When it comes to nutrition, and good health in general, balance is key.
We need the right balance of macronutrients – protein, carbohydrate and fat - to support our wellbeing and energise us. But what is the right balance? Is there a perfect formula?
There is no cookie cutter approach to nutrition as different people have different requirements depending on their age, weight, lifestyle, genetics, medical history, medications, exercise levels and so on. When it comes to protein, in my clinical practice I often see people eating large amounts of protein foods at their dinner meal (think meat and 3 vege) but not much in the way of quality protein earlier in the day. They may have toast or cereal for breakfast, and a sandwich and fruit for lunch…even though they are choosing wholegrain carbs, their protein (and often healthy fat) intake is lower than ideal in the earlier part of the day.
Why does this matter?
Protein is a macronutrient that has lots of essential roles in the body. It provides us with amino acids which are the building blocks to help with muscle mass and cell regeneration. It has an added benefit of helping us feel fuller for longer, satisfying us after eating so we don’t go searching for more food straight away! It also helps to even out our blood glucose levels, instead of spikes and crashes which can leave us feeling hangry! And protein foods often naturally have other important nutrients in them – calcium in dairy products, iron in meat, zinc in seafood, and magnesium in seeds.
Excellent you may say…...the more protein the merrier! And when you look at a lot of popular current diets that promote lots of protein as a way of losing weight or building muscle, it’s not surprising that protein can be put on a pedestal. But research has actually shown that too much protein can be harmful to us – it can reduce our health and our lifespan.
In a recent study published in the scientific journal Current Biology, too much dietary protein was shown to increase the speed of body protein synthesis. (1) This may sound good in theory but much like doing anything in a hurry (for example typing unless you are a star typist) mistakes are often made. So, when the synthesis of body protein was sped up, more mistakes were made. These mistakes in our cells can actually increase the risk of various degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. One limitation of the study was that it was not done in humans so further research is required.
Other studies have also shown that the source of protein is important. Excess animal protein causes our healthy gut bacteria to produce metabolites that are precursors for a range of diseases such as heart disease. On the other hand, if we eat extra plant protein our gut bacteria produce beneficial metabolites (such as short chain fatty acids) which enhance our health.
So, as you can see, it can be tricky getting the balance right. Too little protein and we may get hangry or gain extra weight…..too much protein and we may shorten our lifespan. Hmmm.
What can you do to ensure your protein intake in your diet is balanced and nourishing?
Just because a little or moderate amount of something is good for us, it doesn’t mean large amounts are better. Like life, balance is key when it comes to nutrition.
To find out more about an individualized nutrition consult at Tea, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
As a registered dietitian I have seen hundreds, of people over my career wanting or needing to improve their nutrition in order to enhance their health. I don’t have a one-off plan when it comes to nutrition and food as not one size fits all, instead I review many aspects of my client’s health and lifestyle to create a personalised plan to help them. Everybody is different – we may have different lifestyles, different food likes, different food budgets and different body requirements (depending on our age, weight, genetics) than our friends, neighbours and colleagues so our needs and nutritional goals can be different too. My focus on nutrition is positive, rather than focusing on what to take out of a diet…I look at what we can put in to make it more nourishing, energizing and sustainable.
Sarah Percy – Registered Dietitian