Most people know about carbohydrates and fat. The situation is different with the third main nutrient: protein. Here are myths and misinformation. FOCUS Online asked an expert, whether it is easier to lose weight with protein and when too much protein harms.
Without protein, we would not survive, because protein, which is protein, in addition to carbohydrates and fat is a main nutrient of the body. Protein is a generic term for 20 different amino acids. Eight of the amino acids can not be produced by the body itself, so they have to be absorbed through food: leucine, tryptophan, threonine, methionine, valine, isoleucine, lysine, phenylalanine.
Function of protein in the body
The amino acids take on a variety of different tasks, including:
• They are building blocks in every cell, in skin, nails and hair, bones, cartilage, connective tissue and organs like the brain.
• They transport fat and oxygen.
• They build up nitrogen-containing compounds, such as hormones such as insulin and enzymes.
• They are involved in the synthesis of histamine and serotonin.
• They are part of the immune system (such as antibodies).
• They are important for muscle growth.
Last but not least, a protein with four kilocalories per gram is an energy supplier. “Compared to fat with an energy content of about nine kilocalories per gram, protein provides less energy, but has a more satiating effect than fat and carbohydrates,” explains Christina Holzapfel, scientist at the Institute of Nutritional Medicine at the Klinikum Rechts der Isar of the Technical University of Munich.
Protein deficiency – the signs
Too little protein is associated with significant developmental and growth disorders, such as muscle weakness. However, the risk of protein deficiency in our country is rare, higher in the starvation regions of the world. “In Germany, the intake of protein in the general population is on average above the recommendations of the German Nutrition Society, although in the elderly, the intake is often insufficient,” says the expert.
You need that much protein every day
The reference levels for protein are 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, according to the German Society for Nutrition (DGE) for the general population under 65 years.
Example: A man who is 1.80 meters tall and weighs 80 kilograms should eat 80 * 0.8 = 64 grams of protein per day.
“If we look at the nutrient relation, then the rule of thumb is that 15 percent of the daily calories should be covered by proteins,” suggests the nutritionist.
For adults aged 65 and over, an estimate of the intake of 1.0 g of protein per kilo of body weight per day is given, and for children, it is slightly higher, depending on their age. However, there are exceptions: people with obesity may not calculate their protein needs based on their current weight, but according to a normal weight in their size. And on the contrary, those who are underweight should take more protein accordingly.
An overview of foods with high protein content
High protein foods include meat, fish, dairy and eggs. But also legumes like lentils and soy, in addition, cereals, provide a lot of protein.
Protein content of some foods
• Hard cheese like Emmentaler (100 grams): 30 grams of protein
• Beef (100 grams): about 21 grams of protein
• Poultry (100 grams): about 20 grams of protein
• Salmon (100 grams): about 20 grams of protein
• 1 egg: about 13 grams of protein
• Milk (100 millilitres): 3 grams of protein
• Soybeans, tofu (100 grams): 34 grams of protein
• Almonds (100 grams): 24 grams of protein
• Lentils (100 grams): 23 grams of protein
• Lupine flour (100 grams): around 18 grams of protein
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Issue animal protein vs. vegetable proteins
Protein is not the same as protein. Protein from animal products and soybeans can be used better by the body than other protein sources. The bioavailability of proteins from animal foods is therefore better. They also provide a full range of essential amino acids. From this point of view, animal protein would do better than vegetable protein.
However, meat, high-fat dairy products, and eggs, in addition to the cheap proteins and unfavourable fats such as cholesterol. “Protein intake should, therefore, come from animal and plant foods, emphasizing the consumption of food of plant origin,” explains Christina Holzapfel.
Vegetable protein scores against diabetes, fatty liver and heart attack
Studies show that a diet that favours vegetable protein, with many health benefits is linked: The risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, is significantly reduced, as nutritionists recently stated. In addition, belly fat is broken down and there are positive effects on a fatty liver.
