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Let’s Talk About Protein

Nuala Mcbride


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Let’s Talk About Protein

Let’s Talk About Protein
Almond -Let’s Talk About Protein
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Proteins are fundamental for the structure and functioning of every cell in the body and undergo extensive metabolic interaction (i.e. provide energy and growth) (Mann and Truswell 2012). During the process of digestion and absorption proteins are broken down into amino acids; which are organic compounds composed of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen (Kubala, 2018). It is the nitrogen in these compounds that differ these molecules from carbohydrates and fats. 

Amino Acids

There are approximately 20 amino acids, 8 of which can’t be produced (synthesized) by the human body (Ballentine, 2007). These eight are therefore essential to get from a person’s diet. It’s important to note that proteins are in a dynamic state in the body, as they are constantly undergoing processes of synthesis and degradation. This means that they aren’t stored in the body. For a protein to be synthesized all the amino acids need to be available at that point (Mann and Truswell 2012). If one is in short supply that one is said to be the limiting amino acid (Mann and Truswell 2012). The typical limiting amino acids in a plant based diet are  lysine, threonine, tryptophan, or sulfur-containing amino acids (Barr and Rideout, 2004).

Foods which have all the essential amino acids are often referred to as high quality proteins or complete proteins and foods that don’t are referred to as low quality or incomplete proteins (Marsh, Munn and Bains, 2012). Complete proteins are usually from animal sources; but can be found in some plant sources like quinoa and soya.

Vegans and vegetarians can get all the essential amino acids in their diet through plant based sources. It’s important though that one combines different proteins together to ensure all the essential amino acids are present. For example, oats are low in the amino acids tyrosine and methionine. Therefore, if you eat porridge made from oats with some sesame seeds sprinkled through, then you have good quantities of all the essential amino acids. Or if you’re not a vegan you could make the porridge with cow’s milk (as this is a complete protein). The American Dietetic Association has consistently advised that combining different essential amino acids in a meal is unnecessary (Nieman, 1999). But, you do need to ensure that you’re getting an adequate supply daily of all 8 amino acids. 

How Much Protein Do I Need?

The NHS recommends 50g of protein daily (Nhs.uk. 2020). Other people in the field break this down to the amount of protein per kg of body weight. I feel this is a better measure, as it’s more reflective of what your body actually needs in relation to your size, height, lifestyle and daily activity levels. Read more about this in my article here.

Plant Based Sources Of Protein

Besides from meat there are lots of other sources of proteins, such as grains, beans, pulses. Interestingly, protein from a plant based source can have higher quantities of protein than a meat based source. For example, a portion of beans is around 36% protein, whereas a slice of ham is only 25% protein (Ballentine, 2007).

However, there are valid other concerns about vitamin and mineral deficiencies for people who adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. Women on a vegetarian diet are at a higher risk of non-anemic iron deficiency (Barr and Rideout, 2004); therefore it’s important to ensure that one is getting adequate supply in their diet or look to supplements. Read more about vegan diets here.

There is a lot of emerging research that people who take their protein from plant based sources may have a lower risk of chronic diseases (Barr and Rideout, 2004). This is because plant based protein is lower in saturated fats, free of cholesterol, high in fibre and offers lots of additional nutrients. However, this lower risk of disease is hard to isolate with vegetarians as it could be down to lifestyle choices as well – a vegetarian is naturally going to be more conscious about what they eat.

Let’s Talk About Protein-
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How Do I Increase My Protein Intake?

Some easy ways to increase their daily protein intake further is to:

  • Sprinkle chia seeds over porridge – 2 extra grams of protein
  • Swapping honey or a spread for a nut butter on toast – peanut butter has 4g of protein per tablespoon
  • Adding a natural yoghurt as a snack – one serving has around 8g of protein

The above swaps alone provide an extra 14g of protein per day, which is already 28% of the NHS’s daily recommendation.


If you’re still feeling a little confused then don’t worry – it’s a complicated topic! Maybe book a Nutritional Analysis Consultation with me and I can help make sure you have enough protein in your diet. Submit an appointment request here or drop me an email info@thenutritiousway.net 


Ballentine, R., 2007. Diet & Nutrition: A Holistic Approach. 2nd ed. Honesdale: Himalayan Institute.

Barr, S. and Rideout, C., 2004. Nutritional considerations for vegetarian athletes. Nutrition, 20(7-8), pp.696-703.

Kubala, J., 2018. Essential Amino Acids: Definition, Benefits And Food Sources. [online] Healthline. Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/essential-amino-acids#definition> [Accessed 20 December 2020].

Mann, J. and Truswell, S., 2012. Essentials Of Human Nutrition. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marsh, K., Munn, E. and Bains, S., 2012. Protein and Vegetarian Diets. Medical Journal of Australia, 1(2), pp.7-10.

Nhs.uk. 2020. Reference Intakes Explained. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/what-are-reference-intakes-on-food-labels/> [Accessed 22 December 2020].

Nieman, D., 1999. Physical fitness and vegetarian diets: is there a relation?. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70(3), pp.570s-575s.


Hi! I'm Nuala

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