Just because a food is high in protein doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Here’s why you might want to reconsider your intake of these popular protein-packed foods.
Too much tuna can be too much of a good thing, increasing your risk of mercury poisoning.
A naturally occurring heavy metal in the environment, mercury is absorbed by fish via ocean sediment. Larger, predatory fish, like Southern bluefin tuna, swordfish, shark and ling, absorb more mercury than others due to their longer lifespan. Mercury toxicity affects the nervous system, with signs and symptoms including everything from anxiety and irritability, to forgetfulness, depression and tremors.
The good news: Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) says that all population groups, including pregnant women, can safely consume 2-3 serves of any type of tuna per week. If you’re a can of tuna a day person, FSANZ says that’s okay too, provided no other fish is consumed that week; canned tuna is typically lower in mercury than fresh, as it’s caught before it’s one-year old.
Want to cut back on your tuna consumption but love your seafood? Swap tuna for low mercury options like salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and prawns.
Hate to break it to you but your go-to bacon fry-up delivers more than just protein and fat. A highly processed meat, bacon is cured in salt and additives called nitrites or nitrates to extend its shelf life. When they’re exposed to heat, nitrites and nitrates create carcinogenic (cancer-promoting) compounds called ‘nitrosamines’.
An assessment of over 800 epidemiological studies (those looking at human populations) by The World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that:
- There is sufficient evidence that eating processed meat can cause bowel cancer.
- Just two slices (or 50 g) of bacon a day can raise bowel cancer risk by 18%.
- Over 8% of Australians are at risk of developing bowel cancer by age 85.
That explains why processed meat (that’s sausages and salami too, not just bacon) doesn’t even feature on the Australian Healthy Eating Pyramid. The take-home message? Bacon should not be an everyday, or even once-a-week food.
High Protein Greek Yoghurt
Sure it might have over 13 grams of protein per serve, but this popular snack is also loaded with lactose, a naturally occurring sugar in milk that can bring on stomach cramps, bloating and/or diarrhoea in lactose intolerant individuals.
If yoghurt doesn’t upset your stomach, well, we’re jealous. And if you do find yourself running to the loo post yoghurt feed, look for high protein yoghurts containing the ‘lactase’ enzyme, which helps your digestive system break down lactose more effectively. Alternatively, add a scoop of your go-to plant-based protein powder to unsweetened coconut yoghurt for a high protein, lactose free snack. Check out these other clean, high protein snack ideas.
Lentils, chickpeas and beans are packed with protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, but they’re also a source of oligosaccharides, fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPs) which can cause gas, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation, particularly in individuals with IBS.
If you love your legumes but they don’t love your gut, try canned legumes; they’re easier to digest than boiled ones, as their fermentable carbohydrate content leaches out into the canning water. That means if you drain certain canned legumes and rinse them well, you’ll be more likely to enjoy legumes without the stomach upset. According to Monash University dietitians, low FODMAP legume options include:
- A single-serve (125 g) can of chickpeas
- ½ a cup of canned lentils
- ¼ cup of canned black beans
Edamame beans are also low FODMAP if you limit your intake to a half-cup serving (without the pods).
They might be an easy and tasty way to get a protein hit, but commercial protein bars are often loaded with artificial sweeteners like sorbitol, maltitol and sucralose, plus isolated fibres that can come as a shock to your digestive system – bringing on gas, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhoea.
A protein bar with a lengthy list of ingredients that sound like they came from a lab is a red flag; go for a protein bar with a short list of ingredients you recognise instead, or chug a protein shake with a scoop of quality powder, which is easy on the digestive system (provided you choose the right one for you).
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