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Protein – Why is it so important?

Most people know these days that protein is an essential part of a healthy diet. With this, most of us think that the best way to get protein is by eating meat. It is true meat is a very good source of protein, but there are alternatives. Some people would argue that these are better alternatives, for many reasons. One being from an ethical prospect (treatment of animals) or the carbon footprint the production of meat generates. Another reason being suggested by a recent movement that gaining protein from non-animal based sources is better for our overall health. Trying to look at this from a balanced perspective there is evidence on both sides proving and disproving the theories, regarding if is it better getting your protein from a meat or non-meat source. Even recent Netflix documentaries have come into the discussion, investigating and presenting points of view, regarding health and food production. 

Some you might be thinking, does it really matter where you get your protein from? Before we delve further into that lets actually break down what protein is and what it is made from. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine “Proteins are a large combination of molecules that have many critical roles throughout the body. Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids. There are 20 different types of amino acids and they form different combinations to form a variety of different proteins. These variety of proteins have a huge range of different functions such as structural components, enzyme, antibodies.”    https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/howgeneswork/protein

So as you can see from the paragraph above, proteins play an essential role in your body’s function and therefore your overall health. So does it matter where you get your protein from? According to a research article published in the journal of sports science and medicine, the conclusion in this study was that protein from an animal based source was important, but has to weighted up with the possible other negative effects on health (WHAT NEGATIVE EFFECTS?). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905294/. On the other hand, an article published in 2016 called “Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality”, concluded, “Although higher intake of animal protein was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and a higher intake of plant based protein was associated with general better health, the associations were linked to at least one lifestyle factor risks. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2540540. Overall from these studies it is clear that a balanced diet is still the best for overall health but with an emphasis on more plant based nutrition. To keep things simple, plant based foods called phytonutrients and antioxidants do not exist in animal based food. Plant based foods are also high in fibre, which is great for digestive health. On the other hand, animal sources of protein generally contain high levels of vitamin B-12 and iron. The other component you have to consider is cholesterol levels, animal based protein sources contain higher levels of cholesterol. Cholesterol currently divides opinion as some of the latest research suggests there is no link between high cholesterol and an increased mortality rate. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/PDFs/Scientific-Report-of-the-2015-Dietary-Guidelines-Advisory-Committee.pdf. Whilst previously, it has been thought that high cholesterol levels increased rates of cardiovascular disease. 

So, I think the main thing to take away from this article is you want a varied source of protein in your diet to maintain optimal health, to ensure you get a lot of different amino acids to help build specific proteins in your body. 

Below are some healthy sources of protein. 

Lentils

Unless you are vegetarian or vegan, it is probably safe to assume that people think that the lentil is a “boring or bland food”. Actually, when prepared and cooked properly they are fantastic. Originating around Asia and North Africa, lentils (which are cousins of the pea family) provide a good source of iron, B vitamins, calcium and phosphorus.

Nuts 

It’s no secret that nuts are a great source of protein. Great for a healthy snack or adding to cooked dishes or salads. If you are thinking about avoiding dairy, almonds are great sources of vitamin E and calcium. Whilst cashews also provide other minerals such as iron and zinc. 

Beans 

Another great source of protein is from Beans. Beans are not only high in protein, but also high in fibre. According to the NHS website a high fibre diet is associated with a reduced risk in heart disease and type two diabetes. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/beans-and-pulses-nutrition/

Tempeh

Originating from Indonesia, this source of protein is made from cooked soybeans which are then fermented. This is a great meat alternative, if you are looking for something to add a meaty texture to a meal and still be full of protein. 

Blog courtesy of Skelian Chiropractic Bristol

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