The Importance of Protein

Linseed & Almond crackersIn my kinesiology practice, I often see clients who eat very little or almost no protein at all. We have adopted a diet (in the UK and other so-called ‘developed’ countries) which consists mostly of cereal grains (primarily refined wheat) and dairy products. These are pretty limited in terms of proteins (and other nutrients) and in any case can cause digestive disturbances through the anti-nutrients (or allergens) they contain.

Protein is the best fuel for your body, unless you’re an athlete – in which case you might need more immediate energy in the form of glucose and a high glycaemic boost for post-training recovery. Most of us, however, lead sedentary lives and don’t meet anything like the guideline 2.5 hours per week of regular exercise such as walking. In any case, protein can be converted to glucose by our bodies to provide energy to every cell, including the brain. Our bodies are constantly breaking down and synthesising proteins as and when they’re required and any excess is simply passed out in urine. We need proteins to maintain muscle mass, grow and repair cells, produce hormones, enzymes, antibodies, skin (collagen) and hair (keratin). Some amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) cannot be synthesised and have to be obtained from food.

The best news, however, in the increasingly obese world we live in, is that eating protein leaves you feeling fuller than any other type of food (or macro nutrient). Nutritional scientists at The Rowett Institute of Aberdeen University recommend a diet which consists of 30% protein, 30% fat and 40% carbohydrates – for weight loss or maintenance. Don’t forget, fat provides an average of 9 calories per gramme, compared to 4 calories from protein or carbohydrates – in other words you need less than half the actual quantity.

Meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds are all great sources of protein and give us plenty of fats too – unfortunately for vegetarians plant sources are ‘incomplete’ (they don’t contain all the amino acids we need). Vegetarians must combine protein sources to make them complete – a great example is rice and peas(beans).

My clients look and feel so much better just by increasing the protein content of their diet (and thereby the fat content too). Some people have difficulty initially producing the digestive enzymes and stomach acid we need to digest and break down protein-rich foods. In which case, this supplement called Nutrigest tests really well.