Protein’s primary function is building, maintaining and repairing muscle. It is however involved in other processes such as immunity, hormone production and it’s needed to make brain neurotransmitters such as serotonin. We often forget, but protein is at the start of the chain when it comes to making brain neurotransmitters, so with mental illness on the rise, don’t forget it starts with the protein you eat.
Protein is one of the three macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein). It’s made up of 20 types of amino acids that bind together in various ways to create different kinds of protein.
The body can make 11 of the 20 amino acids. But for you to function optimally, you need to get the other nine amino acids from food (each amino acid has different functions).
Depending on what amino acids are in each protein, they can be considered complete or incomplete. Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids. In contrast, incomplete proteins do not.
As a general rule – complete proteins come from an animal source with the exceptions of a few plant-based sources such as quinoa, buckwheat, soy, hemp and chia seeds.
Types of Protein:
• Animal protein: meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy.
• Plant proteins: tofu, tempeh, soy milk, edamame, quinoa, buckwheat, hemp seeds, chia seeds.
• Plant proteins: beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains (oats, rice, wheat, bulgur.)
Knowing some foods are complete or incomplete proteins is important as it helps understand why variety in the diet is important. Otherwise, you can end up in a deficiency in amino acids if you were to keep eating the same incomplete ones on repeat.
When planning a meal, aim for about ¼ of your plate to be a protein source.
If you were following a recipe on a meal plan that I have designed and it said use tuna, you could substitute with another protein from the above list such as eggs.
Protein tends to help you feel fuller for longer as it takes more energy to digest in comparison to carbs. For this reason, it is useful if you are trying to lose weight to make it a priority to include protein at each meal.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Guidelines suggest between 0.8 grams to 1.2 grams per kilo of body weight (1).
To calculate quickly, if you weighed 50 kg, then you need about 50 grams of protein.
Generally, people don’t have a problem ensuring they are eating enough protein unless they are on a muscle-building program. In this case, you are ramping up the protein to about 1.8 grams to 2 grams per kilo of body weight.
Example, if you weighed 100kg, and you wanted to put on muscle, you are then aiming at 200 grams of protein. An egg has 6 grams of protein in it. Therefore you can see the challenge. Now, imagine you are vegan, ½ a cup of beans if about 6 grams of protein and your choices are going to be limited when consuming protein. I encourage eating real foods first, but protein powders do have their places, in particular, where you have a goal to meet with muscle building.
Protein Content Of Common Foods:
Content of protein, in grams (2):
- ½ cup edamame beans: 8
- 1 egg: 6
- ½ cup lentils: 9
- ½ cup cannellini beans: 8
- 2 tbsp peanut butter: 7
- ¼ cup nuts: 4 to 6
- ½ cup bran: 6
- 100g cod: 21
- 100g can salmon: 20
- 120g sirlon cooked: 24
- 100g chicken cooked: 28
- 100g tempeh: 19
- 200g natural low fat yogurt: 5
- 1 cup milk: 10
For most of us who just want to be healthy, you don’t need to count your protein each day. Keep it simple: ¼ of your plate protein and rotate the type of proteins you are using.
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