Day 4 of our 30-day nutrition challenge is to check you’re eating enough protein. Protein:
- Keeps you fuller for longer
- Reduces the snack cravings
- Essential for immunity
- Repairs muscles
- Builds muscles, bones, hair, nails
- Makes enzymes and hormones
Protein is made up of 22 amino acids, 9 of which are essential meaning we can’t make them so should get them from our diet. Meat, fish, dairy, eggs, soy, quinoa are all complete sources of protein (they each have the 9 essential amino acids). Nuts, seeds, peas, beans, lentils, grains are incomplete sources of protein but when combining at least two of these sources you get complete protein (also explained in our Bitesize Basics webinar).
Red meat is a good source of B12 and iron. It should preferably be lean to reduce the amount of saturated fat and eaten less than twice a week. The advice is also to reduce processed meats (bacon, sausages, salami, pate, prepacked ham etc..).
Fish should be eaten at least twice per week – one of which should be oily (salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, pilchards, trout). Tuna is not an oily fish and it’s suggested we should eat no more than 4 tins per week if you are pregnant due to the mercury content. White fish (cod, haddock, plaice) are low in fat and a good protein alternative to red meat. They have some omega-3 content but not as much as oily fish. Shellfish (prawns, mussels, scallops, squid) are also low in fat and a good source of iodine, selenium, calcium and copper. If you’re not keen on eating fish but would like to take a fish oil supplement it is recommended women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should avoid cod liver oil supplements which are high in vitamin A and harmful to unborn babies. More information about the benefits of omega-3 are found in our Brain Food webinar.
Eggs are an excellent source of protein, vitamins D, A, B2, B12, folate and iodine and although there are no guidelines for frequency we suggest approx 6 per week. The advice to exclude eggs from your diet if you have high cholesterol is no longer valid.
Beans, lentils, peas are good sources of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals and are low in fat. Pulses can be added to soups, casseroles, bolognaise dishes to reduce the animal protein content, whilst reducing the cost of the meal and fat content. 3 heaped tablespoons (80g) counts as one of your 5-a-day. Nuts are good sources of protein but are high in fat so suggest no more than a handful per day.
How much protein?
The Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) is 0.75g per kg body weight (e.g. 70kg/11 stone = 52.5g protein per day). If you exercise regularly, are pregnant, breastfeeding or are a growing child you may need additional. If you eat more than you use though your body will store the additional protein as fat. The protein content of some common foods:
- Protein content (per 100g):
- Chicken breast grilled (32g)
- Beef steak lean grilled (31g)
- Tinned tuna (23.5g)
- Salmon grilled (24.2g)
- Cod grilled (20.8g)
- Chicken egg (12g)
- Whole milk (3.3g)
- Semi-skimmed milk (3.4g)
- Skimmed milk (3.4g)
- Cheddar cheese (25.4g)
- Whole milk yogurt (5.7g)
- Low fat plain yogurt (4.8g)
- Red lentils (7.6g)
- Chickpeas (8.4g)
- Kidney beans (6.9g)
- Baked beans (5.2g)
- Tofu (8.1g)
- Wheat flour, brown (12.6g)
- Rice, easy cook (2.6g)
- Oatmeal (11.2g)
- Pasta, cooked (6.6g)
- Almonds (21.1g)
- Walnuts (14.7g)
Source: British Nutrition Foundation
Tinned, frozen or fresh?
Tinned salmon can often be better than fresh salmon – fresh salmon is often farmed, compared to wild tinned salmon which had lots of space to swim and eats natural foods, so don’t be afraid to buy tinned wild salmon which is especially great for making fish cakes. Where possible limiting tinned tuna which isn’t a source of omega-3, and swapping it for tinned sardines which are a better source of good fats (omega-3 and vitamin D). There’s very little omega-3 in tinned tuna and a higher risk of mercury content. Read more about whether tinned, frozen or fresh is best in our day 21 article.
If you’d like to find out more tips to improve your health check out our webinars and Bitesize Nutrition podcast. If you’re new to podcasts you can listen free without registration on your phone or PC by clicking on the podcast link in this paragraph. You can also listen to Bitesize Nutrition on iTunes & Spotify.
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- The information in this article is for educational purposes and should not replace medical advice.
- The information is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition.
- If you have a diagnosed medical condition, you should consult a doctor before making any major changes to your diet, and;
- Some supplements may interact with medications and you should check with your GP before commencing any supplement programme.