Why you might want to rethink your ‘high protein’ diet

Protein should be part of a healthy, balanced diet, but a new study reveals that many Australians are not consuming enough of it – and are also getting it from the wrong food sources.

The CSIRO Healthy Diet Score survey detailed the diets of 200,000 Australians and showed that people with “low-quality” diets were more than three times as likely to be obese as people with “high-quality” diets.

It was also found that those with “low-quality” diets obtained eight times more of their protein from junk foods than people with “high-quality” diets.

Processed foods, including meat pies, burgers, pizza with processed meats, chicken nuggets, sausages, cakes, ice-cream and biscuits were the second highest contributor to protein intake for participants with low diet scores.

In contrast, participants of a healthy weight consumed more protein from chicken, red meat, fish, eggs, milk, cereals, nuts and yoghurt – foods which help control the appetite and reduce cravings, according to experts.

Junk foods accounted for approximately three per cent of their total protein intake.

The research found that eating at least 25 grams of protein at each meal helped to control hunger and enhanced muscle metabolism.

The CSIRO’s Principal Research Scientist, Professor Manny Noakes, said: “Higher protein healthy meals help to control appetite and can help to reduce the urge to indulge in junk food.”

According to Ms Noakes, the current recommendations for protein intake underestimate the protein requirements for healthy weight loss.

“Everyone’s protein needs are different and not all foods that contain protein are good for you. Often a relatively low figure of suggested protein intake is quoted for an average weight man (75kg) or woman (57kg),” Prof Noakes said.

The problem is, most Australians aren’t “average”, Professor Noakes says, with more than 60 per cent of us being overweight or obese.

The latest guidance suggests eating 1.2-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight for optimal weight loss.

Nutritional experts are also concerned that most are underestimating how much protein they need to consume to lose weight.

A qualified dietitian can help work out what your actual intake should be, and a protein calculator has just gone up on the CSIRO website.

Are protein supplements the answer?

A Canstar Blue survey of Australian consumers who buy protein supplements found effectiveness to be the greatest driver of customer satisfaction (i.e. it ultimately helped them achieve their goals). This was ahead of taste in second place, with hunger satisfaction third in the list of importance.

However, protein supplements are not a ‘one stop shop’ when it comes to slimming down or bulking up. They should still be used in combination with a healthy, well-balanced diet, and a healthy and consistent exercise or weightlifting regime.

The survey formed part of Canstar Blue’s customer satisfaction ratings for protein supplement brands, with Optimum Nutrition being the highest rated. It received five stars across all research categories – taste, hunger satisfaction, variety, effectiveness, texture, value for money and overall satisfaction.

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