Protein myths & facts

Protein myths & facts

Everywhere you look today you see products with added protein advertised to us as some kind of new super food. There are a lot of myths surrounding protein and how much we actually need each day, so I thought I’d address some of the myths and add some facts so there’s no more confusion.

What are the symptoms of protein deficiency?
Protein deficiency in countries like Australia and New Zealand are quite rare, but they do occur in individuals who have trouble with digesting food such as the elderly as well as those having restrictive diets or certain medical conditions. Protein deficiency can effect brain development in children, can compromise the immune system as well as affect the gut mucosal function (digestion and absorption of nutrients and defending against bacteria).

Symptoms of protein deficiency include:
– Stunted growth in children (a common sign in malnutrition)
– Loss of muscle mass, especially in the elderly
– Fatty liver
– Increased risk of fractures
– Skin, nail and hair problems, especially brittle nails, flaky skin and hair loss. These symptoms can also be caused by other medical issues so it’s important to see a Dr to find the reason behind it. These symptoms only occur in extreme protein deficiency.
– Oedema which is a classic symptom seen in kwashiorkor (puffy, swollen skin)
– Increased risk of infection and increased severity of infections (decreased immunity)

Do I need a protein supplement?
Chances are the answer to that question is no. We consume protein throughout the day, we just don’t always realise the food we eat contains protein. The oats, banana and milk of our breakfast, the peanut butter on our sandwich at lunch, the almonds of our afternoon snack and the broccoli, sweet potatoes, spinach and chickpeas we had at dinner all contain protein, just different amounts. This all adds up during the day, so if you eat a varied, healthy diet the risk of you being protein deficient, even if you eat a plant based diet is incredibly small.

So what does this mean for all our added protein foods on the supermarket shelves? You don’t need them. Even protein shakes, the average person doesn’t need to drink them. Most of us are already getting more than the recommended daily intake for protein, and in fact a diet high in protein can come with some risks.

Risks of a high protein diet:
While it’s important we all have protein in our diet, there are also risks of having a high protein diet. These risks include:
– Constipation (protein is low in fibre and in diets that also restrict carbohydrates constipation can become a serious problem)
– Diarrhoea (due to the lack of fibre and if a lot of your meals are heavily processed)
– Weight gain
– Kidney damage (for people with pre-existing kidney problems, a high protein diet can lead to kidney damage)
– Increased risk of heart disease
– Calcium loss

How much protein do I need to eat?
Most people tend to think we need to eat a lot more protein than in generally recommended. It’s important to note however that our protein needs change over time and increases slightly as we get older. For the average adult female the daily recommended intake is 46g, while for men its 64g. Once we get to about 70 years and older, that intake increases slightly to 57g for women and 81g for men.

For children the intake is much less and which is why we don’t recommend added proteins in their diet like protein smoothies. Children aged 1 to 3 years only need 14g of protein a day and those aged 4 to 8 only need 20g a day. As they get older, they protein intakes increase slightly, with girls aged 9 to 13 years requiring 35g and boys of the same age requiring 40g. The recommended protein intake again increases slightly in the 14 to 18 years age group with girls recommended 45g a day and boys 65g a day. After that the intake for men decreases slightly to the recommended 64g a day. Protein requirements also change depending on whether you’re breastfeeding. For more information on the different recommended daily protein intakes for different age groups, pregnancy and breastfeeding, head over to the Nutrient Reference Values website for Australia and New Zealand.

Good sources of protein?
There are plenty of good unprocessed sources for protein we can include in our diet including plant based options. Good protein sources include:
– Grass-fed lean meats like beef or poultry
– Dairy products like cottage cheese and Greek yogurt
– Legumes like chickpeas, lentils and other beans
– Soy products like tofu
– Nuts and seeds like sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, cashews, macadamias, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and sesame seeds
– Eggs
– Wild caught fish (it is becoming more difficult to find sustainable, wild caught fish, so make sure your fish is from a sustainable source if you choose to consume fish)

Remember, you are eating different food throughout the day, so you shouldn’t be eating your daily recommended protein intake in one meal. Spacing out your intakes also helps better with digestion and absorption.

If you’re worried about your protein intake you can always contact a University qualified nutritionist (like myself) to have a look at your daily food intake to calculate if you’re getting the right amount of protein in your diet.

Food to help support your mental health

Food to help support your mental health

DISCLAIMER: I just thought I’d post this little disclaimer in case it wasn’t obvious. This isn’t an alternative option to seeking help, stopping your medication or treatment plan. Instead, adding these foods to your diet should be seen as a complimentary practice. Always check with your medical practitioner before you’re going to change your diet as certain foods can influence the metabolism of some medication.

