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Are you eating enough protein?

Published:Wednesday | March 28, 2012 | 12:00 AM

You could be guilty of the regular bread-and-jam-type breakfast, reserving protein servings only for the main meals each day. If this is so, you may not be getting your quota of daily protein. This habit could contribute to a low muscle mass and possible increased fat mass.

The quality of protein is influenced by its mix of essential amino acids which are building blocks that cannot be synthesised by the body but must be provided by the diet. Quality also depends on how available the protein is to the body when consumed. In other words, how much is digested versus the amount excreted.

Cow's milk and eggs

Based on various tests, the food with the best protein quality is human milk, followed by other animal milk such as cow's milk, egg and soy. The protein quality is highest in those foods essential for the growth and development of the young offspring.

To ensure good-quality protein in the diet, consume protein from mixed sources. Some vulnerable group might be challenged to eat adequate protein such as persons in periods of rapid growth and development such as infants, young children and adolescents. The elderly are at risk because the physiology of ageing, compounded by overall poor food intake. Pregnant women should also ensure adequate intake of good-quality protein.

Poor food choices which reflect low protein quality include cereal with very limited amount of animal or soy milk - coconut milk provides a good source of fat but not protein - and bony food from animals such as chicken feet and chicken back prepared without adding substantial amounts of peas, beans or nuts.

Low protein intake will lead to poor growth and development in children, loss of muscle mass in adults and possible increase in fat mass in adults who may be consuming adequate or high intake of calories. Many body functions depend on protein. Our life depends on protein.

Guide to eating enough protein

1. Consume some protein at all meals. Aim for at least one of the good-quality protein in addition to other sources.

2. Do not overcook protein as this can also reduce the availability to digestion and subsequent utilisation.

When included in meals, protein makes you feel more satisfied, compared to meals high in carbohydrate without protein. In this final leg of your no-sugar-added journey, add protein to your meals and snacks to ensure satisfaction.

Rosalee M. Brown is a registered dietitian/nutritionist who operates Integrated Nutrition and Health Services; email: