When it comes to making protein choices in your diet, quality is just as important as quantity. Here’s all you need to know to keep your body and mind healthy.
What is protein?
Protein in your diet provides energy and supports your mood and cognitive function. It’s a vital nutrient required for building, maintaining, and repairing tissues, cells, and organs throughout the body. While it’s in many of the foods that we eat every day, for something so common it’s often a misunderstood part of our diets.
When you eat protein, it is broken down into the 20 amino acids that are the body’s basic building blocks for growth and energy. The amino acid tryptophan influences mood by producing serotonin, which can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve overall cognitive function.
Most animal sources of protein, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy, deliver all the amino acids your body needs, while plant-based protein sources such as grains, beans, vegetables, and nuts often lack one or more of the essential amino acids.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to eat animal products to get the right amino acids. By eating a variety of plant-based sources of protein each day you can ensure your body gets all the essential amino acids it needs. Of course supplements like Bodyhero also provide a source of all of your essential amino acids too!
Protein is a macronutrient that is essential to building muscle mass.
There are three macronutrients: protein, fats and carbohydrates. Macronutrients provide calories, or energy. Each gram of protein contains 4 calories. Protein makes up about 15 percent of a person’s body weight. Chemically, protein is composed of amino acids, which are organic compounds made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen or sulphur. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins are the building blocks of muscle mass.
The health benefits of protein
Protein gives you the energy to get up and go—and keep going. While too much protein can be harmful to people with kidney disease, diabetes, and some other conditions, eating the right amount of high-quality protein:
- Keeps your immune system functioning properly, maintains heart health and your respiratory system, and speeds recovery after exercise.
- Is vital to the growth and development of children and for maintaining health in your senior years.
- Can help reduce your risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Can help you think clearly and may improve recall.
- Can improve your mood and boost your resistance to stress, anxiety, and depression.
- May help you maintain a healthy weight by curbing appetite, making you feel full longer, and fuelling you with extra energy for exercising.
As well as being imperative to feeling healthy and energetic, protein is also important to the way you look. Eating high-quality protein can help you maintain healthy skin, nails, and hair, build muscle, and maintain lean body mass while dieting.
While most people eating a Western diet get a sufficient quantity of protein each day, many of us are not getting the quality of protein we need.
Good sources of high-quality protein
Beans. Beans and peas are packed full of both protein and fibre. Add them to salads, soups and stews to boost your protein intake.
Nuts and seeds. As well as being rich sources of protein, nuts and seeds are also high in fibre and “good” fats. Add to salads or keep handy for snacks.
Tofu and soy products. Non-GMO tofu and soy are excellent red meat alternatives, high in protein and low in fat. Try a “meatless Monday,” plant-based protein sources are often less expensive than meat so it can be as good for your wallet as it is for your health.
Tips to increase your protein intake
To include more high-quality protein in your diet, try replacing processed carbs with high-quality protein. It can reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke, and you’ll also feel full longer, which can help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Reduce the amount of processed carbohydrates you consume—from foods such as pastries, cakes, pizza, cookies and chips—and replace them with beans, nuts, seeds, peas, low-fat dairy free, and soy and tofu products.
- Snack on nuts and seeds instead of chips, replace a baked dessert with dairy free greek yogurt, or swap out slices of pizza for a grilled seitan and a side of beans.
Protein powders, shakes, and bars
In most cases, consuming the right balance of whole foods each day will provide you with all the nutrients you need, negating the need for extensive use of protein supplements. However, you may benefit from supplementing your diet if you’re:
- Starting or increasing a regular workout program, trying to add muscle, recovering from a sports injury, or find you feel weak while exercising or lifting weights.
- An adult switching to a vegan or plant based diet—eliminating meat, chicken, fish, and even dairy and eggs from your diet.
- A teenager who is growing and exercising a lot.
- An older adult with a small appetite who finds it difficult to eat your protein requirements in whole foods.
Try and get a good source of lean protein with every meal, and you'll definitely see the benefit.