There’s been quite a bit of research over the last few years on whether or not diet can assist in improving mental health, especially depression. Research has shown that the Mediterranean Diet can have potentially have a positive impact on mental health. You’re incorporating healthier food options into your diet while eating less or eliminating the more unhealthy ones. So what food should you include in your diet to help assist your mental health?

Colourful fruits and veg
As they say, ‘eat the rainbow’. Increasing your vegetable and fruit intake and making sure they come in a variety of colours will not only make sure you’re getting in plenty of gut loving fibre, but also anti-oxidants and a wide range of nutrients and minerals. Fruit and vegetables also consist of complex carbohydrates, which one of the most important energy sources for your brain. It also stabilises your body’s blood sugar reducing the risk of the 3pm sugar craving.

Wholegrains and fibre rich food
Dietary fibre plays an important role in the human body. Not only does it feed our healthy gut bugs and promote a healthy digestive system, soluble fibre has also been proven to help reduce cholesterol. Wholegrains also release a type of amino acid which triggers your body to produce serotonin which can help with sleep and mood improvement. So what foods should you include? Think leafy green veg like kale, legumes, brown rice and quinoa.

Maintaining healthy gut bacteria
Recent studies have shown a link between gut health and mental health. This is why it’s so important to make sure the food we eat will help our guts maintain healthy gut bacteria. Too many sugary processed foods starve the healthy gut bacteria and instead feed the unhealthy ones which can lead to an imbalance. Symptoms can include bloating, stomach cramps and feeling sluggish, but it can also affect our mental health. Eating colourful fruit and veg, wholegrains and fibre rich foods are a great way to encourage healthy gut bacteria. Probiotics is a great way to promote a healthy gut. You can include fermented foods rich in probiotics such as kimchi, sauerkraut and yogurt. If you opt for yogurt, make sure it is the correct type, as lots of yogurts these days

Things to eat less of:
Alcohol can have a negative effect on our sleep. You might think it’s making you sleepy and it’ll help you fall asleep, but not only does it affect our mental health (it’s a central nervous system depressant), it also interferes with our biological clocks (circadian rhythm) which can lead to sleep disorders such as insomnia.

Eating too many sugary treats aren’t only bad for our healthy gut bacteria, it can also trigger a chemical imbalance in the brain which can cause depression. Keep the added sugar to the odd treat.

Saturated fats, while delicious, can be bad for brain function. Studies have also shown people who have diets high in saturated fats (think processed foods and take aways) are more likely to suffer from depression. While the odd take away won’t be the end of the world, limiting saturated fats in our diets can be beneficial for our physical as well as our mental health.

Diet can be an important tool to assist us in improving our mental health.

Vitamin D Breakdown

Vitamin D Breakdown

Vitamin D deficiency is becoming more and more common. We probably know of at least one friend who has been diagnosed as deficient by their doctor but why does it occur so frequently and is it something we need to worry about?

What is Vitamin D?
Our bodies naturally produce Vitamin D when we’re in the sun as our skin responds to sunlight. It’s a vital vitamin that helps our bodies regulate calcium and phosphorus uptake as well as facilitating normal immune function. This helps us maintain strong bones, muscle and overall health.

How much Vitamin D do I need?
Adults require 5 micrograms of Vitamin D until about aged 50, after which we need about 10 micrograms which then increases to 15 micrograms at 70 years and older. Children need 5 micrograms until aged 18.

What happens if I don’t have enough Vitamin D?
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to Rickets (soft bones) in children and Osteoporosis in adults as Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb Calcium. Studies have also linked other illnesses to Vitamin D deficiency including an increased risk of Cardio Vascular Disease, increased risk of cognitive impairment while children can experience severe asthma.

Vitamin D has also shown to have a potentially protective role. Some studies show that Vitamin D could play a role in preventing and or treating type 1 and 2 Diabetes, multiple sclerosis and hypertension.

Where do I find Vitamin D?
While some foods have Vitamin D, they usually don’t have nearly enough for our daily recommended amount. Foods such as fish, eggs and margarine (with added Vitamin D) are good sources, but still don’t contain enough for us to get our daily required amount. The best way to make sure your body has enough Vitamin D is to head outside.

Of course this needs to be done being sun smart, as the same UV rays that provide our bodies with Vitamin D can also cause skin cancer. Here in Australia you only need about 5 to 10 minutes of sun exposure in summer. Avoid times when the UV is at it’s highest, so early morning is best. While banned in Australia, I know some countries still allow sun beds or tanning beds. Never use these period as they increase your risk to develop skin cancer. Rather spend a few minutes outside first thing in the morning watering the plants or enjoying a cup of tea. Don’t spend extended periods in the sun as this will increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Chat to your Dr to see what they recommend first.

