Protein – How Much Do You Really Need?
29 July 2022
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29 July 2022
Protein. It’s been making the headlines with high protein and low carbohydrate diets or even the infamous keto diet. Confusion runs rife.
Let’s clear up this confusion …
Protein is a macronutrient, like fat and carbohydrate, indicating we need it in large amounts in our diets. When digested, it is broken down into smaller units called amino acids. Some amino acids can not be made by the body and must be provided in the diet. These are called essential amino acids. Others can be made by the body and are called non-essential amino acids. Sources of protein come from animal or plant origins. Generally, animal protein is richer in essential amino acids, eating a variety of plant protein sources daily will ensure all essential amino acids are provided by your diet (Protein 2018). However plant-based proteins, such as hemp seed protein, are growing in popularity.
Once protein is digested and broken down into amino acids, our bodies use them as the building blocks of a myriad of bodily structures and substances, for example: skin, muscles, teeth, bones, hair, blood, body fluids, hormones, and even antibodies (Osterweil n.d.; Thompson 2019). During periods of growth, such as pregnancy, or repair, for example: a sports injury, it becomes a very important nutrient (Protein 2018).
This is where it gets tricky. The recommended daily intake for protein was determined over 70 years ago and has never changed. The amount is calculated per gram of protein to kilogram of body weight to avoid a loss of body nitrogen. Intake has also been expressed as a percentage of the overall diet, for example: 10-35% of energy intake (Wolfe et al 2017). The problem lies in the discrepancies between these two amounts. Furthermore, evidence-based research has shown that higher protein intakes may be beneficial for bone health, preventing hip fractures and bone mineral density loss (Wallace & Frankenfield 2017).
In New Zealand, the Ministry of Health (MoH) does not promote numerical values to the general public related to the intakes of single nutrients. It instead chooses to focus on the consumption of healthy, whole and minimally processed foods to maintain health and well-being (Current Food and Nutrition Guidelines 2015). The body can absorb nutrients in foods better than it can when a nutrient is consumed in a large single amount (Rodie 2016). Numerical values related to nutrients from evidence-based research do underpin the MoH recommendations, however, as would be expected (Current Food and Nutrition Guidelines 2015).
Protein sources generally fall under the two food groups: milk products and alternatives plus legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and other seafood, eggs, poultry or red meat with fat removed. TWO servings of milk and milk products whilst TWO servings of legumes, nuts, and seeds or ONE serving of fish and other seafood, eggs, poultry or red meat with fat removed are recommended for healthy adult New Zealanders (Ministry of Health 2015).
It should be noted: children, adolescents, and pregnant and breastfeeding women have increased needs for protein. They are in life stages that represent times of growth, and as such, fall under different sets of guidelines (Current Food and Nutrition Guidelines 2015).
These are popular right now but are they really needed? If you are meeting your protein requirements through a healthy diet – probably not. As mentioned above, nutrients appear to be absorbed more easily in whole foods as opposed to consuming in one single amount as often is the case with protein powders. Convenience is possibly an advantage of these - easy to add to your smoothie after the gym, or as you head out the door to work (Rodie 2016). The downside to many of these protein powders is how much processing is required, and additional ingredients in these powders to make them palatable and dissolve in your milk or water. There are only a few alternative wholefood proteins, which avoid using high temperatures and artificial ingredients or extraction methods. Examples include our Hemp Protein which is made from finely milling the whole Hemp Seed into a powder.
Science has looked at the ability of higher-protein diets to prevent or treat obesity by helping to maintain a healthy body weight. Evidence-based research suggests there is a moderate satiety effect when eating a protein-rich meal. Satiety is the feeling of fullness we experience when we have eaten enough food. When we feel full, there is less likelihood of over-eating which can lead to a higher caloric intake and an increase in body weight. The verdict is not out yet on protein and its role in weight loss – more long-term studies with stricter dietary compliance are warranted (Leidy et al 2015).
Plant-based proteins are becoming increasingly popular. Not just for vegans and vegetarians, but for a wide range of people. Motivations to increase plant-based protein consumption include; being better for the environment, lower calorie options and growing awareness of personal health. Plant-based proteins are an excellent addition to a wide range of foods to improve the nutritional profile including baked goods and snacks. Plant-based proteins can be used as a partial replacement of wheat flour to improve the nutritional profile. As plant based-proteins are often gluten free they can be used with other gluten-free ingredients in gluten-free products.
Here are some examples that can be added to food or snacks that include high-quality protein sources:
Midlands is the perfect partner for your brand. Regardless of your business sits, whether it be a bakery, whole foods, or food ingredient supplier - we have all the latest expertise and technology to deliver what you want and when you need it. In addition, our wide range of arable food ingredients, plant-based nutritional oil, and superfoods, we have our own supply and production operations that can work with you to achieve your goals.
We also offer the services of a highly knowledgeable sales & marketing team. So if you’re looking to bring a fantastic brand to market, or simply need and ingredient, our team of professionals can plan a pathway to your launch. With an extensive network of growers and suppliers - Midlands can provide your business with everything it needs.
Get in touch with us today for more information about how Midlands can make for a beneficial partner in your budding business.
This column is not intended as medical advice but rather to provide information for educational purposes. Consult with your GP or other medical professional regarding the applicability of any of the information provided.
Leidy, HJ., Clifton, PM., Astrup, A., Wycherley, TP., Westerterp-Plantenga, MS., Luscombe-Marsh, ND., Woods, SC & Mattes, RD. (2015). The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 101(Suppl), pp. 1320S-9S.
Ministry of Health. (2015). Current Food and Nutrition Guidelines. https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/eating-and-activity-guidelines/current-food-and-nutrition-guidelines
Ministry of Health. (2015). Eating and Activity Guidelines for New Zealand Adults. Ministry of Health, Wellington.
Osterweil, N. (n.d). The Benefits of Protein. https://www.webmd.com/men/features/benefits-protein#1
Protein. (2018). NZ Nutrition Foundation. https://nutritionfoundation.org.nz/nutrition-facts/nutrients/protein
Rodie, C. (2016) Should you use protein powder in your diet? Stuff. https://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/well-good/teach-me/82111683/should-you-use-protein-powder-in-your-diet
Thompson, C. (2019). Protein 101: What It Is, Why It’s Important and How to Get More. Livestrong. https://www.livestrong.com/article/407936-what-are-the-functions-of-protein-in-the-human-body/
Wallace, TC & Frankenfield, CL. (2017) Dietary Protein Intake Above the Current RDA and Bone Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of American College of Nutrition, Vol. 36, No. 6, pp. 481-96.
Wolfe, RR., Cifelli, AM., Kostas, G & Kim, IY. (2017) Optimizing Protein Intake in Adults: Interpretation and Application of the Recommended Dietary Allowance Compared with the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range, Advanced Nutrition, Vol. 8, pp. 266-75.