eating simply, simply eating: why we need protein


Protein: important for growth, tissue repair, immune function, preserving muscles, making essential hormones and enzymes. It is a vital building block for bones, cartilage, skin and blood. Yet it is the source of considerable debate amongst nutritionists and dietitians. High-protein diets have become all the rage, with their efficacy and safety still being studied. Some experts support them, others do not.

What is protein?

A macronutrient, protein is composed of small units – amino acids. After water, protein makes up the greatest part of body weight. Unbalanced food intake can make the body protein deficient, meaning the body will draw on its own tissue, including denuding healthy muscles, to meet its need for amino acids. As protein is essentially chains of amino acids linked together, they are the key building block of the body while also enabling micronutrients to correctly perform their function and contribution to assisting the body. Many amino acids are essential as our body cannot synthesise them and so have to be part of a daily nutrient-dense meal plan.

Amino acids are classified into three groups:

  • Essential – can’t be made by the body therefore have to be supplied by food.
  • Non-essential – made by the body from essential amino acids, but also obtained from food.
  • Conditional – needed in time of illness, trauma and stress.

(When the body experiences periods of trauma non-essential amino acids become conditionally acids.)

Why it’s important what type of protein is consumed

The type of protein we consume is important for overall health, while deficiency can cause muscle loss, fatigue and lethargy. Aim for complete protein sources (proteins that contain all essential amino acids) that are low in processed carbohydrates and high in nutrients, such as fish, poultry, lean meat, eggs and dairy. Processed meats such as sausages and deli meats have been linked to colon cancer, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and should be consumed rarely. Other sources of incomplete protein (many plant-based proteins do not contain all the amino acids) are legumes, nuts, seeds and grains.

Always try to get your protein from foods rather than protein shake supplements

If you eat more protein than your body immediately needs, the excess protein is converted into energy by the body for immediate use or stored for later as fat. The amount of protein a person should consume depends on age, sex and physical activity, with some studies suggesting protein should be linked to physical activity, but more research is needed. It appears getting enough protein at adequate intervals seems to help muscle mass and overall health. However, research on the optimal amount of protein we should consume for overall health is far from settled.

Healthy adults lose between 3-8% lean body mass per decade, accelerated by lack of exercise and poor nutrition. Adequate amounts of high-quality protein are therefore important for older adults to prevent or slow down sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss).

Just Routine is our real food app. Designed to be inclusive, to avoid cutting out macro or micro nutrients from our eating regimes, six key food groups lie at its core: Protein, Carbohydrates, Legumes, Vegetables, Fruits, Fats. It’s about eating simply, simply eating.

Note: If you think you have a protein deficiency speak to your doctor or a registered dietitian who can give appropriate advice. If you are debating a high-protein diet for weight loss consult a nutritionist or registered dietitian first.

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Iris is the founder of No Targets Just Routine. She has researched food since 2009 and believes “Happiness is real food shared with loved ones.”

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