This weeks’ module has focused largely on protein so I thought I’d share a simple overview as we’ve all heard about high protein diets but not many people really understand the significance of protein in terms of our health.
Protein – a highly debated topic in the world of nutrition, with experts disagreeing on how much is needed and where it should be sourced… but the one thing they all agree on is that we all need protein in our bodies (unless you are one of the rare few with conditions such as PKU).
What is Protein?
Protein is the basis for our cells and tissues and is crucial for maintaining and regulating vital functions. Our muscles, organs and immune system are made up mostly of protein.
Protein is a food component that is made up of amino acids. It is often described as a long necklace with different shaped beads, each bead being an amino acid. These amino acids join together to form thousands of different proteins in our bodies. There are 20+ different amino acids that can form a protein, and 9 of these the body can’t produce on its own.
You may have heard the term ‘complete protein’. This refers to a protein source that contains sufficient levels of all these 9 essential amino acids, whereas other sources may contain some of them and/or at lower levels.
What are protein sources?
Protein can be found in animal and non-animal sources. Animal sources form the majority of the ‘complete’ proteins but that doesn’t mean vegetarians or vegans won’t get a sufficient supply, however it does mean they need to eat a variety of foods to ensure that they are getting all 9 amino acids across the range. Here are the most common sources:
Meat / Poultry
Beans & Peas
Processed soy products
Nuts & Seeds
How much do I need?
As I’ve discussed in previous posts, every body has unique needs, so there is not a ‘one size fits all’ recommendation on the amount of protein to be consumed. Throughout my training we have been encouraged to experiment with adding and removing certain foods and food groups for a few days to take note of how we actually feel and the results make this variation in needs very evident.
What’s more you need to consider your stage of life. Right now you may need more or less than you will in 5 years, or if you are undertaking increased sporting activity or you have sustained an injury, your needs may change.
How do I know if I’m getting enough?
It is actually quite unusual for people to lack protein in their diets due to the wide range of protein rich foods, but here are some indicators of having too much or too little in your diet:
Too little protein
Sugar and sweet cravings, feeling spaced out and jittery, fatigue, weight loss, loss of colour facially, feeling weak, anemia, change in hair colour and texture and in more severe cases, skin inflammation and potbelly.
Too much protein
Low energy, constipation, dehydration, lethargy, heavy feeling, weight gain, sweet cravings, body feels tight, stiff joints, foul body odour, halitosis, low calcium levels.
The body can become overly acidic resulting in decline of kidney function and excessive animal proteins can increase the risk of heart disease.
High / low protein diets
High protein diets are commonly used as weight loss diets, generally in conjunction with cutting out carbs. There is no disputing that this can lead to weight loss, however it is not healthy for anything other than a short term measure. Not only does cutting the carbs completely remove one of the body’s natural and favourite fuels, but the increased protein can lead to the complications detailed above. A balance of both is sustainable and healthier.
A low protein diet, usually in conjunction with increased carbs, is generally recommended to people with kidney or liver disease and with careful monitoring is highly effective as it decreases the stress on the kidneys and liver. Tyrosinemia is a rare but serious inherited disease that may also require the use of a low-protein diet.
Thanks for reading and I hope this has been helpful to you. As always, if you’d like to comment or share anything, please do so in the comments, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hop on over to my Facebook page.