The best diet is a well-rounded one, and that includes a good variety of food in the right proportions. This includes proteins. Playing an important role in any diet, this macronutrient is a powerhouse building-block for the daily growth, repair and maintenance of our body tissues; as a food source, it also takes longer to digest and keeps us feeling satiated for longer.
But just how much protein does one need, is it healthy to follow trends that promotes a diet high in protein, and are all proteins the same? Here are some key facts to help you better understand this important macronutrient:
NOT ALL PROTEINS ARE MADE EQUAL
There is a difference between the nutritional benefits of protein derived from fresh produce and processed beans, and legumes for their mix of nutrients (e.g. iodine, iron, zinc and vitamin B), low fat content and higher protein content. Processed meats like bacon, sausages and luncheon meats have low protein content, and are often high in fat and salt. High salt intake increases the risk of hypertension. Additionally, according to the World Health Organization, consuming 50 grams of processed meat per day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by about 18 per cent!
PROTEINS ARE NOT MORE IMPORTANT THAN CARBS
There is a common misconception that proteins are more important than carbohydrates. The truth is, both are equally important to achieving a well-balanced diet. Each macronutrient has its own key function in our body. Proteins help to repair, build and grow muscle fibers, while carbohydrates (preferably complex forms like wholegrains) remain our primary energy source. More importantly, without the presence of carbohydrates, the ability of protein to promote muscle growth and repair will be compromised.
PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS NOT NEEDED TO BUILD MUSCLES
While it is true that very active individuals may have higher protein requirements than the average person, this is largely because they require more calories for energy. If they increased their overall calorie intake through a well-balanced diet -- this includes fresh produce, proteins such as lean chicken breast, fish, egg, tofu or legumes -- they will meet their higher protein needs.
Another misconception is that consuming more protein will lead to more muscle. Just eating protein is insufficient for building or maintaining muscle strength and size. You will also need to exercise regularly and do strength or resistance training.
PROTEIN NEEDS VARY FROM PERSON TO PERSON
For the average person, the recommended protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day. For a person weighing 65 kilograms for example, this works out to 52 grams of protein per day, or approximately one cup (250 millimeters) of low fat milk for breakfast, one palm-sized chicken breast for lunch, and one palm-sized grilled fish for dinner. Other factors that affect one’s protein needs include gender, age, weight and how active one is. Also, if you are pregnant or lactating, recovering from an illness or surgery, or a growing teen, your protein needs will increase.
Additionally, the onset of sarcopenia should be taken into consideration. Defined as a degenerative loss of muscle mass, sarcopenia starts gradually from one’s 40s before speeding up in your mid-60s to 80s. Sarcopenia could lead to physical disability, and decreases mobility. To counter this, resistance exercise such as weight lifting and a sound diet that includes slightly more protein than the average recommended daily allowance can help. That said, if a well-balanced diet is consumed, one will easily get enough protein.
A HIGH PROTEIN DIET IS NOT THE HOLY GRAIL OF WEIGHT LOSS
Like fats and carbohydrates, proteins have calories. One gram of protein provides four calories and should be consumed in moderation. The bottom line is, if you are consuming more calories than you are burning through exercise or daily activities, you will gain weight. A better approach is to aim for a well-balanced diet from all major food groups, reduce portion sizes and exercise regularly. Overall, do make sure the calories you consume do not exceed the calories that you expend.
PROTEIN-RICH MEALS DO NOT NEED TO BE EXPENSIVE
Adding protein to your daily meals does not need to be a costly exercise, nor is it limited to a small range of food. Eggs are a good source of protein (an average hen’s egg contain 6.3 grams of protein) and contain added nutrients like Vitamin B and D. Other affordable sources include plant protein like tofu, tempeh or cooked pulses (peas, beans, lentils). Also many eateries (see below) are making it a lot more convenient to choose quality protein meals to ensure your daily nutritional needs are met.
Healthier protein-packed food options are widely available, including these delicious options:
Teck Seng Soya Bean Milk
Not only do you get your protein fix – 100 grams of soya bean is equivalent to 36 grams of protein – soya bean is a high-quality treat as well. Teck Seng is well known for its handmade soya bean curd and milk, so get there early; its popular soya bean products are usually sold out by 11:30am. They also offer unsweetened and low-sugar options.
#02-69 Tiong Bahru Market, closed on Monday
Jack's Place offers the Grilled White Barramundi Fillet, which is a great option for a protein-packed meal. This is a lean cut of fish -- a great source of protein -- served with baked potato, a healthy salad and Hollandaise sauce, and is proof that low-calorie and healthier options do not mean less flavour.
Known for their extensive range of nutritional and tasty wraps, salads, and burrito and quesadilla selections, Simply Wrapps has added popular and delicious local flavours in its shake-to-mix, easy-to-eat Chef Shaker Salad series like the wholegrain, Rendang Chicken Chef Shaker Salad that is packed with both flavour and protein.
Xiang Ji Hainanese Chicken Rice
Chicken breast is one of the best protein sources to consume. To enjoy a favourite local dish but still maintain a well-balanced diet, opt for chicken breast and brown rice the next time you order a plate from Xiang Ji Hainanese Chicken Rice, where the chicken is cooked in healthier oil.
Blk 14 Haig Road #01-34
Earn Healthpoints and rewards such as F&B and shopping vouchers in the Eat, Drink, Shop Healthy Challenge when you purchase healthier options at participating outlets. Find out more here.