Protein is one of our three macronutrients and one that should feature daily in our diets.
Protein is a buzz-word in the world of fitness due to its role in muscle growth and repair, but did you know that protein is also very important when it comes to other areas of our health too?
From hormone balance to the immune system, it is a food group that we ought to pay more attention to.
Do you get enough protein daily? Keep reading for daily protein recommendations and protein serving sizes.
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So, what other areas does our body use protein for apart from muscle and tissue growth?
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1) Balancing Blood Sugar Levels
Our blood sugar levels are reflective of how much blood is circulating in the blood stream at any given time.
Our bodies break down carbohydrates at rates based on a few things.
A) The type of carbohydrate – simple carbohydrates such as sweets, pastries, and processed cereals are broken down very quickly by the body and will influence blood sugar levels within about 30 to 60 minutes.
However, carbohydrates such as lentils, whole grains and beans are broken down a lot slower due to the high fibre content and less processing.
B) The presence of protein – when you pair carbohydrate with protein and fats, they have a buffering affect on the speed at which the body breaks down the carbohydrates into sugars.
Therefore, protein is vitally important for maintaining normal blood sugar level response after a meal or snack and is involved in supplying longer lasting energy.
It is also a great foundation for balancing female sex hormones because insulin, involved in blood sugar levels, is in tune with all of our other hormones such as oestrogen and testosterone.
Protein takes the body longer to break down than carbohydrates and it remains in the stomach for a longer period.
Therefore, ensuring you have a good source of protein with each meal and snack is key to helping you feel full and satisfied after eating.
In addition, protein will therefore help to control appetite and hunger to minimise mindless grazing and snacking throughout the day.
3) Immune System
Although a lot of the focus in placed on micronutrients such as Vitamin C when it comes to immune health, protein plays a huge role in the functioning of the system.
You may be surprised to know that most of our immune cells require protein to be produced, therefore a lack of dietary protein can contribute to low levels of immune cells, such as T cells.
Our all-important antibodies, which help us fight off viruses and bacteria, also rely on protein, so it certainly should not be underestimated when wanting to build up your immune resilience.
4) Mental Health
There are nine amino acids (the building blocks of our proteins) that must come from the diet as the body cannot produce them on its own.
One of these amino acids is called Tryptophan – which can be found in protein sources such as turkey, salmon and eggs.
Tryptophan from our food is converted into serotonin within the body. Serotonin a brain chemical known as our ‘happy hormone’ as it is heavily involved with our mood and mental health. Low levels are associated with low mood and even depression.
5) Bone Health
Protein is required for strengthening our bones and is therefore particularly important when ageing.
This is even more important for women post -menopause as levels of the bone-protective hormone oestrogen have significantly declined.
Ensuring that you are eating enough protein has been associated with lower risks of falls and fractures in older age too, so try to keep on top of your protein intake as you age.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
The average person requires about 0.8 to 1g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
So, if you weight 70kg, you required roughly 56-70g protein per day.
If you perform a lot of resistance exercise or weight training, then you may require slightly more at 1.2-1.5g per kg of body weight – the same goes for being pregnant.
Am I Eating Enough?
As a guide, please see the table below for amounts of protein per serving of food.
• Cod fillet (230g) – 40g protein
• Greek yoghurt (170g) – 15g protein
• Mackerel (tinned, 100g drained) – 22g protein
• Edamame beans (80g, boiled) – 9.5g protein
• Eggs (3 whole) – 25g protein
• Chicken breast (200g) – 46g protein
• Salmon (100g fillet, cooked) – 22g protein
• Lentils (100g, drained) – 6.1g protein
• Chickpeas (100g, drained) – 7.3g protein
• Tofu (100g firm) – 12.6g protein
• Jumbo prawns (100g raw) – 14.3g protein
• Whole milk (100ml) – 3.3g protein
• Almonds (25g) – 6.5g protein
Yasmin Alexander is a nutritional therapist registered with the British Association for for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine. You can hear more from Yasmin or contact her on Instagram @nutritionbyyasmin or via her website. This article was originally published on Yasmin’s blog.