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Protein - Essential for Life

Protein - Essential for Life

by Alison Mitchell

Protein is completely vital for the human physiology because it supplies the body with Amino Acids. Amino Acids make and repair body tissues including muscle, skin, bone and organs, nails, hair. They also coordinate hormone production, regulate metabolism, build enzymes and make antibodies and immune system molecules.

Sources of protein

Animal: Fish, eggs, meat, poultry and dairy products
Legumes: Lentils, soy, kidney beans, lima beans, chick peas, mung beans, adzuki beans, broad beans
Nuts: Almonds, brazils, cashews, walnuts, pecans, hazel nuts, pistachios, macadamia
Seeds: Sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, flaxseed, linseeds
Grains: Brown rice, oats, wheat germ, corn, millet, rye, barley, buckwheat and quinoa

Complete Protein

A Complete Protein is a food that contains all 8 Essential Amino Acids. As these cannot be made by our bodies, we need them daily in our diet. Animal sources of protein (such meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy and eggs) are called ‘complete’ protein as these contain all 8 amino acids.

Protein Combining

When using legumes, grains, nuts and seeds as a protein source, it is essential to combine these food groups to gain all 8 essential amino acids. This is particularly important for vegetarians. While it is best to combine these proteins with each meal, consuming a combination of these protein sources throughout the day is fine. Examples of combining protein to obtain a complete source of protein include:
- Rice and lentils/bean casserole
- Hummus (chick peas and sesame seeds)
- Porridge and soy milk
- ABC spread (a nut spread containing almonds, brazil nuts and cashew nuts)
- Rice and miso/soy products

Protein Requirements

Amino Acids need to be replaced daily in the diet as they are used daily. Aim to eat protein three times a day. It is recommended to consume approximately 60-75 g/day. As a proportion of the diet, protein should be around 20-30%. Incorporating protein into every meal, as well as snacking on protein rich foods, helps to balance blood sugar and energy levels.

Protein Estimations for typical Foods

The data in the following Tables give you an idea of how much protein is supplied by your diet. You will note that there is less protein in food from plant sources than in food from animal sources. When doing your calculations on how much protein you obtain from your diet aim for 60-75g protein daily.

Animal Sources of Protein

Quantity of FoodUsable Protein
120g lamb or lean beef20g
120g Chicken20g
140g fresh fish20g
100g canned tuna25g
1 cup cottage cheese20g
1 egg5g
30g hard cheese7-10g
60g ricotta cheese7-10g
half cup yoghurt7-10g
1 cup whole milk, 2 % fat8g

Plant Sources of Protein

Quantity of FoodUsable Protein
25g nuts (almonds)10g
135g cooked legumes (approx)20g
28g sunflower seeds6.5g
1 cup oatmeal6g
Burgen soy and linseed bread (2 slices)12-14g
90g tofu10g
1 cup soy milk5-10g

Dangers and Symptoms of incorrect protein intake

Protein in ExcessProtein Deficiency
Tooth decay
Creates undesirable end products which the liver and kidneys have to filter - can lead to kidney and liver problems / diseaseFrequent infections such as cold and flu
Fluid imbalance / Constipation - protein metabolism requires 7 time more water than carbohydrates.Tiredness and lethargy
Increased risk of Osteoporosis – blood becomes highly acidic with a high protein diet so calcium is leeched from bones to neutralise the blood – leading to weaker bonesIrritability, mood changes, depression
Strong body odour as protein is high in nitrogen (smell of ammonia)Tooth decay
Poor wound healing – dry and flaky skin
Fluid retention / Diarrhoea
Bloating and poor digestion

Body builders who take excess protein to encourage muscle growth need to be careful and watch for symptoms of excess protein intake.

Understanding Protein Better

In order to best understand the role of protein in your diet and how to obtain optimum health for your particular constitution it may be necessary to consult a nutririonist or naturopath. This article is intended for general information as a guide only, and not a substitute for professional advice. Contact Alison Mitchell.

Health Dimensions ©2004