If you've been curious about why everyone seems to be singing praises about this nutrient, then you've come to the right place. Protein is not just a buzzword that's thrown around by fitness enthusiasts; it's actually an essential macronutrient that's crucial to the overall health and well-being of our bodies.
From building and repairing tissues, to producing hormones and enzymes, protein plays a vital role in almost every aspect of our bodily functions. That's why it's so important to ensure that we're consuming enough of it on a daily basis. And the good news is that there are so many delicious and easy ways to incorporate protein into our diets - so you don't have to resort to bland and boring meals.
In this beginner's guide, we'll explore the basics of protein, including what it is, why it's so important, how much we need, and some tasty sources of protein that you can start incorporating into your meals right away. Whether you're a seasoned pro at healthy eating or just starting out on your wellness journey, this guide will give you a solid understanding of protein and help you make informed decisions about your diet.
So buckle up and get ready to learn about one of the most important nutrients out there - protein! Trust me, by the end of this guide, you'll be feeling empowered and inspired to make healthier choices for your body. Let's dive in!
So What Exactly is Protein?
Protein is an essential macronutrient for the body. It’s made from twenty types of smaller components called amino acids. These amino acids will link together in various combinations, creating different proteins that serve important roles. There are at least 10,00 different kinds of protein that help our body function the way it does.
There are two types of amino acids: essential and non-essential.
1. Essential amino acids:
- Are those that cannot be made by our bodies naturally. We need to get them through our diet. This means that it's crucial for us to include food sources that are rich in these amino acids. But what are they, you might ask?
- There are nine essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Each of these amino acids plays a specific role in our body, from helping build and repair tissues to regulating our immune system.
2. Non-essential amino acids:
- Are those that our bodies can make on their own. This doesn't mean that we should ignore them, though! Non-essential amino acids are still important for maintaining good health and supporting our body's functions.
- Some examples of non-essential amino acids are alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine. These amino acids are involved in processes such as synthesising hormones and enzymes, and helping our body's cells communicate with each other.
However, there are also conditional amino acids. Typically, they’re not essential but are needed in times of stress and illness.
Why is Protein so Important?
Conversations regarding the health benefits of carbohydrates and fats are usually controversial, but everyone will agree that protein is essential. Here are a few reasons why protein is necessary for the body:
1. Source of energy: Amino acids and glucose are chemically alike, except amino acids contain nitrogen. Because protein takes longer to break down in the body, it provides you with longer-lasting energy.
2. Reduces appetite and hunger levels: Research has indicated that out of the three macronutrients, protein is the most filling. This is because protein leaves you feeling fuller without consuming too much food. It does so by reducing the body’s level of Ghrelin while also boosting the levels of Peptide YY.
- The “hunger hormone” Ghrelin - produced in the gut, is what tells your brain to be hungry and crave food. It increases your appetite and makes you eat more food, absorb more calories and keep fat. The higher the levels of Ghrelin in the body, the more hungry you get and vice versa.
- Peptide YY, on the other hand, is sort of the opposite. Made in the small intestine, it aids in reducing appetite and limiting food intake.
3. Build and repair muscles: Protein is the building block of the muscles. Therefore, consuming enough protein may aid in maintaining your muscle mass as well as promoting the growth of muscles when performing strength training.
4. Good for bones: 50% of bones are made of protein. So it only makes sense that we consume enough protein for good bone health. The bone protein matrix continually undergoes a remodelling process. So a sufficient supply of amino acids is needed to support the formation and maintenance of bones throughout our lives. During childhood and adolescence, protein has an important role in bone mass acquisition. The same goes with seniors - those who consume low protein are more likely to experience muscle weakness, frailty and sarcopenia.
What Happens When You Don't Get Enough Protein?
Now that we know why the body needs it so much, consuming an inadequate amount of protein may cause adverse effects to the body, including:
1. Bigger appetite and increased calorie intake: Protein makes you feel full longer, so constant cravings and insatiable hunger may be caused by a low protein intake. The body makes an effort to restore the protein deficiency by increasing your appetite and egging you to eat more. A study has also indicated that participants who consumed a protein-filled breakfast had lesser cravings for savoury foods - which tend to be high in calories.
2. Skin, hair, and nail issues: Lack of protein can cause issues with your skin, hair, and nails because amino acids are the main building blocks of keratin, elastin, and collagen. Our hair and nails are mainly made up of keratin.
Lack of it may cause:
- thinning of the hair,
- hair loss,
- nail brittleness,
- Beau lines - horizontal grooves across the nails,
- skin rashes,
- flaking or dry skin.
