Protein supplements more hype than health?

High protein food supplements – most commonly in the form of a powder, protein­ shake, or bars – have become very popular over the last few years. It seems that more and more people are turning to a high protein diet to try and increase muscle mass and fitness. But are protein supplements really necessary?

Protein is an essential macronutrient and should make up a significant proportion of your diet. It’s plentiful in nuts, seeds and pulses (such as beans, peas, and lentils), fish, meat and some dairy products. Most people can get ample protein from a healthy balanced diet.

Why do we need protein?

As well as helping to build muscle, protein is required for a healthy immune system and to help organs like your heart, brain, and skin to function well.

What do protein powders consist of?

The most common protein powders are derived from milk, eggs, and plant sources like soy, rice and pea. Quality can vary – during processing, nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and fibre can be removed, while other ingredients, such as collagen, flavouring and sweeteners may be added.

Do we need protein supplements?

·As we age we lose muscle, and in some cases – such as people with a low appetite, or on a restricted diet – a protein supplement may help increase strength and muscle mass. However this is usually more effective through food and exercise.

While athletes may look to protein supplements as a way of getting extra muscle-building nutrients, even on a rigorous bodybuilding regime, it’s easy to get plenty of protein from whole foods.

Any protein you eat which is more than what your body needs will either be excreted from your body, or stored – which can make you gain weight.

Protein shakes may seem an easy way to get protein, but they don’t contain all the nutrients of a healthy meal so they shouldn’t be used as a meal replacement. In addition, having too much protein can cause health problems so it’s advisable to get professional advice before changing from a healthy diet to taking protein supplements.

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