Know Your Protein – Pick and Mix It!

Protein, when it comes to food groups, is the most talked about and discussed one for the WLS patient. Are we getting enough, the healthiest sort, can we easily get it without meat?  And so on …

It seems timely, at a time of lock-down, when food supplies are limited, to check this out again and look at the latest advice. So here goes …


Protein isn’t just necessary for the building of muscle but it’s used for the growth and maintenance of the tissues and cells in our body, which includes our bones and organs. But it doesn’t stop there – protein is also used to make hormones, immune cells and enzymes too – and these help to break down and digest food. So there is a good reason that high-protein diets are recommended for weight-loss too. The main reason cited being that a high one increases satiety and helps stop us feeling hungry for longer.



The approximate recommended nutritional intake of protein for someone weighing about 63 kg (10 stone) is 50 g protein per day. This is based on the body weight for a ‘normal’ (or non WLS) one. It is based on the Reference Intake (RI) of protein and is set at 0.75 g protein per kg of body weight per day. So, to calculate your own requirements, multiply your body weight in kg by 0.75; this will give you the average daily amount of protein that you need. In food terms, 50 g (2 oz) might be, for example, having 2 eggs for breakfast, salmon and brown rice for lunch and falafels with quinoa for dinner. It’s a fairly easy target to reach, even if you don’t eat meat.

HOWEVER, if you’re a WLS patient and your dietitian recommends an average of 70 g or more per day (due to malabsorption and other issues) and can only eat a restricted amount of food the situation is trickier. The guidelines above are designed to meet the minimum requirements of the normal body and aren’t necessarily the optimal level for us all. It’s quite likely that most dietitians will recommend higher protein intakes for WLS patients (and other groups like those who are sports training) and to aim for 1-2 kg per kilo of body weight.

We have covered the importance of protein before (see here) and also the value and choice of protein powders and supplements (here and here) but the latest research and advice seems to relate more to the kind of protein you are eating rather than the quantity you are consuming.




Many professionals believe that the problem with protein (and especially in the WLS regimen) is that it is the kind you are eating that matters. A lot of patients are eating poor-quality protein, processed meats like burgers, bacon or salami and these come with increased risks – so the safest bet is to moderate your consumption of these. Hard cheese is another popular protein, but this isn’t a good choice at every meal either because it’s 30-50% fat and high in saturated fat. 

What we need is a range of protein – since varying sources will provide a wide range of nutrients and will also help us to achieve the quantity we require without boredom setting in. The list below outlines some of the good contenders for this … 



(Values per 100 g/3½ oz)

Tuna (fresh) 31.3 g

Pumpkin Seeds 30.2 g

Chicken 28.6 g

Almond Butter 25.4 g

Cheddar Cheese 25.4 g

Salmon (smoked) 23.3 g

Halloumi 23.2 g

King Prawns/Shrimp 22.2 g

Almonds 21.3 g

Lean Beef Mince/Ground Beef 20.3 g

Feta 16.5 g

Wild Rice 12.8 g

Eggs 12.4 g

Oats 12.1 g

Tofu 11.5 g

Edamame 11 g

Wholemeal Bread 10.6 g

Lentils 9.5 g

Sourdough 7.8 g

Cannellini Beans 7.5 g

Falafel 7.5 g

Hummus 6.3 g

Pasta (fresh) 6.3 g

Buckwheat 5.1 g

Quinoa (mixed) 4.8 g

Brown Rice 3.6 g

Semi-Skimmed Milk 3.4 g (for 100 ml)

NOTE: Gram for gram, nuts, seeds and cheese pack a protein punch, but they are high in fat. Limit your portion sizes to those suggested on labels or as recommended by your bariatric dietitian.



More or less all professionals say we need a range of food groups in our diet to make sure we get all the nutrients we need and we shouldn’t be tempted to totally swap out carbs for protein, as this can lead to deficiencies and other issues (hello constipation!).

Carbohydrates provide us with energy, and wholegrain carbohydrates are an important source of fibre, which keeps waste moving through the digestive system. It’s important to remember that no one food or nutrient is an elixir. And don’t forget one of the most important healthy eating lessons is to get your 5 a day.

Most of us are habitual eaters, whether it’s choosing the same salad for lunch, or having fish every Friday, but it’s worth varying our protein sources to get a wide range of nutrients. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna, for instance, is rich in omega-3; lean meat contains iron; while almonds are rich in magnesium.

Including more plant-based proteins – lentils, peas, nuts and beans – in your grocery shop is also a great idea. The fibre found in these foods feeds the bacteria in your gut and helps keep your digestive system healthy too. With just a few simple swaps you can reach your daily amount without an over-reliance on meat and dairy.


Your protein needs as a vegan can easily be met if you plan well. Good sources include tofu, pulses, seeds and soy; plant protein powders such as rice and pea can also be helpful to ‘top up’. Nutrients including B12, omega-3 fat, iron and calcium are limited (or in the case of B12 non-existent) in plant foods, so a B12 supplement can be taken or it can be consumed in fortified foods – such as plant-based milks and Marmite. Always ask your bariatic dietitian for advice if you are following a vegan diet – a B12 injection might well be an absolute must for you.


Some information courtesy of 


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