What is Protein?
Protein is a macronutrient – or one of the major classes of nutrients, alongside carbohydrates, fats, and others.
Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids, which are essential for our bodies to create building blocks from.
When we eat protein, our body breaks it down into amino acids that can then join up to create others which are essential for various bodily functions, tasks and structures.
Protein is generally found in a lot of animal products such as meat, fish, eggs and milk.
However, there are also plenty of plant-based proteins such as beans and legumes that are important to incorporate into our diets.
If you’re choosing proteins from animals, it’s always best to choose lean cuts of meat or fish to make sure that the fat content isn’t too high.
Although animal products are great for protein, they can also contain higher amounts of fat than other foods.
You might also think of protein in the form of a powder, which is usually made into a shake with milk or water.
These are most often used by people on crash diets or those that are wanting to build their muscle mass by going to the gym and using weights.
Most people following a weight management program shouldn’t need to use protein shakes in their diet, as it could mean you consuming unnecessary excess calories.
In the average UK diet, protein provides us with about 16% of our total energy.
The rest comes from carbohydrates, fats, fruit and vegetables.
Most of our body’s protein can be found in muscles, blood, and the skin, but it’s also in every cell in the body – regardless of function.
In other words, it’s a vital macronutrient that helps our bodies to stay healthy and working.
Why is protein important?
Protein is important for humans as it is part of every single cell in our bodies, and is needed for pretty much every bodily process that we carry out.
It’s absolutely essential for building muscle mass (something that’s important when you begin to include more physical activity into your daily life).
Protein is also vital for the growth and repair of cells.
All in all, protein is a pretty big deal when it comes to nutrition.
It’s important that we eat enough protein in our diets so that our bodies can make more of the proteins (or amino acids) that we need to stay healthy.
However, it’s also important to eat certain types of protein depending on the amino acids in them.
There are around 20 amino acids in total, and eight of these are essential for us in our diet. These include:
From these eight amino acids, our bodies can produce everything they need once the proteins have been broken down.
Luckily, most animal proteins contain all of the amino acids that we need.
However, those that eat a strictly plant-based diet may need to vary the types of protein that they use in order to make sure that they’re consuming the eight essential amino acids.
Some may choose to use protein powders or supplements, but for most people, it should be manageable to consume enough of the right proteins without having to resort to supplements.
In fact, if you don’t eat enough protein, you can end up quite poorly, as not only would you end up losing muscle mass, but a protein deficiency can also lead to anaemia and slow metabolism – both of which can make you feel sluggish and tired.
How much protein do I need?
Generally, it’s advised that adults should eat around 0.75g of protein per kilogram of body weight.
The good news is that most UK diets include more than this, so the chances are, you’re already eating enough protein for your muscles and cells.
However, some people may need to take a look at incorporating more protein into their diets, such as those that follow a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.
Luckily, there are plenty of plant-based proteins that are available such as beans, peas, lentils, tofu, and various fruits and vegetables that are rich in protein.
According to the recommended daily amount of protein, if you weigh 200lbs (roughly 90kg or just over 14 stones), you would need to eat 67.5g of protein to make sure that you’re eating enough for your own individual needs.
This doesn’t just mean eating 67.5g of chicken breast though, for example.
Each type of food contains different amounts of protein, and it’s the actual protein that you need.
To get 67.5g of protein from a cooked chicken breast, you would need to eat roughly 225g of it in a day.
We wouldn’t recommend sticking to just one source of protein, though.
We need protein from all kinds of different foods, so it’s a good idea to take a look at what you eat in a day and work out the nutritional values of the meals and snacks that you eat.
You might find that you’re already eating enough protein from varied sources, or you might need to start adding more plant-based proteins to your diet in place of meat a few times a week.
Which foods are high in protein?
As with all other macronutrients, some foods contain more protein than others.
This is good for us as it means that we have enough different foods available to us to provide us with all of our dietary needs.
However, if you’ve been advised to increase your protein intake (as many people on weight management plans are), you may be wondering which foods are rich in protein so that you’re able to incorporate more of them into your diet.
Generally speaking, lean cuts of meat and fish, as well as some other animal products like eggs and milk seem to have the most protein per gram.
However, there are other important proteins that you should also include in your diet that come from plant sources, as beans, legumes, peas and lentils are all good protein-rich foods that can also provide you with fibre.
Plant-based proteins are generally lower in calories and fats than those that are derived from animals, but they also tend to have lower amounts of protein per gram.
However, they’re still important additions to your diet and there are many tasty recipes and cooking ideas that incorporate plant-based proteins.
We’ve taken a look at some of the best foods that you can eat to increase your protein intake.
Please note that these are approximate values and the calorie content also depends on how the food is prepared.
For example, frying will add extra calories to the meal as opposed to grilling or boiling.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you may want to look at other sources of plant proteins so that you can incorporate them into some recipes or snacks.
For example, including some edamame beans into your salads could help to boost your protein intake significantly compared to leaving them out of your meal.
How much protein is too much?
Whilst there’s no hard or fast rule for having too much protein, it’s generally acknowledged that you shouldn’t really be consuming more than 2g of protein per kg of body weight per day.
If we use the example from earlier of someone that weighs around 90kg, the maximum protein intake that would be expected is 180g per day.
To achieve this, you’d need to eat around 600g of cooked, plain chicken breast (as an example).
Most people don’t include too much protein in their diet.
Foods that are rich in protein tend to be incredibly filling and keep you feeling satisfied for a while after eating, so it’s not usually a common problem to be consuming more protein than what’s recommended.
Some people may be following a high-protein diet (for example, a bodybuilder, or someone that’s working on building muscle mass), but, most people don’t need to do this for weight management.
The main thing is making sure that you’re eating enough of the foods that you need without consuming too many calories (and most of the time, eating too much protein can also result in the over-consumption of energy).
If you think you may be eating too much protein, it may be worth keeping a food diary to track everything you eat for a few weeks.
This can help you to identify where you could cut down on certain foods that you might be eating too much of, as well as helping you see what you aren’t getting enough of in your diet.
Fine-tuning your meal plans to suit your nutritional needs can often help with weight management, particularly if you’ve been consuming too many calories.
Is protein good for weight loss?
Foods that are rich in protein are generally recommended to anyone that’s following a weight management plan.
These types of foods are more likely to help you feel fuller for longer, and they can decrease cravings and snacking due to the satiety value of protein.
However, we would always recommend sticking to guideline daily amounts that have been set by the NHS and government in order to stay healthy.
Though we recognise that there may be patients that need to follow a special diet.
If this applies to you, you should speak to your GP or dietician about what you should be eating to get the best possible outcome from your weight management program.
It’s usually recommended that you substitute some dietary fat with protein if you’re trying to lose weight.
This is because fats are often calorie-dense and can provide a lot of calories in just a small amount of food, whereas you can eat much more low fat, protein-rich foods, often for fewer calories.
More often than not, this helps you to feel fuller for longer, and when used alongside semaglutide, it may help you get the most out of your medication.