Today, many of us see high-protein foods as a simple way to support a healthy, active lifestyle, so we’re sprinkling protein powders into our smoothies, tucking into protein-boosted ready meals and high-protein energy bars.
Protein is a macronutrient, needed by our bodies for a number of essential functions, including the repair and growth of cells and tissues. Indeed, much of the body is made up of proteins, including muscles, bones, ligaments, blood and skin.
Our enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters are all made of proteins too, so the protein in your diet isn’t just important for tissue repair, but is crucial for fuelling cell communication inside the body.Twenty different amino acids form the building blocks of protein. Some of these amino acids are created inside the body, while nine can only be found in foods. These last are called ‘essential amino acids’, and include tryptophan and lysine.2 Foods that offer all nine essential amino acids in roughly balanced proportions are called ‘complete proteins’, and include eggs, fish, dairy and a few plant foods, for example quinoa and soya.3
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A severe protein deficiency can cause a type of malnutrition called kwashiorkor. It’s more common in developing countries and is very rare in the UK but can occur in the UK, in extreme circumstances such as in people who are coping with severe long-term illnesses or eating a very restricted diets.Symptoms include:8
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Experts have pointed to a range of health issues that can be caused by a high-protein diet, such as:
Make sure you also check the food labels on protein shakes and supplements, as they may contain added fat and sugar – so more calories.
If you’re struggling with your appetite, perhaps due to age or illness, a protein shake or bar could help, but experts agree that most of us should be able to get all the protein we need from a balanced diet.
Eat a range of lean proteins, including plant proteins , like tofu, beans, pulses, fish, eggs, seeds, nuts, quinoa, seaweed and soya – and that way you’ll be meeting not just your protein requirements, but getting your fill of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, too.
1. Food Manufacture. Sports nutrition: not just about protein. Available from: https://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk/Article/2017/11/23/Sports-nutrition-market-moves-ever-more-mainstream
2. Medical News Today. How much protein does a person need? Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/196279.php
3. As above
4. British Nutrition Foundation. Protein. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html?start=2
5. BBC iWonder. Should you worry about how much protein you eat? Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z8899j6
6. As above
7. As Source 4
8. NHS Choices. Kwashiorkor. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/kwashiorkor/
9. Li P, et al. Amino acids and immune function. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17403271
10. Delimaris I. Adverse Effects Associated with Protein Intake above the Recommended Dietary Allowance for Adults. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4045293/
11. As above
12. Hernandez-Alonso P, et al. High dietary protein intake is associated with an increased body weight and total death risk. Available from: https://www.clinicalnutritionjournal.com/article/S0261-5614(15)00091-6/fulltext