Ministry of Health Singapore. All Rights Reserved.
Many of us associate protein with those who are looking to bulk up their bodies — think protein shakes, high protein diets and protein snacks. Yet, protein is not only for active individuals who are looking to build up their muscles. It’s a “must” for everyone!
In fact, protein is more important than we often perceive it to be.
Other than being a macronutrient that is essential to maintaining a well-balanced diet, protein also aids in repairing and building parts of our body such as our body cells and tissues, organs, muscles, antibodies and hormones. It plays a key role in maintaining muscle mass and strength to perform daily physical functions such as balancing and carrying items, especially as we age. Without protein, we wouldn’t be able to carry out our day to day activities smoothly!
Beyond these health benefits, proteins also help in weight management. When we include protein in our meals, it keeps us feeling fuller for longer, which usually leads to lesser snacking. This is because, as compared to carbohydrates, protein takes longer to digest due to a more complex molecular structure. In fact, this is also why our primary energy source are carbohydrates — they are metabolised more quickly and readily in our body.
While many of us may have some knowledge about protein, there are common myths that might be causing us to consume too much or too little protein.
Many factors affect the amount of protein we need daily, such as our gender, age, weight and how active we are. Higher protein intake is required for those pregnant or lactating, for a growing teenager, or those recovering from an illness or a surgery.
As we age, we may experience sarcopenia, which is defined as a gradual loss of muscle mass and strength. While the onset of sarcopenia differs from one individual to another, it may start as early as 40 years old.
Older adults aged 50 years old and above need more protein
to minimise the loss of muscle mass and strength, thereby reducing the risk of falls and bone fractures.
Carbohydrates are often associated only with energy, which may lead to the impression that it is less useful and not as important for our bodies as compared to protein. Some of us might even regard protein as the hero and carbohydrate as the villain. Friends might even urge us to “cut down on carbs and eat more protein”.
The truth is that both macronutrients are equally important in achieving a well-balanced diet, we shouldn’t be cutting out one for the other. As with any nutrient, each has its key function in our body.
Proteins plays an important role in helping to repair, build and grow muscle fibres, while carbohydrates remain our primary energy source. More importantly, when calorie intake from carbohydrates is inadequate, the ability of protein to promote muscle growth and repair will be compromised.
The conclusion? Go for a well-balanced diet which contains both carbohydrates (preferably complex forms like wholegrains) and proteins in the
When we think of protein, we usually think of meat. However, there are different sources of proteins, with some having more nutritional benefits than others.
Fresh lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy such as low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese are good protein sources, as are plant-based proteins like tofu, tempeh, nuts, beans/legumes.
On the other hand, processed meats such as bacon, sausages, nuggets, ham and luncheon meats have low protein content and are often high in saturated fat and sodium instead. A high sodium intake can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and hypertension.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), consuming 50g of processed meat per day
increases the risk of colorectal cancer by approximately 18%.
Taking these into consideration, we should aim to have a variety of animal- and plant-based proteins from whole, fresh foods for their mix of nutrients (such as iodine, iron, zinc and vitamin B) and healthy fat, on top of their high protein content.
Weight gain is common especially in the first few years after entering the workforce. When we get a desk-bound job, we tend to be more sedentary, and less active. We might also find it difficult to exercise as often.
To lose weight, we might turn to fad diets that promise a quick fix to weight issues such as a high-protein diet.
Protein, just like carbohydrate and fat, contains calories - 1g of protein is equal to 4kcal (1g of carbs = 4kcal; 1g of fats = 9kcal) and should be consumed in moderation.
Bottom line: If you are consuming more calories than you are burning through exercise or daily activities, you will gain weight. A better approach is to aim for a well-balanced diet that incorporates all major food groups and to reduce your portion size while exercising regularly. You can refer to
My Healthy Plate’s guide on how to create balanced meals, and with the right portion size.
Overall, do make sure the calories you consume do not exceed the calories that you expend.
