A detailed look at Protein

Protein is a nutrient that has received a lot of attention in the health and fitness industry recently, mainly for its role with muscle repair and recovery and its effect on satiety levels.

Protein holds benefits that go well beyond those you may have heard, however due to advancements in the food industry and technology, protein-based products are now more available than ever and pushed onto consumers who don’t actually need them.

Every cell in our body (all 30 trillion of them) requires protein to grow and repair.
Important stuff, we know! However, unlike the dietary patterns for fruits and veggies in Australian adults (something we need to work on), 99% of the population meet their protein requirements based on what we call an ‘Estimated Average Requirement’.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let's take a step back and delve into the simple concept of what a protein is and how it effects the function and structure of all living cells.

Proteins are broken down into what we call an 'amino acid', think of them as building blocks. There are 20 known amino acids, 11 of them are non-essential which means we can synthesis them through bodily processes, and nine which are essential, meaning we can only get them through the foods we consume.

Protein can be obtained from both animal and plant sources; however it takes a little more planning to ensure you receive all nine amino acids from plants, making it even more important for vegetarians and vegans to include a wide variety in their diets.

The greats news is that our KOJA Choc Chip Crunch Peanut Butter Bars are a source of all essential amino acids! Along with our Protein Pancakes range - so these are a great inclusion into a vegetarian based diet. Other great plant based sources are chia seeds, buckwheat kernels, or simply ensuring plenty of variety in nuts and seeds.

Protein is found in all animal products as well as plant sources such as soy-based derivatives (tofu and tempeh), nuts, seeds, lentils and legumes (great for our plant-based friends!). For overall health the bonus of plant-based sources of protein is that they are generally lower in saturated fat and higher in fibre and certain micronutrients.

The average person requires 0.85g of protein per kilo of their body weight. This means that an adult that weighs 80kg requires 68g of protein per day, not as much as you may have thought and very easily met through diet alone. A 200g piece of cooked red meat can contain anywhere between 55-70g of protein, that is your daily requirement in one meal. 

For vegetarians, a couple of eggs provides 12 grams, one slice of wholegrain toast with nut butter provides 9 grams, an oat milk chai 4 grams, a KOJA bar 5 grams, a vegetable curry for lunch, 25 grams, and a small bowl of yoghurt provides 15 grams, you can see that it easily adds up to 70 grams of protein without the need to consume highly processed protein supplements.

As a society, we generally consume far too much protein, and this can actually have a negative effect on our health.

While eating a little more protein than we need is safe for majority of us, following a very high protein diet for an extended period of time may cause issues with your kidneys. This is because our kidneys work as our bodies filtration system, therefore if we eat too much of something, especially protein, our body rids of it because we simply don’t need it. Over time, this can put strain on our kidneys and may result in further complications.

Now, let’s talk a little about protein powders. Why? Because they have been a common topic of debate for many years and their usage remains misunderstood by so many.

Our advice; if you can reach your protein goals through whole foods alone that is ideal, and for most of us this is completely doable. Here at KOJA, we advocate for prioritising real foods over processed ingredients as much as you can. However, if you are following an alternative eating pattern (vegan, vegetarian), dislike certain protein foods or have increased nutritional requirements, a protein powder may be necessary for you. If this is the case, choose a product that has minimal preservatives, additives, no artificial ingredients and no added sugars.

Lastly, let's address the ‘high protein’ claims you see time and time again on food packaging and what that actually means. Despite what you see on the front of a packet, it is necessary you read the nutrition information panel and ingredients list as many companies use a slogan like ‘high protein’ or ‘contains 20g of protein’ to distract you from the nasties they have added into their products. High protein does not always equal healthy; it does not mean low in added sugars, calories, artificial sweeteners, fats, salts and other preservatives.

As nutrition professionals, we generally worry if people are consuming too much protein because this may mean they are compromising on another vital nutrient.

Aim to meet your protein requirements, choose wholefoods and prioritise a balanced diet over excessively consuming or cutting out certain food groups.

Written by Accredited Nutritionist and Accredited Practising Dietitian Millie Padula, founder of Dietitian Edition.