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The Importance of Protein in your Diet

You may love biting into a juicy burger at meal times, but are you giving your body the right nutrition that it needs? A balanced meal comprises a healthy serving of carbohydrates, protein and fats in portions that is appropriate for your age and health. So why is protein so important? Simply put, protein is present in our muscles, skin, hair, tissues and internal organs which is why they are also called ‘the building blocks of life.’ Protein doesn’t just help your body function on a daily basis, it’s also important to help your body fight diseases and to stay healthy. Protein can help heal the body if there is an injury and help you get fitter too. The body also uses protein to aid in building and repairing of cells. It’s no secret that children whose diets include protein in sufficient quantity are much fitter, healthier and stronger.

So what are the best sources of protein? Most protein containing foods either fall into the category of complete proteins or incomplete proteins. ‘Complete proteins’ refer to that group of food products which give your body all nine essential amino acids. Foods such as meat, fish, chicken, eggs, cheese, milk and yoghurt are some good examples of this group. On the other hand, ‘Incomplete proteins’ are not a perfect blend of all 9 amino acids and may be lacking in one or two of them. In fact, most vegetarian sources of protein such as beans, peas, nuts and grains fall into this category. That’s why it’s important for vegetarians to follow a diet which allows them to combine various plant proteins together for maximum benefit. Examples of a complete protein meal include brown rice and beans, bread and cheese or cereal and milk.

So how much of protein do you actually need on a daily basis? That depends entirely on your age, health and medical condition if any. Children and pregnant women will of course need a bigger intake of protein in their diet, but for most adults 2-3 servings of protein a day is enough to meet the body’s requirements, aiming for a daily intake of 2-3 grams of protein per kilo of body weight. A very rough guide is to think about eating protein portions the size of your palm – that may be a steak that size, some sliced chicken on a sandwich etc.  The different properties of protein are also being carefully studied to understand if it can help people eat less and thus enable faster weight loss.  There is  also a significant mass of research indicating that increasing your intake of protein while simultaneously reducing carbohydrates and fats can help in better weight management, but it is always best to ask your doctor for advice before changing your diet pattern. Protein however, has been known to help reduce hunger cravings and keeps you full for longer which is why it’s a good ideal to enjoy a handful of nuts before your next class. You’ll have plenty of energy to move quickly and perform at your best!