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Why protein is important for a balanced diet: 48% of Brits think only bodybuilders need it

Organic roasted steak sirloin. protein
Experts have revealed how to include more protein in your diet. (Getty Images)

The word ‘protein’ is often synonymous with gym junkies and crossfit champions - but it’s an essential part of everyone’s diet.

A new study has found that almost half (48%) of 18 to 34-year-olds think that protein is ‘only necessary’ for athletes and bodybuilders, and only 7% of 55 to 64-year-olds surveyed by Lindahls know what the recommended daily allowance of protein is.

Yet, protein plays a vital role in your diet as it can help to maintain muscle strength, aid wound healing, and make and repair cells in the body.

"Protein is indispensable in the diet for its unparalleled role in synthesising tissues and molecules that carry out life's processes," nutritionist Rimas Geiga says. "Every cell in your body has protein, making it non-negotiable for health."

What is protein?

According to the NHS, protein is one of the major energy giving nutrients in our diet, and is found in food such as meat, fish, dairy products and nuts.

"Protein plays a crucial role in the body's structure and function," Lara Buckle of The Wellness Detective, explains.

"It is necessary for the growth and repair of tissues, the formation of enzymes and hormones, and is a key component of muscles, skin, and hair. Protein also helps maintain a strong immune system and aids in many metabolic processes."

It is also an essential part of any weight loss journey as protein can help to keep you fuller for longer.

bowl of tofu and noodles
Tofu is a good source of plant protein. (Getty Images)

How much protein should you consume each day?

The amount of protein to consume each day differs for different people and the amount you need will change as you age.

According to the British Nutrition Foundation, the recommended nutrient intake of protein is 0.75g of protein per kg of bodyweight, which would equate to 56g per day for a man weighing 75kg, and 45g per day for a woman weighing 60kg.

However, people who regularly strength train or engage of other forms of intense physical activity should aim to consume higher amounts of protein in their diets as this will aid in repairing their muscles.

"Many experts will suggest a range of 1.2 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for active individuals, depending on their specific goals and intensity of training," Buckle says.

Benefits of protein

"Protein is more than a muscle mender; it's a multitasker," Geiga explains. "It regulates hormones, maintains fluid balance, and bolsters the immune system. High-protein diets have been linked to increased satiety, which can help with weight management, and they support metabolic health."

Here are some of the key benefits of protein in your diet:

Weight loss

A 2005 study found that a diet made up of 30% protein resulted in ‘significant’ weight loss as it decreased overall calorie intake. The reason for this is that protein can increase leptin sensitivity, which is the hormone that tells us when we’re full.

A separate study found that increasing your protein intake can reduce food cravings by 60% and cut the desire for late-night snacking by 50%.

Perfectly poached egg, on smashed avocado, on brown toast. Served on a green plate on a table in sun.
Protein such as eggs can help keep you fuller for longer. (Getty Images)

Muscle gain

If you are just starting to get into strength training, then it is worth upping your protein intake as a 2015 study found that protein consumption can enhance muscle strength and gains in people who lift weight and do aerobic exercises.

Helps keep muscle mass as you age

Resistance training only becomes more important as we age and we start to lose muscle mass, and a 2008 study found increasing protein intake among older adults can reduce progressive loss of muscle mass.

Lowers blood pressure

One study from 2010 found that plant proteins in particular can be beneficial for lowering blood pressure. Plant proteins include pulses, nuts, seeds, tofu, and grains.

Keeps bones healthy

Protein is a key nutrient to maintain essential bone health and can even help to prevent osteoporosis, studies have found.

How to add more protein to your diet

While most people in the UK are eating the recommended daily amount of protein, if you are looking to add more protein to you diet, Geiga says diversifying your protein source is key.

"Include a protein source at every meal and consider protein-rich snacks. For instance, swap out cereal for eggs in the morning, choose a turkey wrap over a bagel for lunch, and integrate a plant-based protein like tempeh into your dinner," she suggests.

Top down image of four salmon darns on a white long oval serving ceramic plate on a wooden table. It rests on a bed of samphire. Lemon slices garnish the fish.
Salmon is a good source of lean protein. (Getty Images)

"Top-tier protein sources for omnivores include lean meats, eggs, and dairy. Plant-based eaters should focus on legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products. These foods offer robust amino acid profiles necessary for optimal health."

Some of the best sources of protein include:

  • Meats, poultry and fish

  • Beans, lentils and pulses

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Greek yoghurt

  • Tofu and tempeh

  • Quinoa

"I emphasise the importance of aligning protein sources with individual health goals and dietary patterns," Geiga adds. "Tailoring protein intake is not just about hitting targets; it's about nurturing your body with the right nutrients in the right amounts."

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