By Jane Clarke

September 04, 2019

Proteins are essential for growth, brain development, healthy bones and endorphins (happy hormones!). Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and there are a total of 22 – eight of which (10 for children) are called ‘essential amino acids’ because we can’t make them in our body and must therefore get them from our food.
Animal proteins (including meat, seafood, fish and dairy products) contain all eight essential amino acids. Plant proteins (pulses, legumes, lentils, tofu, soya products, quinoa, buckwheat and seaweed) don’t contain all of the essential amino acids so need to be eaten in combination to provide all the protein you need.

Should I eat a high-protein diet?

High-protein, low-carb diets may be very fashionable at the moment but I advocate a balanced diet that doesn’t exclude or over-emphasise certain food groups, unless for medical reasons. Protein-rich foods can be very valuable when you want to improve your body’s strength, immune system and stabilise energy levels and moods. Often when you’re fighting diseases such as cancer, your body has a tendency to break down your muscles and leave you feeling weak and vulnerable, so it’s a priority to increase your intake of protein rich-foods to help counteract the effects of the disease and treatments. While the thought of tucking into large quantities of anything, let alone piles of meat, can leave you cold, easier alternatives are a simple chicken soup or a frittata to have in the fridge for when you don’t have the energy or inclination to cook from scratch.   

Does a vegetarian or vegan diet provide sufficient protein?

While it can be more challenging to eat enough protein when you’re either vegan or vegetarian, it’s perfectly possible. Legumes (chickpeas and beans), pulses (lentils and peas), soya products (miso, tofu), nuts and seeds are all good sources of non-meat protein.