May “Eat Healthy” – Understanding protein.

Our “Eat Healthy” series continues with a look at protein. Meat, specifically processed meats such as salami, bacon, sausages, and minced beef have recently been in the media with headlines questioning how safe it is to eat ( Meat is one form of protein and so we are going to look at the recommendations for protein as a whole, and what benefits and risks there are to consider.

  • Ensure protein is lean: fish, poultry, eggs and vegetable sources.  Limit red and processed meat.

So this article will look at why we should choose lean protein and limit red and processed meats but let’s start with a quick introduction to what exactly protein is.

What is protein and why do we need it?

Proteins are made of molecules called amino acids. Protein is required for healthy DNA and growth through all stages of life, building muscle and tissue, supporting immune function and for many repair functions such as replacing dead skin cells, hair and nails. Sports men and women favour high protein diets to help build muscle mass and repair damage from exercise. Growing children and teenagers need good sources of protein to support their growth.

What foods are proteins?

Protein can be found in its complete form in animal sources (contains all 20 amino acids) such as meat, fish and eggs and in incomplete form (contains some but not all amino acids) in plant sources such as soya, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses, and cereals. Vegetarian and vegan diets have to combine many vegetables sources to intake all of the amino acids as they all play a role in the body.

Animal proteins provide many vitamins and minerals

Meat, particularly red meat is a rich source of iron which supports blood and energy transport around the body as well as B12 which helps our body detox. Other meats are rich source of zinc and vitamin A and oily fish contains vitamin D and essential fatty acid omega 3 which has many benefits in reducing inflammation in the body (may help arthritis, sinusitis, eczema, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and support healthy skin, hair and nails). Eggs also contain the full set of amino acids and are therefore a complete protein and they are often referred to as a natural multivitamin as they contain vitamin A, B6, B12, D, choline, and phosphorous. Quinoa is one of the few vegetable proteins to contain the complete set of amino acids (

So how much protein should we eat daily?

The government guidelines are that 12-15% of our daily calories come from protein foods and this equates to c. 60-80g of protein / day.

Can protein support weight loss?

Protein is typically digested slower than carbohydrates and can support balancing blood glucose levels and feeling fuller for longer in a similar way to dietary fibre. A high protein and low carbohydrate diet has been associated with greater weight loss of abdominal fat than a low protein and high carbohydrate diet (Parker B. et al 2002. Effect of a High-Protein, High–Monounsaturated Fat Weight Loss Diet on Glycemic Control and Lipid Levels in Type 2 Diabetes, Diabetes Care, Vol 25, Issue 3, pp425-30).

What are the benefits of choosing lean protein?

Lean proteins contain less of the saturated fats that we looked at in the article on Choosing Healthy Fats. These saturated fats are the ones most closely associated with raising cholesterol and increasing cardiovascular risk through clogging of the arteries. Leaner cuts of meat (without the fat), leaner meats (such as turkey) or other proteins with healthy polyunsaturated fats such as oily fish and eggs help reduce the intake of saturated fats.


What are the risks with red and processed meat?

Recent observational studies on high consumption of red meat and processed meats showed an increased risk of developing colon cancer and/or cardiovascular disease ( The study was observational so there are many factors which may account for the increased risk and not just the meat consumption. Processed meats are generally considered less healthful then joints of meat (steaks / chops / breast of chicken) as they have added hidden ingredients, salts and sugars.

So that’s a little of what we have discovered about meat!