Protein, are you getting enough?

What is it and why do we need it?

Protein plays a very important part of a healthy diet. Proteins are made up of chemical building blocks called amino acids, they are called these because they are attached in long chains. The body uses amino acids to build and repair muscles, cartilage, skin and bones and to make hormones and enzymes.  Protein is also a critical part of many processes, it helps to oxygenate your blood, helps to make antibodies to help fight off infections and much more. Protein can also be used as an energy source and contains 4 calories for every 1 gram.

Regular intake of protein is known to speed the recovery post surgery or following an injury, which is particularly important, as we get older.  Many athletes have protein rich meals after a vigorous exercise session to speed up the repairing of the natural muscle damage that occurs during exercise.

After the age of 40 we start to lose muscle mass and this is known as age-related sarcopenia. People who are physically inactive can lose as much as 3-5% of muscle mass for every decade after the age of 30. Even active adults will lose muscles mass but this will be at a much slower rate unless there are other contraindications.  This is so important as muscle gives us strength and stability, and as a result as we get older we may need to have more protein in our daily diet. When following a plant-based diet you should be looking to eat 0.8-0.9g of protein for every kilogram you weigh per day as a guideline, this is slightly higher than someone who consumes animal based proteins.

As plant-based protein can be slightly harder for the body to digest we need to make sure that good protein options are chosen; here are some of the most easily digestible forms.

  • Seitan
  • Wheat flour
  • Soya
  • Peanuts and peanut butter
  • Green peas
  • Lentils
  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Oats
  • White quinoa

Other great sources or protein are nuts, seeds, tofu, chickpeas, mycroprotein, tempeh, teff and soya milk

Beyond this there are many other sources of proteins that can boost our intake, for example;

  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Wholegrain bread
  • Spelt flour (beware this is particularly high in gluten, and so should be avoided by anyone with coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance and some IBS sufferers)
  • Spirulina
  • Hemp
  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Brussels sprouts

Be aware of meat substitutes as a protein alternative as these can often be high in unwanted salt and fats.

Choose a varied combination of proteins each week, not only will this help to ensure your body is getting everything it needs, but it also helps to remove the boredom from have the same type of food source regularly.