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What is protein?

We need protein in our diet to help repair and make new cells, to make enzymes for digestion and to produce hormones.
Protein
© BBC Good Food

Do you know what protein is, why we need it and which foods contain protein?

The importance of protein

We all need protein in our diet:

  • to help repair cells and to make new ones
  • to make enzymes for digestion
  • to produce hormones

In some cases, it may even be used as a source of energy, supplying 4 calories per gram.

Food sources

Protein is found in a number of foods, including:

  • meat, such as beef, chicken, pork and lamb
  • fish and seafood, like salmon, mackerel and prawns
  • eggs
  • dairy products, such as cheese, milk and yoghurt

If you follow a vegan or plant-based diet you can get protein through foods such as:

  • beans and legumes like soy, lentils and peas
  • grains like quinoa and wheat

Proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids. There are 22 different amino acids and eight of these are considered ‘essential’ because our body cannot make them. This means we need to include these, regularly, in our diets.

A box of eggs
One boiled egg supplies 7g of protein

How much protein do you need?

The amount of protein you need will depend on your age, sex and level of activity, but a general guide for most people is 0.7g protein per kilogram of body weight. This means a 70kg adult needs 49g of protein each day – to put this in perspective, just one boiled egg supplies 7g of protein.

There will be times in your life when you may need more than this including infancy, childhood, adolescence and pregnancy – these are the times when you will be experiencing rapid growth. Older adults also need to ensure that they’re receiving an adequate protein intake to help repair cells and maintain muscle mass.

Learn more about protein, why we need it and how to work out your own needs in this BBC Good Food article Spotlight on high protein diets.

© BBC Good Food
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