The analysis from the CSIRO Healthy Diet Score survey, Australia’s largest nutrition study of almost 200,000 adults, showed people with low-quality diets obtained eight times more of their protein from junk foods than people with high-quality diets — and were more than three times as likely to be obese.
“Everyone’s protein needs are different, and not all foods that contain protein are good for you,” said Professor Manny Noakes, Principal Research Scientist at CSIRO.
She said that the current recommendations for protein intake underestimate protein requirements during weight loss. The latest science suggests eating 1.2 to 1.6g per kilogram of bodyweight for optimal weight loss.
“Often, a relatively low figure of suggested protein intake is quoted for an average-weight man or woman. However, most Australians are far from average with more than 60% of us being overweight or obese,” said Professor Noakes.
“Our research also shows that many people are not getting their protein from healthy foods.”
The new findings
The new analysis showed that junk foods, such as pies, burgers, pizza with processed meats, chicken nuggets, sausages, cakes, ice cream and biscuits, were the second-highest contributor to protein intake for people with low diet scores.
In contrast, according to CSIRO, leaner people who tended to have higher-quality diets ate protein sourced from healthier whole foods, including chicken, red meat, fish, eggs, milk, cereals, nuts and yoghurt. Junk food only accounted for approximately 3% of their total protein intake.
“Higher protein healthy meals help to control appetite and can help to reduce the urge to indulge in junk food,” said Professor Noakes.
Previously, Professor Noakes had also said that eating more protein at breakfast and at each meal could help to achieve healthy weight loss.
A CSIRO review of the latest scientific evidence had further found support for the recommendation to eat at least 25g of protein at each main meal in order to help to control hunger and to enhance muscle metabolism, diminishing cravings for unhealthy snacks.
Personalised nutrition important
Nonetheless, Professor Noakes said a personalised approach to health and nutrition is of utmost importance.
“As science advances, we are seeing the benefits of taking a more personalised approach to health and nutrition. By calculating your personal protein needs for healthy weight loss, you may be able to more successfully achieve your weight loss goals,” she said.
To help those dealing with overweightness and obesity trying to achieve healthy weight loss, CSIRO has developed a free personalised protein calculator to provide a tailored estimate of how much protein and the types of protein are needed to support healthy weight loss for the individual.
It recommends the amount and types of protein one should be eating in a day to support healthy weight loss, as well as provides recommendations for how the daily amount should be divided across each meal.
A burgeoning bother
Separately, researchers at Australia’s Monash and Deakin universities had found that in developed countries, children of a lower socio-economic status are more likely to be overweight or obese, due to the tendency to consume discretionary food and drink such as sugar-sweetened beverages, snacks and fast food.
About 40% of Australian children’s total daily energy intake had been found to come from discretionary food and drink.
Meanwhile, a traffic light labelling scheme implemented in Western Australian schools is evidencing positive impact, according to a report by Curtin University and the Western Australia Health Authority.
No red or unhealthy foods are permitted to be sold or provided in schools, under the scheme.
Data released last November by the Australian Institute of Health revealed that two-thirds of the Australian population are now overweight or obese.