Protein; a hype or not?

Laura blog Leave a Comment

So far, I’ve been talking about sugar, carbs & fat, so, now we’re on to the protein topic.

Protein… protein. Where to start with protein. Maybe protein at this moment it’s the most hyped up nutrient yet at the same time it’s the most unknown nutrient. I think most people know that it is one of the three macro nutrients (carbohydrates and fat are the other two). What else is there to know about protein? Protein is essential for the body, since the body is unable to make all the types of protein it needs itself. But what is protein exactly? What products contain protein? How much do you need? That and more I will answer in this blog.

I’ll start with a few assumptions which I think are the most common:

  • My daily protein intake is too low.
  • I need meat to get my daily protein intake
  • I need protein shakes / bars if I’m exercising to get enough protein intake.
  • I need protein shakes / bars to gain muscle mass
  • Protein is protein, it doesn’t matter where it comes from

Maybe you can relate to all of them, maybe none. Anyway, I’ll go through all of the assumptions to help you gain knowledge about protein. First things first:

Proteins are essential for a healthy diet. 

Protein in your lifestyle

Proteins literally are the building blocks of your body. Protein is found in every cell of the human body. Every person needs protein in their daily food intake to help their body repair cells & make new ones.

Protein is formed by a certain structure, which is a chain of amino acids. During digestion, the body breaks the protein down in to those parts. The human body needs a number of amino acids in large enough amounts to maintain good health. There are different types of amino acids and they can be classified into three groups:

  • Essential
  • Nonessential
  • Conditional

Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body, and must be supplied by food. They do not need to be eaten at one meal. The balance over the whole day is more important.

Nonessential amino acids are made by the body from essential amino acids or in the normal breakdown of proteins.

Conditional amino acids are needed in times of illness and stress.

Obviously it is the essential amino acids that we have to take in on a daily basis to make sure our body functions. Those amino acids are found in all sorts of different types of food. Animal sources such as meats, milk, fish, and eggs. Plant sources such as soy, beans, legumes, nut butters, and some grains (such as wheat germ and quinoa). 

The sentence above confirms and shows that you do not need to eat animal products to get the protein you need.

But how much of those proteins do we need? Different sources (NHS, BHF) suggest about 0.75 – 0.8 grams per kilo gram of body weight. If someone is 75 kgs you’ll need approximately between 56 – 60 grams of protein per day. To give you a perspective of amounts of protein per food type I’ll give you a few examples:

  • 100 grams of chicken breast – 32 grams of protein
  • 100 grams of tuna (canned) – 23,5 gram of protein
  • 100 gram of chicken eggs – 12,5 gram of protein
  • 100 gram of cheddar cheese –  24 grams of protein
  • 100 grams of chick peas – 8.4 grams of protein
  • 100 grams of brown bread – 8 grams of protein
  • 100 grams of oatmeal – 11 grams of protein
  • 100 grams of almonds – 21 grams of protein

The list above is only a short version of all that’s available. There is plenty of more options, but you can easily find them online. As you can see, a portion of 100 grams of chicken already is more than half of protein of what 75 kg’s human being needs over a whole day.

How does protein works?

Health websites, social media and supermarkets shouting about protein rich food and diets everywhere. Eat more protein and you loose weight. What? Really? How? Why? Time to explain something about protein. Now we know what protein is, that you need it, how much you need every day, it’s time for the next step. Understanding how protein works in your body. Unfortunately, when you eat protein, it’s not like protein goes directly to the muscle you want it to go. The body’s first objective is to break it down into all the different amino acid units it was assembled from. Breaking down protein requires more time and effort than carbs, but not as much as fat. Since a body is constantly regenerating and replacing cells and tissues, there’s always a variety of proteins needed. 

How much protein your body actually requires for the purpose of tissue growth and repair is determined by factors like sex, age, body composition, health, and activity level. Most of us are getting more than enough protein to fulfill these needs. Unfortunately once your tissues get all the amino acids that they need, they have no use for any extra. The body doesn’t have a protein tank. This is why you need to eat protein throughout the day, every day.

Since the body can’t access protein for a purpose later on,the body breaks it down and stows it away in fat tissue. To do this, the liver removes the nitrogen from the amino acids and disposes of it through the urine, in the form of a waste product called urea.

Average daily intake

Doing some research I found out that in the UK, on average, people eat double the amount of the protein they need. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem, although, all those protein – rich products do not only contain protein, but often also come with other macro nutrients. Therefore, it depends on where people’s protein is coming from to decide whether their daily intake is a problem or not. According to the British Heart Foundation meat-heavy diets (and thus often also protein rich) have been linked to increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and may also shorten your life. Recommended is to not only get your protein from meat, but also from other products, for example like the ones listed above. Eat more peas, beans and lentils, two portions of fish a week, and eat no more than 70g of red and/or processed meat per day. 

If you’re doing a lot of sports and with that I mean, at least one intense, multiple hour training every day, your body could do with double the amount of the recommended daily intake. But since in England most people already eat double the amount a day, there might be no need for you to take more protein on top of what you already take. I can’t speak for everyone about this topic so it really comes down to every person themself to actually get an idea on their amount of protein intake a day and whether you REALLY need to double your intake. Do you really do that many hours of sports? Does your body really need it? Or do you just want to get in to the hype of the bars and shakes. 

Protein nowadays is hyped up like the magic pathway to being healthy. Is it actually? Just think about it. I think it’s just something that some big companies decided to jump on because our food intake has gone out of balance. It’s all hyped up because it feels we’re not eating enough protein, it’s more because we eat too much of everything else. I’ll explain you why: 

In 2005, two biologists put forward the “protein leverage hypothesis”, in which they argued that protein could be the missing link in the obesity crisis. Since the 1960s, the absolute level of protein consumed by the average westerner has not changed. What has changed is the ratio of protein in our diets. Because our overall calorie consumption has risen by 14%, the ratio of protein to carbohydrate and fat has significantly dropped. In 1961, the average American got around 14-15% of calories in the form of protein, whereas today (in 2005) it is 12.5%. This doesn’t sound like a big drop, but researchers suggests that even a small drop in the percentage of protein can have a big impact on eating behavior and could drive us to overeat.

Finishing off with this to give you some food for thought…

Behind the current protein hype, there is a kernel of truth. A deficit of protein is indeed part of the hugely complex puzzle of what’s wrong with modern diets. The problem at the moment is that the right question: “am I getting enough protein?is being asked by the wrong people.

Cheers,

Laura

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