What is protein?

Posted by Marnie Nitschke on

Protein part 1: 

Protein is an essential macronutrient, vital for a mind-boggling array of bodily structures and functions. When we eat protein, it’s broken down and absorbed as amino acids – used to build everything from connective tissues (eg. muscle, skin, nerves) through to bones, hormones, neurotransmitters and immune system molecules. 

There are 20 different amino acids – 9 of which are considered ‘essential’ as they can’t be made by our body (and therefore have to be obtained from food).  Protein from beef will have a different amino acid make-up compared to protein from lentils or milk.  So rather than just thinking about quantity, it’s also important to consume a variety of protein foods. 

And yes, although it may take a little more planning, you absolutely can get enough quality protein on plant based diets!  

Spoiler alert ahead: Most of us get plenty of protein and easily meet our daily requirements without resorting to protein bars, powders and shakes. 

Where is protein found?

Protein is found in small amounts in lots of foods, but the key foods considered high in protein are:

  • Meat, fish, chicken, seafood and eggs
  • Legumes (e.g. chick peas, lentils, kidney beans) and soy products (e.g. soy milk, tofu)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Dairy products (e.g. milk, yoghurt, cheese)
  • Grains and cereals products (e.g. bread, oats, quinoa) provide smaller but significant amounts of protein too

In next weeks blog we will explore if you eating enough protein and be aware this can vary from person to person. This will also include how much protein we need and are there benefits to having a higher dietary protein intake than the standard suggestions?  Read here>


Before embarking on any dietary change, always consult your doctor or dietitian, to ensure it is right for you, and your individual health factors. 


Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand.  Eatforhealth.gov.au 

Stuart M. Phillips, Stéphanie Chevalier, and Heather J. Leidy. Protein “requirements” beyond the RDA: implications for optimizing health. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 41(5): 565-572. https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2015-0550

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