Fact or fad? Protein: all you need to know

DL di­eti­tian and di­a­betes ed­u­ca­tor Dr Kata Marsh weighs in on the high-protein craze

Diabetic Living - - Contents -

Di­ets rich in protein are all the rage right now with an ever-ex­pand­ing range of shakes, pow­ders, balls and bars to help you boost your in­take. But what is protein ex­actly, what does it do in your body, and do you re­ally need to be aim­ing to eat more of it?

Why we need protein

Protein is a part of every cell in your body and you need it to build and re­pair tis­sues and make en­zymes and hor­mones. It’s also im­por­tant for growth and de­vel­op­ment in chil­dren and teens, and dur­ing preg­nancy.

While it’s a diet es­sen­tial, you need less than you might think. In fact, the lat­est na­tional di­etary sur­vey found that al­most all Aus­tralians (99 per cent!) are meet­ing their protein needs based on the Es­ti­mated Av­er­age Re­quire­ment (EAR), which is the min­i­mum amount needed for nor­mal growth and re­pair.

Men aged 19 to 70 need 0.84g and women need 0.75g per kilo­gram of body weight. So, a man weigh­ing 90kg would

need around 75g of protein and a woman weigh­ing 70kg would need around 53g protein per day, which isn’t hard to achieve.

If you ate, for ex­am­ple, half a cup of muesli with 100g Greek yo­ghurt and berries for break­fast, a whole­grain sand­wich with 100g tuna and salad for lunch, a chicken and veg­etable stir-fry with rice for din­ner, and a hand­ful of al­monds along with a latte for snacks, you would have con­sumed more than 80g of protein dur­ing the day.

As we age, we need a lit­tle more. Men aged 70 and above need 1.07g and women need 0.94g per kilo­gram of body weight.

Is high protein/low carb the way to go?

If you’re watch­ing your weight and blood glu­cose lev­els (BGLs), you’d be for­given for think­ing you needed to re­place carbs with protein. Af­ter all, protein doesn’t have the same im­me­di­ate im­pact on BGLs as carbs do, and in­clud­ing a lit­tle more protein in your diet can help with sati­ety.

But re­search is di­vided when it comes to the ben­e­fits of high­pro­tein, low-carb di­ets, par­tic­u­larly as there’s a lack of long-term ev­i­dence. A 2012 re­view of 74 stud­ies con­cluded that, while higher-protein di­ets prob­a­bly lead to im­prove­ments in weight loss and re­duc­tions in waist cir­cum­fer­ence com­pared to lower-protein di­ets, the ac­tual dif­fer­ences are small.

A sec­ond re­view of 15 long-term stud­ies (at least 12 months in length) con­cluded that high­pro­tein di­ets are nei­ther ben­e­fi­cial nor detri­men­tal when it comes to weight man­age­ment, heart dis­ease and blood glu­cose con­trol, and that there isn’t cur­rently enough ev­i­dence to rec­om­mend them. It’s all rather con­fus­ing.

Too much of a good thing?

While protein is im­por­tant, there’s ev­i­dence to show that eat­ing too much isn’t good. In one study, adults aged between 50 and 65 who ate more protein had a 75 per cent in­crease in over­all mor­tal­ity and were four times more likely to de­velop cancer. Sev­eral stud­ies have now shown that higher in­takes of red meat and pro­cessed meats, typ­i­cal of many high-protein di­ets, are linked with a higher risk of type 2 di­a­betes, heart dis­ease, bowel cancer and over­all mor­tal­ity.

Plant protein doesn’t seem to carry the same risks as protein from an­i­mal foods, so be mindful not to make it all about meat. In­stead, in­cor­po­rate more plant pro­teins such as legumes and tofu that are easy to cook and have other health ben­e­fits (See page 55 for some easy meal ideas).

Too much protein can have an ad­verse ef­fect on kid­ney func­tion, which is a com­mon un­der­ly­ing fac­tor for peo­ple with di­a­betes, so the key is to find a healthy bal­ance that works for you. n

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