Protein is essential for growth and repair of the body and helps us to maintain good health.
Eating protein provides us with essential amino acids. Think of these as the building blocks of the body. Our bodies are continually building and renewing cells, and we need amino acids to be able to do this. We are unable to produce essential amino acids in the body ourselves, so we need to make sure we get enough from the protein in our diets.
The daily reference intake of protein is 50g per person (this roughly equates to a large chicken breast). In the UK we usually get enough protein, but we do need to be mindful that we’re not having too much. About one-eighth of our balanced diet should be made up of protein.
• Meat: choose leaner cuts whenever possible and limit intake of processed meat, such as bacon.
• Fish: oily fish is also a source of omega-3 and fatty acids, which help to maintain normal cholesterol levels and maintain good heart health.
• Eggs: also a source of 11 different vitamins and minerals such as vitamins B12, D and A, folic acid, iodine, and riboflavin
• Beans, pulses (including chickpeas and lentils), nuts and seeds: also provide fibre.
• Soy products (such as tofu).
Other foods, such as those in the dairy food group (milk, yoghurt and cheese), are also a great source of protein.
Just like vegetables and fruit, different types of protein provide us with the variety of vitamins and minerals that we need to stay healthy and strong. It is very important to vary our protein sources and to include some vegetarian sources in our meals each week; such as eggs, beans and pulses, tofu, nuts and seeds.
Red and processed meats, such as beef, pork and lamb, as well as bacon and sausages, can be high in saturated fat and salt, so should be eaten less often and in smaller amounts. Guidance from the UK government is to consume less than 70g each day, and to have meat-free days.