Are you getting enough protein?
Protein is essential to your health, so it is crucial to make sure you are including it in you diet. This is especially important if you are vegetarian or vegan. The body breaks protein down into building blocks and uses these to make other types of proteins that are necessary for certain functions such as muscle repair. To make these proteins your body needs 9 essential amino acids (the building blocks) and these have to come from your diet.
There are potential signs that may show you’re not getting enough protein:
· Food cravings
· Muscle or joint pain
· Weak nails/hair/skin
· Always getting sick
· Brain fog/fatigue
· Lack of sleep
Why is protein so important and how does the body use protein?
Your body uses proteins to make hormones. Hormones are basically a messenger that tells your body to do something. For example, your sex hormones, such as oestrogen and progesterone control your menstrual cycle.
Neurotransmitters are also another type of messenger that are made from proteins. They have a role in the functioning of the brain (keeping you feeling mentally alert), manage automatic responses such as breathing, and they have a role in managing your mood. Such as happiness, pleasure, and fear. Tryptophan is a neurotransmitter and helps you to fall asleep.
Your immune system needs protein to help it do its job. For example, antibodies are made from protein. Antibodies are used to help your body fight infections and viruses.
Growth and repair
The body is constantly breaking down tissues and building it back up again. Your muscles are made up of proteins, collagen, which gives the skin it’s elasticity, is made from protein. Your hair and nails use keratin, a protein structure, which helps to keep them healthy.
Enzymes are a protein that are necessary for the catalyst for the many biochemical reactions that happen in your body. For example, your digestive system uses enzymes to digest and breakdown your food; enzymes are also needed for energy production; muscle contraction and enzymes are also needed to help your body make hormones.
Balance blood sugar
Protein also has a role in balancing your blood sugar levels and reducing sugar cravings. It takes longer to digest so it keeps you feeling full, satisfied and helps to sustain your energy levels. Protein slows down the release of sugar and helps to balance your blood sugar levels and prevents a rollercoaster of up and down energy levels.
How much protein do I need?
The recommended protein intake from the Department of Health 45g per day for women and 55g per day for men. However, I find that focusing on numbers can be confusing and hard to remember. I always recommend that my clients include a source of protein with each meal and snack to support their health. In terms of portion size, I encourage my clients to use a visual guide as this is more practical. For example, you could determine a portion of protein as the size of your palm of hand or a deck of cards.
Types of protein
Protein can be found in meat, fish and eggs. However if you’re vegetarian or vegan you can also get protein from the following sources:
· Beans, pulses and lentils
· Nuts Seeds
· Green peas
· Brussel sprouts
If you are vegetarian or vegan aim to include a good variety of the above sources to ensure you are getting all the essential protein building blocks in your diet.
So, as you can see, protein has many different roles in your body. It supports lots of different biochemical reactions, provides the structural framework (muscles, tendons, ligaments) and it supports the immune system.