It also works without animal protein: Tips for vegans
Ultimately, everyone can feed healthy and wholesome even without protein from animal foods. Anyone who wants to cover his protein needs entirely by plant-based foods, such as vegans, only needs to combine grains and legumes, for example, and then he also gets all the vital proteins.
The DGE gives practical examples: combine lentils with rice or peas with bread. “Grain is low in lysine, threonine, and tryptophan, but rich in methionine. Legumes are low in methionine, but rich in threonine and tryptophan, “writes the DGE. Because herbal foods provide different amino acids.
Environmental aspect plant protein vs. animal proteins
Besides these direct positive health effects, which speak for more plant protein and less animal, there are still indirect ones, like the environment. It is a fact that people in the industrialized nations eat too much animal food and thereby harm the environment and exploit the depletion of valuable resources, which will end up making us humans very vulnerable.
Just one example of many: for the food crops of farm animals’ huge amounts of agricultural land are needed. Simply producing one kilogram of animal protein – consumed quickly by three people on a barbecue – requires five times as many kilograms of plant protein.
In order to ensure sufficient protein in the future for the growing world population, the protein requirement would, therefore, have to be met much more by using vegetables instead of animal food. Every one of us is in demand here.
New sources of protein, environmentally friendly alternatives
There are new starting points to cover the protein requirement differently. “Innovative approaches are protein sources such as insects or algae, which are also traded as superfoods,” says nutritionist Holzapfel. Although a dish with locusts currently does not meet everyone’s taste, she adds, but algae would taste-neutral and could, therefore, be used in many ways.
Also, lupines serve as meat substitutes, can be processed into milk, yogurt and desserts as well as to dips and spreads. “Lupine seeds impress with high-quality vegetable protein and contain little fat and carbohydrates,” emphasizes the nutritionist. In addition, the legume is very rich in fibre.
Eat healthy and lose weight
Protein powder for losing weight especially in obesity
With vegetable protein, many also think of the various protein powders for losing weight. They consist for example of whey, soybean or other vegetable proteins as well as lupines. As you know, protein provides less calories than fat, but it’s more filling. “According to guidelines, a weight-loss formula can be used in cases of severe obesity,” says Christina Holzapfel. That applies to a body mass index of more than 30 kg / m 2. The sole protein diet can be carried out under medical supervision for up to three months.
There are 800 to 1200 kilocalories recorded per day. The expert: “This usually leads to a good weight reduction of 0.5 to 2.0 kilograms per week.” Who does not have to slim down quite so quickly, is better advised with a meal replacement strategy: one or two main meals per day deleted and instead there is the protein drink.
“The reduced body weight, however, can only be maintained if the use of the formula diet is used in the context of a long-lasting lifestyle change and also adheres to the formula diet an energy-adapted diet,” advises the nutritionist.
Protein for athletes
In addition, there are also slim, athletic people who resort to protein products such as protein bars. Especially amateur athletes hope to build more muscle in this way. In any case, protein-rich food is important for athletes. For most, however, the amount recommended by the DGE is enough. Indispensable for muscle building is training. Without stress, muscles do not grow – even if so many proteins are swallowed.
The situation is different for high-performance athletes. You have a higher protein requirement. That is why they feed differently during exercise, relying on carbohydrates and protein. Most of the time, they usually eat more than in training-free time and in this way automatically eat more proteins.
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Too much protein can be dangerous – an extreme case
But there are also extremes here, for example in the bodybuilder scene. So a 25-year-old bodybuilder died of a protein overdose. She had consumed protein supplements in preparation for a competition but did not know she was suffering from a rare genetic metabolic disorder. This urea cycle defect made her body unable to process the large amounts of protein properly. There was ammonia that poisoned her body.
However, this is indeed a rare exception, an extreme case. Most people do not have to fear damage from too much protein if they eat a well-balanced diet. Only those who already have marked kidney dysfunction can burden the kidneys even more by high protein amounts. However, up to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is usually no problem for healthy people.