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Latest CSIRO diet rethinks our approach to protein

CSIRO Protein Plus

  By Anghie Thompson The West Australian

Where we get our protein from and when we eat it are key in losing weight and gaining muscle, according to Grant Brinkworth, co-author of CSIRO Protein Plus Nutrition and Exercise Plan.

The CSIRO’s latest instalment of its popular research-based diet series finds a daily protein intake higher than the current Australian Dietary Guidelines could benefit many people, but in particular those trying to lose weight; those who need to gain muscle mass; older people who want to stay physically strong and active as they age; and those following a strictly plant-based diet.

“The amount of protein we’re promoting in this menu plan is actually similar to the amount of protein we eat in our diet, we are trying to show how to get that through eating more whole foods and distributing that protein across the day,” says Professor Brinkworth, principal research scientist in Clinical Nutrition and Exercise at CSIRO Health and Biosecurity. 

He says Australians get 25 per cent of their protein from discretionary foods such as biscuits, cakes and pastries. While these contain small amounts of protein, they are also lumped with excessive energy (calories), added sugars, salts and saturated fats. That’s not to say you should be whacking massive steaks onto your plate. 

 Protein can come from a multitude of sources, and meat intake is probably less than what you would think for a book pushing protein. 

CSIRO’s recommendation sits just above the recommended intake at 80-100g of protein per day (or 1.2-1.6 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day). 

Professor Brinkworth says meat is a complete protein source that carries all the essential amino acids the body does not make, plus key nutrients such as zinc, iron and Omega-3 fatty acids, that doesn’t mean it is the only way.

“We tried to show in the book by eating a wide variety of plant protein sources, that you can still get an adequate amount of protein ... showing there are multiple approaches to get to the end goal,” he says.

The main sources of protein in the recipes include lean red meat, fish, chicken, eggs, legumes, dairy and soy. 

To maximise health benefits, the book advocates for protein intake to be evenly distributed across the day, especially at breakfast rather than heavily loaded towards dinner as many people do. 

“We know that higher protein compared to carbohydrate and fat in our meal helps to control our appetite ... by having more protein at each meal, it helps to prolong that effect of appetite suppression over a much greater period of the day, therefore making it easier to maintain a healthier body weight,” Professor Brinkworth says.

“Evenly distributing your protein has also been shown to increase your muscle protein synthesis, which is the biological process that increases our muscle mass. 

“More muscle mass means increased levels of resting energy expenditure, which again makes it easier to control your body weight. Increasing muscle strength is also important for ageing ... and maintaining independent living.”

The recipe ideas in the book are complemented by resistance exercise training. “Research shows that higher protein diets are effective, but they really are most effective when you combine it with an exercise program,” Professor Brinkworth says.


Thai  Chicken Jungle Curry

Serves 4

¼ cup (75g) Thai red curry paste

2 stalks lemongrass, white part only, finely chopped

5cm piece ginger, cut into thin matchsticks

1 large onion, thinly sliced into wedges

600g lean chicken breast fillet, cut into 2cm pieces

400g peeled, seeded butternut pumpkin, chopped into 2cm cubes

2 cups (500ml) salt-reduced chicken stock

4 kaffir lime leaves, torn 

1 tbsp tinned green peppercorns in brine

2 zucchini, halved lengthways and roughly chopped

200g green beans, trimmed 

1 cup Thai basil leaves

1 long red chilli, thinly sliced diagonally (optional)

lime wedges, to serve

Heat the curry paste in a large wok over high heat. Add the lemongrass, ginger, onion, chicken and pumpkin and stir-fry for 8 minutes.

Add the stock, lime leaves, peppercorns and zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the beans and cook, tossing gently, for 2 minutes or until the chicken is cooked, the vegetables are just tender and the sauce has reduced slightly.

Divide the chicken curry among serving bowls. Top with the basil and chilli (if using) and serve hot with lime wedges alongside.

TIP: If you can’t find Thai basil, regular basil will work just as well.