways of metabolising these particles and rely on their diets to acquire them.

When we eat protein we are also eating other macro and micronutrients attached to them. For example when we eat a 100 gram steak we are ingesting around 33 grams of protein and also 5 grams of saturated fat. It is for this reason that we need to interpret the protein packages of the products we eat. Evidence based medicine highlights we should focus the source of the protein to estimate its nutritional value. In other words…eating healthy protein sources like legumes, nuts, fish or poultry instead of red meat is preferable….quality rather than quantity.

Attached is a table for common protein packages.

Now that you have mastered the topic of proteins it is worth mentioning a few additional tips.

  • Preferably, make your protein source plant based. Introduce eating legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.

  • If most of your protein comes from plants you will need to balance your protein intake from other sources in order to meet your share of essential amino acids.

  • If your sources of protein include animals, consider reviewing the protein packages and aim for quality products. In simple terms, poultry, fish and eggs are preferred to red meats. Do not exclude red meats but consider reducing your intake to less frequent and small amounts of it.

  • Avoid cured and processed meats.

Finally, find attached two great websites on the nutritional value of common foods:

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