THE POWER OF PROTEIN
Protein is the building block needed to help repair cells and to make new ones.
But there is much controversy and confusion over how much protein you should be consuming for optimal health, what happens if you consume too much protein from red meat, and how to diversify protein intake for optimal health.
IS THE REFERENCE INTAKE ENOUGH?
Deciding how much protein you need to consume daily is a controversial subject. According to the NHS, the Reference Intake (RI) (general guidance for how much an average person needs) is 50g of protein per person per day. This would represent approximately 10% of daily caloric intake (depending on body weight, activity level, and other factors). According to research this amount is insufficient.
BENEFITS OF EATING MORE PROTEIN
Studies of type 2 diabetic men have shown that consumption of a diet with 30% of calories coming from protein, showed an increase in insulin sensitivity (insulin resistance contributes to the Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis).
Improved preservation of lean muscle mass
In a 2015 study of 60 obese older adults, it was shown that consumption of a diet of 18-25% of calories from protein resulted in an improved level of lean body mass retention when compared with a diet of 10-12% of calories from protein.
Lean muscle mass is essential for maintaining healthy weight over our lifetime. As we get older we naturally lose lean muscle mass, making diversifying protein sources an effective tool in mitigating the ageing process.
Improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels
An effective way to increase your protein intake is to up the protein at the expense of carbohydrate consumption.
According to Omniheart (Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Heart Health), a diet that substituted some carbohydrates for healthy protein (or healthy fats) was more effective at lowering blood pressure and LDL (unhealthy) cholesterol levels than a similar diet with higher carbohydrate intake.
By increasing your daily protein intake above the RI, you can help improve body composition through:
- Improved insulin sensitivity (improved insulin sensitivity enables your body to more efficiently utilise fat as opposed to storing it)
- Improved retention of lean muscle mass, as well as
- Lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.
RED ALERT FOR RED MEAT?
There is a body of evidence suggesting that high intake of protein from animals is associated with increased bone resorption, potentially leading to increased risk of osteoporosis. This is because a diet high in animal protein increases acidity in the bloodstream. The body attempts to counteract this acidity by extracting calcium from bone, aka bone resorption.
While the concept of bone resorption is controversial, it does support the case for diversifying protein sources to include vegetables as well as fish.
While there is little justification for increasing the volume of red meat consumed in a healthy diet, there is growing justification to diversify into alternative sources of protein, specifically fish and vegetables.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health:
- a 6-oz porterhouse steak is a great source of protein (40g), but it’s also a source high in saturated fat.
- A 6oz portion of wild salmon contains 34g of protein, as well as being low in saturated fats and high in Omega-3 fatty acids.
- 1 cup of cooked lentils has 18g of protein, 15g of fibre and virtually no saturated fat.
Diverse sources of protein lead to diverse consumption of required nutrients
By choosing a variety of protein sources, you increase your opportunities to consume different required nutrients, all of which lead to a healthy and happy body.
Balance fat intake by adding fish, nuts and seeds to the mix
To clarify, saturated fat is not the root of all evil. In fact, saturated fat is an important part of an overall fat-balancing strategy for optimal health, when combined with equal amounts of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
By adding fish, nuts and seeds to your diet, you already start to balance your fats out (Omega 3’s are a polyunsaturated fat). Balancing out your fat intake, leads to better health. No one is saying to banish red meat form your diet entirely, just include a variety of fish and vegetables.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, a 20-year study of 80,000 women found that low-carbohydrate diets that were high in vegetable fat and protein had a 30% lower risk of heart disease. What’s even more crucial about this study is that the risk of heart disease was not mitigated when the diet was low in carbohydrate and high in animal fats and protein.
Protein is an essential part of our diet and our long-term health. By consuming a diverse range of protein options as well as consuming more than the RI, you can decrease risk of disease as well as mitigate the ageing process.
DAILY PROTEIN CONSUMPTION
To assist you in simply calculating how much protein to consume daily, download this easy to use Portion Control Guide. Your hands become the measuring device, making the process simpler and easier to manage.
ABOUT JAMES STARING
James Staring is a personal trainer based in Clapham. James focuses on building the best version of you and inspiring you to new levels of health and fitness – regardless of your current ability or age.
James is always keen to share the tools he uses to assist others in achieving their goals and has featured in publications such as Your Fitness, Healthy and Hello! magazines.