Truth be told, protein doesn’t require much of an introduction. The fact that they are one of the three major macronutrients (the other two being carbohydrates and fat) is well-known to most, if not all, of us.
Protein is such an important nutrient class that there are literally hundreds of products available out there to help people get their protein fix, from supplements to energy bars, shakes, and more. There are even entire diets and practices based solely on upping one’s protein intake, such as pescetarianism, the paleo diet, and the Atkins diet, among others.
Based on all of these and more, one certainly can’t help but wonder what it is about proteins that make them so important.
You guessed it – the health benefits!
What most people aren’t aware of is that proteins, like carbohydrates, provide energy. However, in normal circumstances, our body does not use proteins for energy production, rather it uses carbohydrates and fat as they are more readily available and broken down. So similarly any ingestion of protein does take longer to be digested, therefore giving a sense of satiety for a longer period of time as compared to a meal that does not have protein.
That’s really just one of the many benefits of proteins. When eaten in the right amounts daily, proteins can also benefit you in all of the following ways:
✓Building blocks to build antibodies important for the immune system
✓ Maintain body fluid balance by ensuring normal levels of albumin in the blood.
✓ Aid in the development and maintenance of body tissues and muscle mass
✓ Facilitate biochemical reactions (i.e., digestion, energy production, etc.) in the body
Proteins are especially beneficial to breastfeeding mothers because they are primarily what the body uses to produce breastmilk. More importantly, proteins help breastfeeding mothers maintain their nutritional status and muscle mass. Loss of significant muscle mass in breastfeeding mothers means lesser protein stores which puts them at higher risk of being malnourished, subsequently higher risk of falling sick. Given that breastmilk is an infant’s primary source of nutrition, it is vital for breastfeeding mothers to meet their daily protein requirements.
DID YOU KNOW: A breastfeeding mother’s daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 25g higher than that of an average adult woman.
Choosing the Right Protein
When it comes to protein choices for your breastfeeding diet, the key to making the right choice is to include a variety of high-quality proteins in your diet rather than relying on a single protein. Here are some of the best protein sources you can consider:
Seafood is one of the best protein sources for lactation, which is why it is included in most lactation meals out there – including ours! Experts recommend breastfeeding mothers eat seafood two to three times per week. Salmon, sardines, tilapia, tuna, shrimp, scallops, clams, squid, crab, and lobsters are examples of seafood you can eat. Besides that, they are also rich in zinc, iodine, and omega 3-DHA, all of which is important for biochemical reactions, thyroid hormone regulation and brain development and vision acuity respectively.
However, when it comes to eating seafood, particularly fish, breastfeeding mothers should avoid those with high levels of mercury. This is because mercury, albeit in small amounts, is said to be able to pass from a nursing mother to her baby, so it is best to steer clear of fish that contain high levels of mercury. These include:
- Bigeye tuna
- King mackerel
- Orange roughy
- Southern bluefin tuna
2. Lean Meats
While meats are widely acknowledged as an excellent source of protein, the high fat content in some of them may negate any nutritional benefits, which is why it is advisable for nursing mothers to replace red meat with lean meat as their primary source of protein in their breastfeeding diets.
Lean meat is meat with minimal animal fat.They include skinless chicken and turkey breast, lean beef, lean lamb, lean pork, and veal – all of which are readily available in most local supermarkets.
Legumes are a good source of protein for breastfeeding mothers, especially those who are vegetarian or vegan. There are various types of legumes, each with a different level of protein content. Here are some legumes that you can include in your diet:
a) Beans: Soybeans, kidney beans, and black beans
b) Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios
c) Peas: Chickpeas, green peas, and field peas
d) Lentils: Red, brown, yellow, and black lentils
Although legumes are a staple of vegetarian diets, non-vegetarians can benefit from them as well, as legumes are said to be a good protein replacement for animal protein. Besides that, legumes are also higher in fibre, lower in saturated fats, a great source of vitamin Bs, vitamin E, healthy fats and rich in various minerals. They are also a more sustainable source of protein especially in a world where we live in where climate change and global warming is an increasing problem. We can do our part as mummies to have non-animal based protein at least once a week as a start.
FUN FACT: Most people think beans and legumes are interchangeable, but they aren’t! Beans are, in actuality, a subcategory of legume.
ReLacto was created to make the lives of Singapore’s nursing mothers easier. Specially curated by our award-winning chef and in-house dietitian, we offer a wide variety of lactation foods and drinks, all of which are packed with the best lactogenic ingredients.Click here to learn more about our lactation food Singapore service. While you’re at it, be sure to browse our extensive selection of lactation foods and drinks!