Why is Protein So Important?

  • Post by Kendall Parkinson
  • Feb 04, 2020

Protein containing foods provide the building blocks to repair body cells including hair, nail, skin and muscle. It helps to provide strength, repair injuries and to help the body recover from surgery. Protein also has a role to play in protecting our body from illness, reducing muscle weakness and fatigue after movement. It is also a major component in enzyme and hormone production which helps us to digest our food and burn stored energy, including body fat.

What happens if you don’t get enough protein?

Lack of protein in the diet can result in hair loss, muscle wasting, poor immunity and impaired weight loss.

Why does protein need to be a major focus for bariatric patients?

Following bariatric surgery, the amount of food eaten is much smaller due to reduced stomach capacity. This is particularly true in the earlier stages post-surgery. Eating small amounts means it is much harder to meet daily protein requirements. Often protein shakes are required initially to help people to get enough protein from a form that is easier to manage. Further down the track, protein requirements are more easily met through whole foods as portion sizes gradually increase. Regardless of what stage post-surgery however, the protein component of a meal should always be prioritised over fruits, vegetables and carbohydrates to ensure this important nutrient is never displaced.

How much protein do you need each day?

Individual protein requirements can vary considerably particularly between different genders, age groups, activity levels and where people are in their recovery post-surgery. A minimum of at least 60g-80g of protein each day is a good amount to aim for, however more specific protein requirements can be calculated using an adjusted body weight.

How to work out an adjusted body weight:

To calculate an adjusted body weight:

  1. Work out the weight your body would be if you had a BMI of 25 (use online BMI calculators or speak with your dietitian if assistance is needed) https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/healthy-living/food-activity-and-sleep/healthy-weight/healthy-weight-bmi-calculator
  2. Work out the difference between your weight at a BMI of 25 and your current weight
  3. Multiply the difference by 0.25
  4. Add this figure to your weight at a BMI of 25 This will give you your adjusted ideal body weight. From here, protein requirements can be determined by adding 1 gram of protein per kilogram of adjusted body weight.

E.g. if you were 1.75m tall and weighed 130kg

BMI of 25 = 76.5kg
130kg – 76.5kg = 53.5
53.5 x 0.25 = 13.4
76.5 + 13.4 = 89.9

Therefore 90g of protein per day would be a good target to aim for (30g per meal).

How to fit protein into your day:

Protein is best split across three meals to ensure you feel satisfied after meals and have plenty of energy to get you through the day. People may feel the need to snack between meals if they have gone for long periods without eating, if they are particularly active, or if they don’t have enough protein at one or more of their meals. The protein tables below can be useful to work out how much protein is in various foods and what can be added together to help you to better meet approximately one third of your daily protein needs at each meal. If you feel you do need something in between your meals, consider having a milky drink or glass of milk as a nutritious way to boost your protein intake and provide hydration as well.

Should you include more products labelled ‘high protein’ into your diet?

Not necessarily! It is best to include whole food sources of protein such as meat, fish, chicken, eggs, tofu, legumes and dairy products. These foods also contain other important nutrients such as certain vitamins and minerals, fibre if from a plant-based source (e.g. legumes), and omega 3 from oily fish. Many products labelled ‘high protein’ may not have much else to offer nutritionally. Examples of such foods include protein bars, protein cookies and flavoured protein milks. The marketing behind many products can make grocery shopping difficult to navigate, but remember if there is a long list of ingredients, its likely there is a much better choice to go for. Discussing your individual protein needs and dietary choices with your practice dietitian is recommended and of course regular blood tests are important to monitor your protein status.

Meat and meat alternatives

Food Average serve Protein per average serve (g) Protein per 100g
bacon (rindless) 50g 14.7 29.4
baked beans (lite, tinned) 100g 4.2 4.2
Beef (scotch fillet) 100g 30.1 30.1
black beans (tinned) 120g 8.2 6.8
calamari (fresh) 110g 21.1 19.2
cannellini beans (tinned) 120g 8.8 7.3
chicken (fresh) 100g 19.8 19.8
chicken (smoked) 100g 17.9 17.9
chicken (tinned) 85g 16.6 19.5
chickpeas (tinned) 120g 9.5 7.9
edamame beans 80g 9.9 12.3
Eggs 2 eggs 13.2 24.4
falafel 60g 3 5
fish (fresh) 100g 25.2 25.2
fish (frozen, crumbed) 100g 11 11
ham (lean, sliced) 50g 7.8 15.7
hummus 15g (1 tablespoon) 1 6.9
jackfruit 60g 0.5 0.9
kidney beans (tinned) 120g 9 7.5
Lamb (fillet) 100g 27.9 27.9
lentils (tinned) 120g 6.7 5.6
mince 120g (1/2 cup) 23.3 19.4
mussels 100g 14.7 14.7
oysters 110g 14.4 13.1
Pork (fillet) 100g 28.1 28.1
prawns 100g 23.7 23.7
quorn 75g 11.2 14.9
salmon (fresh) 100g 19.3 19.3
salmon (smoked) 50g 11.2 22.4
salmon (tinned) 95g tin 13.2 23.1
sardines (tinned) 125g tin 18.5 20.5
scallops 110g 16.4 14.9
tempeh 75g 13.9 18.5
tofu 75g 8.7 11.6
tuna (fresh) 100g 23.3 23.3
tuna (tinned) 95g tin 18.6 26.6
venison 100g 27.7 27.7

