What does protein do for me?
Protein is made of important amino acids that are the building blocks necessary for each and every part of your body. Proteins are essential for the normal functioning of the human body, being used to manufacture hormones, immune cells, enzymes, cellular messengers and being a fuel source for the body.
Protein is needed to make up every cell, tissue and organ in the body, from your red and white blood cells to your hair and skin. It is needed for proper growth and healing, cardiovascular function and muscle contraction.
Protein is a crucial macro-nutrient for everyone, most especially for pregnant women, growing children and those into sport, therefore it is important to eat a good balanced diet including lots of whole, clean protein containing foods.
What kind of protein should I have?
It is important to choose the right kind of protein. The best protein comes from eating whole food, found in both plant and animal sources.Plant-based protein sources include sprouted nuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, legumes, sprouts, avocado and quinoa.
When should I eat it?
Having protein with every meal is optimal, and having it at breakfast is essential.
Protein stabilizes your blood sugar levels allowing a slow release of energy into your cells. This helps to keep your blood sugar levels balanced meaning your moods, hunger and energy levels will remain balanced.
Protein also helps to prolong the feeling of fullness after eating, meaning you are less likely to be running for a quick sugar fix 2 hours after eating.
This also means that weight management and weight loss goes hand in hand with adequate protein consumption as you are less likely to run for a quick sugar filled snack when you’re blood sugar levels are controlled. Less unhealthy sugar filled grazing = less weight gaining opportunities.
Of course, for optimal weight loss or general weight management a healthy diet should be consumed alongside your protein consumption, with a focus on eating a clean, whole, unprocessed and unrefined diet, including plenty of fresh vegetables, healthy fats and of course, exercise.
Can I eat too much protein?
Put simply, yes.
Yes we need protein to create new cells, repair our bodies, stabilise our blood sugar and give us energy, however, this doesn’t mean you need to increase your amounts beyond the necessary levels. Excessive intake of protein can cause extra strain on the kidneys and increase acidity levels in the body.
The recommended general guideline is to eat 0.8g of protein per 1 kilo of body weight, so if you weigh 55kg then you’ll need about 44g of protein every day.
You must also take into account your age, gender, physical build, physical activity levels and health. Everyone is different so please make sure to check your RDA before you begin to add extra protein to your diet.
To avoid putting extra strain on your body, include clean whole food sources of protein from a variety of foods into your daily meals, drink plenty of pure water and eat lots of green veggies.
So now you know how great and useful protein is, how do you add it into your diet effectively?
Firstly, take in to account your digestive system first. If you are having digestive issues, suddenly upping your protein levels and eating a large quantity of animal protein, dairy or even scoops of protein powder, will likely cause you to have difficulties to break down the protein and absorb the essential amino acids from the food.
Try consuming something bitter before or during your meal, such as rocket or dandelion leaves, or even drinking some dandelion tea 15 minutes or so before a meal. It’s a great way to enhance digestion as it stimulates enzyme production that signals to the body “food is coming!” This encourages the enzymes to break down the food that is consumed meaning better absorption of food.
Make sure you chew your food well – your stomach doesn’t have teeth therefore you must make sure to chew your food until it is basically liquid. Your mouth and saliva are the first part of the digestive system, therefore it is essential to get that bit right if you’re struggling from digestive issues.
Here are some of my all-time favourite plant-based protein foods to give some ideas or inspiration for your own creations. Bonus points if you include any of these post-workout to boost your protein levels and improve your muscle recovery!
Chia pudding – Chia seeds are great sources of protein, as well as omega 3’s, fibre and antioxidants.
Try mixing a couple of tablespoons of whole chia seeds with a cup of non-dairy milk, a splash of vanilla extract, a pinch of cinnamon and mix it up.
Leave it aside for a minute and give it another mix and then leave it over-night. By morning the chia seeds will have absorbed the liquid and makes a delicious textured pudding.
It’s great with a handful of nuts on top and/or a couple of teaspoons of nut butter – yum!
Greek yogurt with fresh berries and a handful of hemp seeds – Protein packed Greek yogurt, alkalizing berries and nutrition-packed Hemp seeds are a perfect combo.
Hemp seeds are a complete protein that are also rich in omega-3s. Adding hemp seeds to yogurt, salads and smoothies is a great way to increase your protein intake. Just 3 tablespoons hemp is about 10g complete protein.
Quinoa – Quinoa is actually a pseudo grain because it is really a seed.
It tastes like a grain and is used like a grain and is naturally gluten free. It is high in amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and can easily be used in place of rice or couscous; consumed in a salad, in veggie burgers, as a side dish, as a porridge alternative and eaten hot or cold.
2 cups of cooked quinoa is about 7-9g of protein
Tempeh -Tempeh is a high protein fermented soybean-based food.
It is the fermented alternative to the most commonly used non-fermented tofu.
It contains all the amino acids making it a complete protein, plus it contains fibre and healthy fats. It can be added to salads, stir-fries, sauces or shaped into burgers for example.
Beans – Beans are so versatile! You can make hummus with chickpeas, cannellini beans or even butter beans.
Black beans are great in Mexican dishes, as are red kidney beans. They work a treat in a good chilli or homemade burrito. You can throw beans into almost everything! Salads, stews, curries, chillies’, soups, stir-fry’s, dips, burgers and more!
Lentils – Lentils are perfect for making Indian Dhal recipes, adding them to soups, stews, curries, burgers, and vegan shepherds pie.
You just replace the meat with french or brown lentils (they hold their shape unlike red lentils) and boom, you have a protein packed, homely meal – yum!
Sliced apple with nut butter – provides instant energy from the natural sugar in the apple that is beautifully balanced with the protein-packed nut butter.
If you’re avoiding higher sugar foods, celery sticks with nut butter are also pretty tasty.
Dates stuffed with almond butter – instant natural sugar hit that also provides a whole host of nutrients including calcium, magnesium and b6; plus protein and vitamin E from the almond butter. You can optionally add a pinch of cinnamon on top to also help balance blood sugar levels, boost your antioxidant levels and satisfy any sweet tooth!
Trail mix – try making your own with a blend of your favourite protein and nutrient-packed nuts and seeds. You could throw in a handful of dried fruit like raisins, mulberries or goji berries, and for a real energy boost try adding raw cacao nibs.
Seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, chia, hemp and flax (linseed); and nuts such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, macadamia and pistachios are not only rich in minerals and healthy fats, but are also protein and so are great for munching when you’re blood sugar levels / energy levels are dipping. Just remember that a little goes a long way!
Homemade granola bars – a great sustainable energy snack, packed with protein, fibre and nutrients to aid recovery and replenish the energy stores. Find a recipe that includes pure whole food with no nasty sugars or artificial ingredients.
Green Smoothie with Spirulina
Easiest recipe – 2 frozen bananas, 2 dates and a teaspoon of spirulina.
This blue-green algae is incredibly rich in absorbable protein at about 60-70% and contains 18 amino acids including all essential amino acids. It also contains vitamins A, B Complex, C, D, and E, potassium, and other trace minerals.
Easily added to smoothies, shakes, juices, water, home-made snack bars and so much more.
So there we have it! Now you know what protein does and where to get it – get munching!
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