You may hear about protein quite a bit — and with good reason! Protein is one of the nutrients that our bodies need in healthy doses to function well. Even more importantly, protein is one of many nutrients in the food we should eat every day.
Here's everything you know about protein:
1. Protein and our bodies
Proteins are multitaskers, playing many roles in our bodies. For example, protein helps develop and repair our muscles, organs, skin, hair and nails. It also helps preserve our muscle mass and is an integral part of our hormones, digestive enzymes, immune system and much more!
2. Our protein needs
Our protein needs evolve throughout our lives. You may have read or heard that we need about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, whether you're a woman or a man. But many experts have pointed out that this well-known 0.8 gram rule is only a recommended amount to avoid a protein deficiency. So what should you do if your goal is to best improve your health?
New recommendations show that we very likely need a protein intake of around 1.2 to 1.6 grams per kilogram of weight. In effect, we need an average of 25 to 35 grams of protein per meal.
3. Distribute your protein intake throughout the day
Generally, protein is neglected at breakfast. It's a more popular choice during lunch and, even more so, at dinnertime. To get the right dose of protein throughout the day, we should distribute our protein intake according to the 30-30-30 rule — 30 grams at breakfast, 30 grams at lunch and 30 grams at dinner.
Distributing your protein intake meal by meal will not only better satisfy your appetite but will also improve certain aspects of your health.
What is 30 grams of protein?
- 250 ml of muesli-type cereal served with 250 ml of Natrel Plus 2% and your favourite fruit
- A bowl of Greek yogurt served with fresh fruit, dried fruit and 30 g of your favourite nuts
- 2 slices of wheat bread served with nut butter and 250 ml of Natrel Plus 3.25%
4. Feeling hungry and protein
A diet rich in protein can help satisfy your hunger. Why? Here are a few reasons:
- Protein is more satiating and decreases hunger more than carbohydrates and fats.
- Protein decreases the secretion of grhelin, the hunger hormone that stimulates your appetite.
- Protein increases the secretion of cholecystokinin, GLP-1, YY peptide, all of which are hormones that reduce your pangs of hunger when stimulated.
- Researchers believe that protein dampens the feeling of hunger via a number of still little-known ways (but are certain to find many more ways in the coming years).
5. Protein is found in...protein-filled food!
Protein is found in almost all foods, but in varying amounts. It's found in greater quantity in food that are part of the "Protein Food Group" of Canada's Food Guide. Protein is contained in many foods of animal or vegetable origin, so we are spoiled with choice!
Animal protein products
Vegetable protein sources
6. Eat vegetable protein, more often.
Out of concern for the environment, most nutrition guidelines recommend eating plant-based protein more often. They are economical. They also consume far fewer resources and emit fewer greenhouse gases than animal proteins. They are also the best choice when it comes to our health, since they are rich in fibre, which prevents constipation and heart disease, controlling "Type 2" diabetes and helping us with our weight management.
7. Is the "complementarity of proteins" even necessary?
Proteins are composed of a sequence of several particles called amino acids. There are amino acids that are essential — since our bodies cannot make them itself — so we must absolutely find them in our food. And there are non-essential amino acids that our bodies can make itself.
Complete proteins (such as protein from animal sources, plus soy, quinoa and buckwheat) contain all the essential amino acids, unlike incomplete proteins (proteins from plant sources, except those mentioned above) that are deficient in one or more essential amino acids.
Not all plants are deficient in the same amino acids, hence the theory of complementarity, which is a food myth that persists to this day. According to this premise, all you need to do is to combine a number of plant foods that are complementary in their amino acid profile to obtain all the essential amino acids. However, since we eat different food every day, we already do it right away without even thinking about it. The important thing is to eat a variety of food that provide all the essential amino acids our bodies need throughout the day, not necessarily at one meal — without breaking your head over it!