If going in the sun for a few minutes isn’t an option for you, your Dr can recommend some supplements for you to take. First consult your Dr before you start taking Vitamin D supplements as taking too much can lead to some unpleasant side effects. Most people don’t require supplementation though, so chat to your Dr to see if they think you require supplementation first.

Who’s at risk for Vitamin D deficiency?
There are several factors that can increase your risk of developing Vitamin D deficiency.
These include:
– Being indoors most days
– Having more melanin in your skin
– People who wear clothing that cover their whole or most of their body
– People who take medication that can affect Vitamin D metabolism
– Being obese
– People with a disease or disability that affect Vitamin D metabolism such as renal disease, end stage liver disease and fat malabsorption syndromes such as coeliac disease, cystic fibrosis and inflammatory bowel disease.

– Vitamin D can be found in some foods such as fish, eggs and margarine and milk products to which Vitamin D has been added, but isn’t enough to meet our daily requirements.
– Sunshine is a great source of Vitamin D, but be sun smart.
– Supplementation can be a great option for people who can’t go out in the sun and expose their skin to UV. Talk to your Dr about supplementation if you fall into that category.
– Several factors can put you at risk for developing Vitamin D deficiency.
– Vitamin D is essential for strong, healthy bones, muscles and an immune system.
– If you think you’re at risk of a Vitamin D deficiency, book an appointment with your Dr so he can schedule the correct tests for you.

How to help your immune system this winter

We’re right in the start of winter and you would have noticed a few co-workers already succumbing to winter bugs. You would also have seen a sudden increase in “immune booster” products being advertised to us, but do they even work?

I thought I’d share a few scientifically proven ways you can help keep your immune system healthy and balanced this winter while addressing a few myths at the same time.

Boosting your immune system
We’ve all heard about boosting our immune system, but is that even possible? Our immune system is quite complex consisting of hundreds of different cells doing a variety of different jobs. It consists out of the innate response (which identifies unfriendly bugs often leading us to have a fever or feeling under the weather) and the acquired response (which swoops in and battles against the unfriendly bugs). So the question is, what exactly are these products claiming to boost? Is it antibodies, or white cells or nothing really? Scientifically speaking, you can’t really “boost” your immune system. You can however try to keep things in balance and make some lifestyle and dietary changes that will help you have a healthy immune system.

Supplements only work when you have a poor diet and find yourself deficient. Studies have shown that taking supplements if you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet won’t improve your immune system. Taking high dosages of vitamins can actually have an adverse effect and can lead to toxicity, especially in vitamin D and A.

What about herbal supplements like Echinacea? Unfortunately there just haven’t been enough studies to support the claims that herbs have a boosting effect on the immune system. Some of the studies have also been criticised for being too small or for being badly designed, which means they don’t supply us with enough supporting evidence.

Probiotics fall in the same category as herbal supplements. Scientists have started to look at the role our gut bacteria plays on our overall health, but it’s still early days and currently we can’t conclusively state that taking probiotics as a supplement will help boost the immune system. At the moment eating a healthy, balanced diet rich in fibre is a scientifically proven way to keep the gut healthy and as a result, help keep your immune system healthy. As more research is done in this area over the next few years we might be able to understand better what effect taking a probiotic supplement might have on our immune system.

Staying active especially as the days become darker and colder can be a challenge. But it’s one of the ways you can help your immune system. Exercise helps to keep blood pressure and body weight under control. Working out also helps protect the body against some diseases. So instead of hitting the snooze button and sleeping in, get up and get moving.

Sleep in general won’t help improve your immune system, but getting enough restorative sleep will help keep your immune system healthy. Most adults these days get less than 7 hours sleep a night, which doesn’t leave much time for restorative sleep. A few tips include making sure you switch all blue light appliances off at least 30 minutes before bed (this includes your mobile phone), winding down in bed with a good book, meditation or a relaxing bath and make sure you don’t drink too much alcohol as it can impact your sleep quality.

Raw food diets, juice cleanses and detox diets are fad diets. Despite what they claim, they won’t help keep your immune system healthy. You need to make sure you’re giving your body all the nutrients it needs and the best way to do it is by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Focus on incorporating a wide range of fruit, vegetables and fibre rich grains and pulses. This will make sure you get all the micronutrients your body needs to remain healthy. Make sure you limit your intake of processed foods and red meat.


If you do have a compromised immune system, make sure you chat to your GP about steps to take to help protect you against bugs this winter. There’s so much misinformation dressed up as science floating around on the internet and it can be tricky trying to sort fact from fiction. Often times, having a healthy body is usually the answer and it doesn’t require fancy, expensive lattes (although they are pretty), gruelling diets or pricy pills. While it’s not very sexy, a balanced wholefood mainly plant-based diet combined with exercise is one of the best ways to take care of your body and make sure your immune system remains healthy.