article by In The Moment magazine
Hello guys & happy Sunday! Today I had the most amazing brunch with my friend Andreea and then we ended up browsing the shelves for new magazines to inspire us ( this will always remain one of my all time favourite activities ). To my surprise, I found the new issue of In The Moment, which is this awesome publication that promotes everything I believe in from mindfulness, yoga, natural remedies and recipes to travel and sustainable fashion. This month in their 'healthy eating' section they had the nutritionist TJ Waterfall speaking about plant based protein and I absolutely loved the article so I decided to share it with you on my blog!
The reason why I love this article is because although I am not vegan, I do love vegan recipes, and I find it hard to believe that there are still people who think that protein = meat, but at the same time they believe this because of false information. One of the reasons why I started this blog is because I want to change this. Another point that made me share this article was the fact that it recognizes a trend in the intake of protein. If you write 'protein packed' on a chocolate bar because it has an almond inside it's not healthy, so please pay attention to all ingredients.
How much protein do we really need to stay healthy? Less than we might think; says nutritionist TJ Waterfall
"Protein is everywhere nowadays. The stand on the approach to supermarket checkouts, which were once filled with sugar-laden confectionary, are now packed with protein bars and snacks. Protein is often added to popular breakfast cereals, drinks and even chocolate bars. And you may have noticed that we’re bombarded with adverts on TV and posters for various high-protein products. It’s all bound to make us wander- perhaps we’re lacking this vital macronutrient in our diets and need to buy these goods to ensure an adequate intake? Or maybe that it’s recently been discovered to be a superfood that’ll make us look like the supermodels promoting it.
These questions might be especially pertinent for vegans, who don’t consume any meat, fish, eggs or dairy, because modern society would certainly have us believe that we must eat these foods in order to get a sufficient amount of protein in our diet. But where has this recent protein obsession actually stemmed from, and what should we know before we decide whether or not to fork out for these expensive foods?
Proteins are large molecules made up of long chains of amino acids- these are the “building blocks” of protein. There are 20 different amino acids, some of which our bodies can make themselves, others - known as essential amino acids- must come from food we eat. Every cell and tissue in the human body contains protein so they play important structural and functional roles in each cell. Your body also uses proteins to make enzymes and hormones, meaning they’re involved in a vast range of vital metabolic interactions. Put simply, protein is essential for growth, repair and maintenance of good health.
The UK government recommends a protein intake of 0.75g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day. This equates to around 45g per day for adult women, and 56g for adult men. As protein is required for growth, children and pregnant mothers need more, while overweight or obese adults require less.
What about vegans? It is possible to get enough protein without eating any animal products at all? The simple answer is: yes, very easily! In fact, it’s difficult NOT to get enough protein, as long as you’re eating enough calories and a balanced diet.
What’s more, getting your protein from a plant-based diet comes with a huge array of other impressive health benefits. Pulses (like beans, lentils and chickpeas), nuts, vegetables and whole grains are all packed with fibre (something most people in the UK lack) and an array of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants, all of which are very important for our health. This helps to explain why those who eat a plant-based diet have significantly lower incidence of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
So why all the hype around protein? Well, there are two reasons why eating more protein can be useful. Firstly, it’s been shown that a high protein intake can help with weight loss in the short-term, because higher protein diets keep you fuller for longer, and help to minimize any muscle loss that can occur when losing weight, therefore improving your metabolism (because muscle uses lots of energy). However, studies show that high protein diets don’t help with weight loss in the long-term. In fact, some studies found those eating more animal protein were more likely to gain weight in the long term (however this was not the case with vegan protein sources).
Secondly, increasing protein intake can help to promote muscle growth, but only if you’re training regularly, and only up to a point. Studies show that doubling the recommended intake of protein increases muscle growth in strength training athletes; however, tripling the recommended intake makes no further difference.
In fact, consuming excessive levels of protein in the diet, as well as making no further difference to muscle growth and only helping with weight loss in the short-term, can affect our health negatively in a number of ways when derived from animal sources. This is partly due to the lack of fibre in meat, eggs and dairy, as well as the ham iron, saturated fat, and phosphorus found in these foods.
Higher intakes of meat in the pursuit of a high protein diet can therefore lead to increased risk of kidney damage, cancer and heart disease. So not only is consuming too much protein a waste of money, it can damage our health.
Should we ditch the protein supplements then? Well, that depends on your goals. While they’re by no means necessary, they can still come in quite handy if you’re resistance-training regularly, because they offer a convenient and quick way to consume a high amount of protein, which can be useful before and after exercise to prevent muscle breakdown and to promote muscle growth. Using vegan protein shakes is no reflection on the ability to consume sufficient amounts of protein on a vegan diet, it’s just a matter of convenience - the same reason that protein shakes are popular among meat eating gym-goers too!
So, as you can see, increasing protein intake may help in short-term for those looking to lose weight, and can help with muscle growth for regular gym-goers. But bear in mind that too much of a good thing is not always healthy, and the levels of intake required to see these benefits are extremely easy to get from a balanced diet.
As with most topics around nutrition, the advice boils down to a very simple message- just make sure you’re eating a balanced, varied and colorful diet consisting primarily of loads of legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds. This should be the advice whether or not you follow a vegan diet. Stick to this and the rest usually falls into place!"
🌱 TJ Waterfall is a registered nutritionist specialising in vegan and vegetarian nutrition. He has a first class Master's degree in Nutrition from University College London and is a registered associate nutritionist with the Association for Nutrition. He's also the founder of meatfreefitness.co.uk where he provides trustworthy and science-backed information to help people get the most out of their plant-based diets in order to reach their health and fitness goals.