How much protein do we need?

BY CARINE HENRY
Protein is found in pulses, beans, seeds, and nuts as well as meat, fish, game, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.

We need protein for body repair and growth, but protein can also be used for energy.  Adults generally need about 50-60g protein daily, with 30g meat or 85g pulses (dry weight) providing around 6g protein.  More specific estimates for needs are 0.8g protein/kg lean body weight.

People often worry that they’re not getting enough protein, but this is unusual for most of the UK population.  We do however need enough calories (from starch and fats) to enable proteins to be used for their preferred function i.e. biosynthesis (bodily made) of functional proteins for growth and repair of tissues.

What are proteins?

Proteins are made up of individual units called amino-acids, which have specific functions for making bodily proteins such as muscle, skin or vessels. There are 22 amino-acids, 10 of which are essential and need to come from the diet.  Animal based protein foods contain all the essential amino acids and plant based proteins are limited in one or more.  Fruits and vegetables contain small amounts of proteins and contribute little to essential amino acids.

Getting enough protein

In practical terms for vegans and vegetarians, this necessitates the combining of foods to get the balance of all the essential amino acids for good health. For example, pulses are limited in the essential amino acid methionine, which is needed for making new blood vessels. Methionine is abundant in meat, fish, brazil nuts, eggs and some cereals.  The ideal vegan/vegetarian food combining therefore would be pulses with bread or pasta.  Similarly, the amino acid lysine is limited in cereals but is found in plenty in pulses, beans and soya.

This is the principle of combining different proteins to get all the essential amino acids.  As with most principles of nutrition, diversity and balance is the key. Good combinations for proteins include

  • Lentil stew with bread
  • Macaroni cheese
  • Nut butter on toast
  • Hummus and veggie sticks
  • Crackers and cheese
  • Seeded bread
  • Falafels with pesto

Happy Combining!