Proteins are an important part of our diet. We need them for growth, repair of muscle tissue, muscle maintenance, hormones, bone tissue, etc. That is why proteins are called "the building blocks of our body".

We make a distinction between:

  • Proteins of animal origin
  • Proteins of plant origin
  • Proteins of bacterial origin

In nutrition

Proteins are found in almost all foodstuffs, with the exception of oil and sugar. We distinguish between animal and vegetable proteins:


Milk and milk products
Organ meat
Meat products


Cereals and cereal products

Vegetables and fruit are not included in this overview because they contain very little protein.

Most animal proteins have a high "usability". This means that they can be easily absorbed by our bodies, ready for use. Vegetable proteins are usually composed in such a way that they have to be combined with other vegetable or animal protein sources in order to obtain a high usability. Soya is an exception to this rule.

In order to obtain a high usability of vegetable proteins, you can combine two of the four following groups:

LEGUMES                                                WHEAT GERMS

POTATOES                                               MILK
CEREALS                                                 DAIRY PRODUCTS
NUTS/SEEDS                                           EGGS


We need proteins (amino acids) for:

  • Producing tissue cells
  • Building up red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets
  • Enzymes (ensure the breakdown of nutrients)
  • Transport of substances in our body
  • Hormones (are made up of protein compounds)
  • Energy

If our body does not absorb sufficient carbohydrates and fats, proteins will be used as a source of energy. In case of a serious shortage of energy, the body may also use body proteins as a source of energy.


When we eat too little protein, we speak of protein malnutrition. This leads to a reduction in the level of blood proteins and immune substances, which in turn reduces our resistance to bacterial infections.

The first symptoms of protein malnutrition:

  • Stunted growth
  • Poor wound healing
  • Anaemia
  • Oedema

If the problem is not tackled, this can later result in susceptibility to infections, muscle atrophy (= gradual breakdown of muscles), digestive problems, liver degeneration (= impairment of liver function), etc.

On the other hand, if we eat too much protein (= protein overnutrition), this can lead to:

  • Renal burden due to increased urea excretion
  • Increased uric acid excretion
  • Increased calcium excretion at the kidney level
  • Presumed increased risk of diabetes
  • Increased risk of obesity at a young age
  • Likely to affect bone metabolism


It is not necessary to eat meat and dairy every day, but it is best to spread your protein intake throughout the day. Moreover, the ideal ratio of your protein intake:

  • 2/3 vegetable proteins
  • 1/3 animal proteins

- Translated from Dutch by Tamara Swalef -