Some have the misperception that eating protein-rich foods such as meat, nuts and beans will lead to a gout attack. For those unfamiliar, gout is a form of arthritis that attacks joints and causes acute pain and swelling. As a result, these people may avoid protein-rich foods as a way to prevent gout attacks.
However, the truth is that protein-rich foods are not to blame. The main culprit is purine - a type of chemical compound found in some foods and drinks. Whenever our body breaks down these purine-containing foods, uric acids are produced.
Rather than protein, gout attacks are triggered by uric acid build-up in the blood. Foods high in purine include seafood, red meat, sugary beverages and alcohol.
Instead of avoiding protein-rich food in general, those with gout should avoid foods with high purine such as organs, seafood/shellfish, and red meats. Gout-friendly protein alternatives include eggs, dairy product, soy products, nuts, and seeds.
It is advisable for people with gout to consult a doctor or dietician on how to better adjust your meals or to manage your gout condition to meet your dietary requirements.
For average Singaporean adults aged 18-49, the recommended daily protein intake is approximately 0.8g/kg body weight. Meanwhile, older adults aged 50 and above have a higher daily recommended protein intake at 1.2g/kg bodyweight instead. On average, adults aged 18-49 should consume approximately 50g to 60g of protein a day.1
The above info can be tabulated for ease of reference:
Protein requirement in g/kg of body weight
18 — 49
50 & up
So, for an individual who is aged between 18 – 49 and weighs 65kg, the daily requirement of protein is approximately 0.8 x 65 = 52g.
Spreading this number across 3 meals means around 20g of protein per meal — think 1 square piece of pan-fried
taukwa or a palm-sized chicken breast. These are common foods we have during our meals, which means that consuming 20g of protein per meal is a lot more achievable than you may think!
Here are some other examples of foods containing approximately 20-25g protein which you could consider for each meal:
There’s no need to stick to only one food for your protein source each time— feel free to mix and match these foods for a delicious and nutritious meal such as having one glass of low fat-milk with 2 eggs for breakfast. Remember, have a mixture of animal- and plant-based proteins as part of a balanced diet, and choose fresh, lean meat instead of processed, preserved and fatty meat!
Here are some ways you can easily tweak your usual meals to incorporate some protein:
Protein-rich food can easily be found around us! 1 palm-sized beef steak (100g) contains 32g of protein content. A handful of walnuts (approximately 30g) would give you 4g of protein.
Here are some other examples of protein-rich foods which you can add to your meal to meet your daily protein need:
Protein content (g)
a handful of walnuts (~13 halves) (30g)
a handful of mixed nuts (30g)
1 cup of low-fat plain yoghurt (150g)
1 small piece of tempeh (30g)
1 slice of reduced-fat cheddar cheese (20g)
a handful of almond nuts (~23 pieces) (30g)
1 tablespoon of peanut butter spread (25g)
1 bowl of soybean curd (300g)
1 egg (50g)
1 dessert-bowl of green bean soup (250g)
1 glass/cup of low fat milk (250ml)
1 dessert-bowl of red bean soup (250g)
1 glass/cup of soybean milk (250ml)
1 small bowl of dhal curry (200g)
1 square piece of pan-fried taukwa (150g)
1 fried fish (e.g. tengerri batang/mackerel/kembong) (~100g)
Half a can of canned tuna in brine (100g)
2 pieces of canned sardines (150g)
1 palm size of salmon (100g)
1 palm size of chicken breast (100g)
1 palm size of beef steak (100g)
Now that you’re familiar with proteins and their benefits, remember to have protein at every meal. A little goes a long way – a glass of soybean milk at breakfast, a handful of almonds instead of potato chips. These efforts add up!
Ensuring that you consume sufficient protein is only part of what constitutes a well-balanced meal — make sure that your other nutritional needs are met as well! How? Check out
My Healthy Plate’s visual guide for well-balanced meals to attain optimal health.
Download the HealthHub app on
Google Play or
Apple Store to access more health and wellness advice at your fingertips.
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This article was last reviewed on
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
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