Protein – how much do we really need?

February 3, 2020 7:08 am Published by 2 Comments

Protein: it’s about the most important part of all the food we eat. Made up of amino acids, it’s what we use in our bodies to build and repair tissue – to make our enzymes, hormones, bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. Essentially, we’re made of protein, and when we don’t get enough, things start to go wrong.

Protein: how much is enough?

If we’re not taking in enough protein from food, our bodies will steal protein from our muscle tissue and use it to support our vital functions. We’ll experience muscle cramps, fatigue and weakness as a result. Wounds will be slower to heal and we’ll be more prone to infection. In extreme cases, as you might find in famine areas, severe malnutrition will occur.

Less dramatically, protein is also what makes us feel full when we eat a meal; if we don’t get enough of it, we might find ourselves tempted to snack afterwards (or to over-eat another element, such as carbohydrates or sugar-rich puddings) to compensate.

 

Protein is found in all manner of foods, but particularly in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. We talk (and write) about it quite a bit at Naturally Good Food, because we cater for customers following various diets, some of which can be fairly restrictive. If, for example, you’re gluten-free, you’ll be avoiding the protein gluten, found in wheat, barley and rye products. That’s not a big deal, so long as you get plenty of protein from elsewhere, but it does mean that you have to think a little more carefully than most people about your nutritional intake.

The same is true for people on dairy-free diets, who won’t be able to obtain protein from milk, cheese and similar foods; for vegetarians, who won’t be eating meat or fish; and, of course, for vegans, who avoid anything derived from animals.

 

All of these groups are likely to spend a lot of time thinking about alternative sources of protein. For vegetarians and vegans, and those avoiding dairy for other reasons, Naturally Good Food recommends nuts, seeds, soy-based products such as tofu, dairy-free milks, yeast extract, pulses and protein-rich grains like quinoa. The latter are also great for people on gluten-free diets, along with protein-rich gluten-free flours, such as those discussed in our blog here.

We also stock a great selection of all-natural protein powders, which are ideal for those needing to supplement their diet.

We know that it’s perfectly possible for all people in these groups to get enough protein in their diet, so long as they pay careful attention to it. But to pay attention, you need to know some facts – and perhaps the most important of these is: how much protein do we actually need in our diets?

How much protein do we need?

The reference nutrient intake (RNI) is set at 0.75g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day for adults. Let’s imagine someone who weighs 60kg (me, before Christmas struck). That person would need to eat 45g of protein each day. A man, meanwhile, might need about 56g. Pregnant and breastfeeding women will need significantly more (about 70g) – and if you’re doing a fair amount of exercise, your needs will also rise.

Today, I’m planning to eat wholemeal toast with butter for breakfast; vegetable soup and a ham sandwich for lunch; and a 2-egg cheese omelette for dinner. I’ll probably snack on a handful of nuts too. Using some quick ‘protein calculators’ online, that equates to around 55g of protein, with the nuts, cheese and ham making up most of that.

A Macdonalds burger (just for reference – and using estimated figures) would bring me 25g of protein, about the same as a salmon fillet (there are other differences between those two choices, of course). A typical serving of pulses would bring around 15g, a helping of quinoa about 8g and a portion of tofu around 12g.

Can we eat too much protein?

Official health advice is that too much protein isn’t great – in continual large doses, it might lead to an increased risk of kidney problems, cardiovascular disease or osteoporosis. At a more minor level, over-consumption can result in indigestion, nausea, diarrhoea and dehydration. People who take a lot of protein supplements, for body-building, for example, might be at risk. However, protein deficiency is probably more of a problem, even in the developed West, than too much protein – particularly for older people.

In general, it appears that we can eat 2g of protein per kg of body weight without any adverse effects (and more, for athletes).

Don’t just think about protein

Whenever we think about our diets, we should think about them ‘in the round’. All the elements we eat interact with one another, and in a healthy, balanced diet, all are essential. Consider, for example, magnesium and zinc, which assist in the manufacture of proteins in our bodies; or vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), which is needed to synthesise and metabolise the protein we ingest; or vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), which allows the body to use and store the energy we obtain from protein. This kind of interaction explains why we mustn’t focus on one nutritional element to the exclusion of all the others!

People on a vegan diet need to eat as wide a range of foods as possible, trying out many different sources of protein. This is important because, while protein from animal sources contains the full range of essential amino acids needed by our bodies, vegans must obtain all the amino acids they require by combining different plant sources of protein.

Good sources of protein from Naturally Good Food

We sell a large number of protein-rich products at Naturally Good Food. Take a look at our:

Naturally Good Reads v2

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This post was written by Yzanne

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