Dairy and dairy alternatives

Milk
Food Average serve Protein per average serve (g) Protein per 100g
almond (un-sweetened, calcium fortified) 250ml 1.4 0.5
coconut (un-sweetened) 250ml 0.5 0.2
cows (calci-trim) 250ml 12.2 4.9
goats 250ml 7.3 2.9
oat (un-sweetened, calcium fortified) 250ml 1.7 0.7
rice (un-sweetened, calcium fortified) 250ml 0.9 0.4
soy (calcium fortified) 250ml 8 3.2
Cheese
Food Average serve Protein per average serve (g) Protein per 100g
blue cheese 40g 8.7 21.7
brie 40g 5.8 14.6
camembert 40g 9 22.6
cheddar 40g 11.8 29.6
cottage cheese 40g 5.5 13.7
cream cheese 40g 4.2 10.5
feta 40g 6.8 16.9
gouda 40g 10.1 25.2
haloumi 40g 8 20
mozzarella 40g 11 27.6
ricotta 40g 4.1 10.3
Yoghurt
Food Average serve Protein per average serve (g) Protein per 100g
almond based 125g 3.8 3
coconut based 125g 1 0.8
cows based 125g 6 4.8
high protein cows based 125g 10.3 8.2
soy based 125g 6.3 5

Fats and oils

Food Average serve Protein per average serve (g) Protein per 100g
avocado 40g 0.7 1.8
almond butter 15g 3.3 22
nuts (natural, mixed) 30g 5 16.6
peanut butter 15g 4 26.7
seeds 15g 3.4 22.8

Fruit

Food Average serve Protein per average serve (g) Protein per 100g
average all fruits 80g 0.5-1g 1-2g

Non-starchy vegetables

Food Average serve Protein per average serve (g) Protein per 100g
average all non-starchy vegetables 80g 0.5-2g 1-2g

Starchy vegetables

Food Average serve Protein per average serve (g) Protein per 100g
corn 80g 2.9 3.6
kumara (sweet potato) 80g 1.1 1.4
potato 80g 1.4 1.7
taro 80g 1 1.3
yams 80g 1.4 1.7

Breads, cereals and grains

Bread
Food Average serve Protein per average serve (g) Protein per 100g
bagel ½ (45g) 4.8 9.7
crumpet 1 (50g) 3.3 6.6
English muffin ½ (40g) 4.4 10.9
mountain bread 1 (25g) 2.6 10.4
Vogel’s (thin sliced) 1 slice (28g) 2.8 9.8
white bread 1 slice (40g) 3.3 8.3
wholemeal bread 1 slice (40g) 3.5 8.5
wholegrain bread 1 slice (40g) 3.9 9.8
wrap 1 wrap (60g) 4.4 7.4
Cereals
Food Average serve Protein per average serve (g) Protein per 100g
bran flakes 30g 3.5 11.7
cornflakes 30g 2.5 7.5
muesli (toasted) ¼ cup 3.1 10.3
muesli (untoasted) ¼ cup 3.5 11.6
oats ¼ cup 3.8 12.5
Weetbix ™ 30g 3.6 12
Crackers
Food Average serve Protein per average serve (g) Protein per 100g
Corn Thins ™ 2 1.2 10.2
Cruskits ™ 2 1.3 11.4
rice cakes 2 0.8 8
rice crackers 8 0.6 3.8
Ryvita ™ 2 1.7 8.5
Salada ™ 6 small squares 2.4 8.8
Vitaweat ™ 4 2.8 12.1
Grains
Food Average serve Protein per average serve (g) Protein per 100g
barley 60g 1.6 2.7
brown rice 60g 1.9 3.2
buckwheat 40g 4.3 10.8
bulgar wheat 60g 1.8 3.1
cous cous 60g 4 6.7
noodles (egg) 60g 1.4 2.3
noodles (rice) 60g 1.2 2
noodles (soba) 60g 6.5 10.9
pasta (black bean) 40g 17.9 44.6
pasta (edamame) 40g 17.1 42.9
Pasta (white) 60g 3 5
pasta (wholegrain) 60g 3.8 6.3
quinoa 60g 2.6 3.4
white rice 60g 1.7 2.8
wild rice 60g 2.4 4
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