NUTRITION AND YOU

The power of protein – more than muscle strength

Protein is one powerful nutrient. An adequate protein intake in the diet is important across the life cycle, especially as we age. Keep reading to learn more about protein and why it is important for our health.

What is protein?

Protein is an important macronutrient used by the body for building, repairing and maintaining tissues. Proteins are part of every cell, tissue and organ in our bodies.1

  • Proteins are made up of amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids.1
  • Nine amino acids are considered ‘essential’, since they are not made by the body and therefore must be obtained from food.1
  • Eleven amino acids are made by the body and are considered non-essential amino acids.

The proteins in our bodies are constantly being broken down and replaced. The body does not store protein as it does carbohydrates and fats, so the body needs a daily supply of smaller protein chains, called peptides, broken down as amino acids, that are absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to the tissues in our bodies.1

Why does the body need protein?

Protein performs many functions in the body. An adequate dietary protein intake is important for building, maintaining and repairing body tissues. The body’s structural components, such as skin, muscles and organs, are made up largely by protein.1 Protein is a good source of energy.2

Natural sources of high-quality protein include:2

  • Meats, poultry and fish
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Tofu

How much protein do I need?

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend adults eat 2–3 serves of protein-containing foods each day, depending on age.2

Minimum recommended number of serves of protein per day2

 19-50 years51+ years
Men32.5
Women2.52

Examples of a single serve of protein include:2

  • 65g cooked lean meats such as beef, lamb, veal, pork, goat or kangaroo (about 90-100g raw)
  • 80g cooked lean poultry such as chicken or turkey (100g raw)
  • 100g cooked fish fillet (about 115g raw) or one small can of fish
  • 2 large (120g) eggs
  • 1 cup (150g) cooked or canned legumes/beans such as lentils, chick peas or split peas (preferably with no added salt)
  • 170g tofu
  • 30g nuts, seeds, peanut or almond butter or tahini

A single serve of protein from the above sources can provide an adult 500 – 600kJ of protein2

References

  1. National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, New Zealand Ministry of Health. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council; 2006.
  2. National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines Summary. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council. Available at: https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/sites/default/files/content/The%20Guidelines/n55a_australian_dietary_guidelines_summary_131014_1.pdf. Accessed 28 September 2018.