Protein foods contain amino acids, which are needed to help your body repair cells and make new ones.
Some protein foods contain all the amino acids you need and are known as complete protein. Animal sources of protein tend to be complete, while proteins from fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts tend to be missing one or more essential amino acids.
How much protein you need depends on your age, size and how active you are. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need more, as do athletes.
Recommended intakes vary, with some nutrition experts suggesting you work out your needs by multiplying your body weight in kilograms by 0.8.
For example, if you're 55kg, you need at least 44g of protein a day; if you're 70kg it's 60g, and if you're 95kg, 76g per day is the minimum.
Amounts of protein found in food varies hugely.
Here's an example of some common foods and their approximate protein content:
- 85g of steak = 30g of protein
- 85g of chicken breast = 26g
- 85g of salmon = 20g
- 1 cup dry beans = 16g
- 225g of yoghurt = 11g
- 28g of almonds = 9g
- 100g of cooked lentils = 9g
- 1 cup of milk = 8g
- 1 slice of cheddar cheese = 7g
- 6 medium cooked prawns = 6g
- 85g of tofu = 6g
- 1 large egg (approx. 50g) = 6g
If you are a vegetarian, the best sources of protein are:
- Tempeh (made from soybeans)
- Beans (ie kidney or haricot)
Protein is becoming more frequently hailed as the unsung hero of weight-loss. It can help you to shed kilos because it makes you feel fuller for longer and your body has to use more energy to digest protein.
It also doesn't affect blood sugar the way carbohydrates do. If you eat a lot of carbohydrates but not much protein, your blood sugar levels can soar, leading to metabolic dysfunction. This is associated with weight-gain, as well as health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.
Eating more protein and fewer carbohydrates can stabilise your blood sugar, which lowers the risk of these illnesses and makes it easier to lose weight.
While protein is essential, it is possible to overdo it. A diet very high in meat can contribute to high cholesterol levels and diseases such as gout. A high-protein diet can also put your kidneys under extra strain.
You should eat a good mix of proteins to not only get all the amino acids you need, but to gain the other health benefits these particular foods contain.
Image credit: Rob Shaw/ bauersyndication.com.au.