3. Slow healing: Protein is extremely important for body maintenance and repairing the body’s tissues. For example, collagen plays a pivotal role in wound healing; they attract fibroblasts and promotes new collagen to deposit on the wound bed. So, low levels of protein will cause a decrease in collagen production, thus slowing down the healing process of wounds.
This could increase the risk of the wound worsening due to the reduced tensile strength of a closed wound.
4. Loss of muscle mass: Muscle loss is one of the early signs of protein deficiency. The muscles are the body’s largest protein reservoir. Therefore, when there is insufficient protein, the body may take protein from skeletal muscles to preserve more important tissues and body functions. Over time, muscles will then be lost.
Muscle tissues are dynamic - they’re constantly regenerating, breaking down and changing. A low protein diet will cause the muscles to break down at a much faster rate, and this accelerates faster with age. In elderly people, even a slight protein deficiency can cause muscle wasting.
How Do I Get My Daily Dose of Protein?
We can obtain protein through our everyday diet. Different people require different amounts of protein. Regardless, it’s important that everyone eats an optimal amount every day. Sources of protein include:
1. Eggs - especially whole eggs, are packed with nutrients. They’re an excellent source of protein - easy to absorb but also filled with minerals, antioxidants, vitamins, and healthy fats.
Egg whites are almost entirely protein, but the yolk provides an extra nutrient boost. A large egg (50 grams) supplies approximately 6.3 grams of protein.
2. Chicken breasts - great sources of lean protein, packing in not only protein but also zinc, selenium, and various B vitamins. 86 grams of half a chicken breast supplies 26.7 grams of protein.
This versatile ingredient can be cooked and prepared in many different ways.
Consuming almonds may even benefit your overall health, including lowering high blood pressure and lowering heart disease risk factors. About 28.35 grams of almonds supplies approximately 6 grams of protein.
Pistachios are also excellent sources of protein. Packed with minerals, vitamins, and nutrients, including magnesium, fibre, potassium, and phosphorus, they provide about 5.73 grams of protein per 28.35 grams.
Shop our Amazin’ and Protein-Rich Nuts!
Protein powder is an easy and convenient alternative to getting high-quality and complete protein. It’s especially handy when you’re in a rush or short of time. Protein powders are available in different flavours and can be prepared in many different ways.
The dietary supplement can be made of animal-based or plant-based protein. Whey protein and plant-based protein are both great sources of protein. Both contain a similar amount of proteins, averaging 20-30 grams per serving. Ultimately, the perfect choice for you depends on your preference and lifestyle. But here’s why we think plant-based protein is the way to go:
- It’s gentler on the digestive system: Plant-based proteins are free of dairy and lactose, making them suitable for everyone, especially those with Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or those with dietary restrictions. Our brand new Plant-Based Protein Blend contains green tea extract, which is known to stimulate the digestive system.
- Has a higher nutrient density: Compared to animal-based proteins like whey, plant-based protein is rich in fibre and antioxidants. Animal-based proteins contain little to none of these nutrients. Our Plant-Based Protein Blend uses pea-protein isolate, which is proven to be rich in iron. Not only that, it provides the body with all the essential amino acids and contains gut-healthy probiotics.
Give the love your body deserves by feeding it with sufficient amounts of protein.
Remember, ”when life gives you lemons, ask for something higher in protein.”
- Advanced Therapies for Wound Management: The Role of Collagen. (n.d.). WoundSource.
- Arnarson, A. (2017, October 31). 8 Signs and Symptoms of Protein Deficiency. Healthline.
- Danahy, A. (2018, December 14). Can Eating Enough Protein Reverse Muscle Wasting? Healthy Eating.
- Gunnars, K. B. (2019, March 8). 10 Science-Backed Reasons to Eat More Protein. Healthline.
- Halton, T. L., & Hu, F. B. (2004). The Effects of High Protein Diets on Thermogenesis, Satiety and Weight Loss: A Critical Review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23(5), 373–385.
- Hoertel, H. A., Will, M. J., & Leidy, H. J. (2014). A randomized crossover, pilot study examining the effects of a normal protein vs. high protein breakfast on food cravings and reward signals in overweight/obese “breakfast skipping”, late-adolescent girls. Nutrition Journal, 13(1).
- Kubala, J., & Gunnars, K. (2022, January 6). 16 Delicious High Protein Foods. Healthline.
- Mackay, E. (2019). The Power of Protein in Wound Healing. Wound Care Canada, 17(1).
- Tips For Strong Bones – How Protein Plays A Part In Your Bone Health. (2017, September 14). H-Wave.
- Vaughn, A., & Sivamani, R. (n.d.). 6 signs & symptoms of deficient protein intake. LEARNSKIN.