Nutracheck now tracks 6 more nutrients. In addition to calories and fat, you can now see how much sat fat, sugar, salt, protein, carbs and fibre you are eating. A key nutrient to track is protein. It plays a vital role in our diet as our body needs it for growth and repair, cell generation and immunity – just to name a few functions. But while it's important to eat enough protein each day, it's equally as important to not eat too much! I'll explain why...
As well as the extra tracking, we also give members nutrient guides to follow. We recommend the Well Balanced guide as a good place to start. It is based on official guidelines from the Department of Health and sets nutrient proportions that are considered to provide the right balance of important nutrients such as fibre, vitamins, protein, minerals and fats.
The Well Balanced guide recommends 15% of your daily calories should come from protein each day. This level is considered the appropriate amount for most people to get the level of protein their body needs.
As a nation, we tend to eat more protein than we essentially need each day. Even more so in recent years due to the increasing popularity of higher protein diets. One reason for this is because protein is proven to increase satiety – so it's good to eat more protein if you're trying to lose weight and want to avoid feeling hungry. Another reason is because people are aspiring to a lean, strong looking body shape – as opposed to ultra slim or curvy, trends in the past. In order to build lean muscle tissue, an adequate intake of protein is required as this is what's needed to create muscle tissue.
So it's not uncommon for people to find they are eating more than the recommended 15% of protein each day. This is generally fine and not likely to cause any harm, as long as the levels aren't excessively high. Research has shown that double the recommended amount is unlikely to have any adverse effects – the key issue is whether the balance of the overall diet is right.
If protein goes up, the proportion of something else in your diet has to come down – and we find most people reduce their carbs intake to accommodate. This is fine to a point, but the consequence of someone drastically reducing their carbohydrate intake, is that they start to miss out on important nutrients such as fibre and B vitamins which are largely found in high carb foods such as wholegrains. For this reason, it's important to strike the right balance with carbohydrate and protein intake. Eating around 30% protein and 35% carbs for example should be fine – as long as the carbohydrates you opt for are the best ones (think wholegrain cereals, wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta and wholegrain rice), and you are also eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Maximum recommended protein intake is quite personal as it's to do with body weight. The maximum we recommend is 1.8g/kg body weight. Example: for a 65kg female, this would equate to 117g of protein. which is 33% of a 1,400 calorie diet or 23% of a 2,000 calorie diet. The reason for an upper limit is because research shows that intakes above this level do not appear to offer any further benefit to people trying to gain muscle mass. And eating protein to excess for a long period of time can put strain on the liver and kidneys as our body works to remove the unnecessary protein – having a detrimental effect on health long term.
Protein is an important nutrient and most people are already eating enough – the main concern is eating too much. This would only be a health worry if someone was to consume excessive quantities for a long period of time – but it's actually quite difficult to eat very large amounts of protein.
Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.