The Importance of Protein
Protein is an important macronutrients, which means our body needs it in large amounts in order to function well. The most common benefit of protein that we are all aware of is that it helps build muscle, but the role of protein goes beyond that. Proteins are made up of amino acids which are like building blocks. These amino acids can be arranged in different combinations, which gives protein many different functions.
Benefits of Protein
Here are some of the other roles that protein has:
- Forms the structure of skeleton, body tissues, skin, and cells
- This is important for creating and maintaining healthy hair, skin, and nails
- Allows for the growth and repair of muscle and tissue, to maintain muscle mass and strength
- These group of proteins are called “transport proteins” and different nutrients can attach to them so that they can be delivered all over the body where required
- For example, hemoglobin is a protein that carries oxygen from our lungs to our body tissues
- Sends messages between our cells, organs, and tissues so that specific responses can occur
- For example, insulin is a small protein that helps regulate our blood sugar levels, it signals our cells to take in blood sugar to use as energy
- Proteins form antibodies that protect our bodies from harmful bacteria or viruses, and help our bodies fight off infection more effectively
- Enzymes are proteins that allow biochemical and metabolic reactions such as digestion, energy production, and muscle contraction to occur
- For example, lactase is an enzyme that allows our body to digest the milk sugar lactose
- Protein is the most satiating nutrient, and it also takes longer to digest so having enough protein can help you feel full, satiated and less likely to overeat
How much protein do we need?
The amount of protein we require daily depends on our age, body weight, and activity levels.
Singapore’s Health Promotion Board provides a general daily guideline of 0.8g protein per kg body weight for adults aged 18-49. This recommendation increases to 1.2g/kg body weight for older adults (50 and above) to account for the onset of sarcopenia (muscle loss) to minimise the loss of strength and decrease the risk of falls and fractures.
So if you’re a 35-year old adult weighing 65kg, your daily protein requirement is approximately:
65kg x 0.8g/kg = 52g
However, if you are someone who exercises regularly, your protein requirements will definitely be higher, especially if your goal is to increase muscle mass. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that active individuals consume a range of 1.2-1.7g/kg body weight.
There are both animal and plant-based sources of protein. Animal sources of protein (and some plant sources) are “complete proteins” as they contain all the 9 essential amino acids that our body cannot produce and have to be obtained from the diet.
1. Meat and poultry
These are one of the highest sources of protein. However, red meat in excess is often associated with cardiovascular issues. Try to stick to 1 to 2 servings of red meat a week and always choose the best quality - antibiotic and hormone free, and grass fed if possible!
Lean beef, 100g: 23.8g protein
Chicken breast, 100g: 31.1g protein
Egg, 1 whole: 6g protein
2. FishAnother good source of protein to include in your diet. Oily fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel also provide the benefits of essential omega fatty acids which are heart healthy and are important for our brain and eye health. At least 2-3 servings of oily fish weekly can provide the required intake of omega fatty acids.
Salmon, 100g: 21.9g protein
Canned tuna in water, 100g: 23.7g protein
Mackerel, 100g: 19g protein
3. Milk and other dairy products
Dairy products are also complete proteins and are a good source of calcium for the maintenance of strong bones. It’s best to go for whole dairy products as reduced fat products often have added sugar to make up for the lack of taste when fat is removed. Quality is also important - try to have organic dairy if possible.
Whole milk, 250ml: 8g protein
Plain greek yogurt, 150g: 14.5g protein
Cottage cheese, 100g: 11g protein
4. Soy products
Soybeans are one of the few plant sources of proteins that contain all of the 9 essential amino acids.
However, soy products should be consumed in moderation. As soy contains isoflavones - a type of plant hormone that has similar functions to the hormone estrogen that we have in our bodies, consuming too much soy products might have an impact on our hormones. For individuals who are particularly sensitive to soy products, or are taking thyroid medications, it might be helpful to manage soy intake and figure out which quantities work best.
Tofu, 170g: 13.6g protein
Tempeh, 100g: 19g protein
Edamame, 120g: 12.7g protein
Unsweetened soy milk, 250ml: 10g protein
5. Nuts and seeds
Besides being a good source of healthy fats, nuts and seeds also contain an adequate amount of protein. They can be enjoyed in a variety of ways - as nut butters, ground into flours, or simply on their own.
Cashews, 30g: 5.1g protein
Almonds, 30g: 6.4g protein
Pistachios, 30g: 6.2g protein
Pumpkin seeds, 30g: 7.4g protein
Sunflower seeds, 30g: 6.8g protein
Chia seeds, 30g: 5.1g protein
Legumes are another good source of vegetarian protein. They are also packed with fibre and other nutrients like B vitamins and iron. Though they are not complete proteins, the amino acids that are missing in legumes are found in grains, so they can be paired to complement each other. (Plant based diet recommendations)
Kidney beans, 120g: 9.5g protein
Black beans, 120g: 10.7g protein
Chickpeas, 120g: 6.4g protein
Lentils, 120g: 9.2g protein
Peanuts, 30g: 7g protein
7. Gluten free grains
High-protein grains allow you to have a variety of plant based protein while also providing fibre, complex carbohydrates, and other vitamins and minerals. Gluten free grains are complementary proteins to legumes as the amino acids that are missing in grains are found in legumes. Quinoa (move up) however, is the only gluten free pseudocereal (it’s technically a seed but eaten like a grain!) that has all 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein!
Quinoa, cooked, 100g: 4.4g protein
Amaranth, cooked, 100g: 3.8g protein
Brown rice, cooked, 100g: 2.6g protein
GF rolled oats, 100g: 12g protein
With many different sources of both animal and plant-based protein, meeting your protein needs through food first is definitely manageable whether your goal is maintenance or increasing muscle mass.
At The Whole Kitchen, we strongly believe that high quality protein is an important part of a well-balanced diet. We use only cage-free eggs in our baked goods and organic cage-free chicken at our bakery cafés. We also have a variety of sweet and savoury high protein snacks that can help fill in the gaps throughout your day to make sure you meet your protein needs.
- Nut Mixes: A blend of premium nuts flavoured with fresh herbs and spices.
- Pepper Pepitas: Tasty and crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds that pack a peppery punch.
- Grain Free Granolas: A blend of premium nuts and seeds. Enjoy it with greek yoghurt or coconut for a high protein breakfast or snack!
- Energy Pearls: Delicious raw balls made with nuts and dried fruits. Great for a quick energy boost on the go or a snack before or after your workout.
- Burke, L. and Deakin, V. (2015) Clinical Sports Nutrition. 5th Edition. McGraw-Hill Education.
- Health Hub (2020) Older Adults Need More Protein. Available at: https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/2076/seniors-need-more-protein (Accessed: 15 January 2022).
- Cataldo, D. and Blair, M. (2015) ‘Protein Intake For Optimal Muscle Maintenance’, American College of Sports Medicine. Available at: https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/files-for-resource-library/protein-intake-for-optimal-muscle-maintenance.pdf.
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