Proteins are made up of groups of joined up molecules called amino acids. Vital for life, over 300 have been found in nature, however, only 20 of these make up the proteins we use in our bodies. Many of these 20 amino acids can be made in our bodies, but 9 of them cannot, these are known as the essential amino acids that we need to get from our diet.
What does protein do for our bodies?
Proteins are essential for almost every process in our bodies, such as:
The enzymes and hormones that control our metabolism
Moving other life-giving molecules around the body
The framework for our bones to form and strengthen
Formation of our muscles and allowing them to move
- Our immune system
The recommended UK daily amount of protein for adults (aged 19-50) is 0.8g/kg of body weight.
Which on average is:
46g/day for women (higher levels will be needed during pregnancy and breastfeeding)
- 56g/day for men
For those who regularly exercise strenuously, a higher daily intake of 1g/kg is recommended. In the UK we generally get enough protein in our diet, the key though is to get a good balance of healthier, quality protein, ensuring we get all the essential amino acids our bodies need in the optimal amounts.
To do this, meat eaters should try to aim for two portions of fish each week, one of which should be oily (such as salmon mackerel or trout) and the rest of the week a mix of non-meat (such as eggs, beans, whole wheat) poultry and lean red meat. Non-meat eaters should try to include foods such as eggs, milk, soybean and cheese.Sources of Protein
Different protein-containing foods contain different amounts of essential amino acids and can also be either more or less easily digested. Foods containing all the essential amino acids in the amounts we need and are more easily digested are known as high quality or complete proteins.
Complete protein foods:
Foods containing less or not all of the essential amino acids in the amounts we need and are not as easily digested are known as low quality or incomplete proteins.
Incomplete protein foods:
Although the non-meat foods above are classed as low quality or incomplete protein foods on their own, we can still get all the essential amino acids by combining different foods together in one meal or throughout the week. Combining beans with wholemeal bread, or rice with peas compliment each other, providing all the essential amino acids we need.