Why proteins are important for us

Along with carbohydrates and fat, proteins are one of the three main nutrients for our bodies. They are extremely important for our muscles, bones and immune system. Learn fascinating facts about proteins and test your knowledge in the protein quiz. If you'd like to pack more protein into the meals you prepare at home, you can order a free copy of the "gesund&stark" magazine which provides a variety of high-protein recipes for you to try out.

The Felix Platter Stiftung für Forschung und Innovation (Felix Platter Foundation for Research and Innovation) published the "gesund&stark" magazine in cooperation with Betty Bossi. The magazine draws more attention to the problem of malnourishment in old age, and by providing simple recipes, it brings a whole host of information about protein to the table.


Proteins – suppliers of energy and power

What are proteins?

A protein is normally made up of 300 or more amino acids. There are a total of 21 different amino acids. They are strung together into long chains by ribosomes. Ribosomes are the factories of the cells that produce proteins. How and why the amino acids are arranged the way they are is determined by shape, regardless of the function of the protein.

There are essential and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body on its own and must come from food. In contrast, non-essential amino acids can be produced by the body.

This is why proteins are important for us

Proteins fulfil many essential functions in our bodies. When most people hear about proteins, they immediately think of very athletic people with a lot of muscles. But there's much more to proteins than this. Proteins are both building materials as well as workers inside our cells. The primary functions of proteins include:

  • Proteins provide the shape of cells, tissues and organs.
  • Proteins help to defend against foreign substances. For example, they bind antibodies to pathogens to make them ineffective.
  • Proteins enable chemical reactions in the body and accelerate them. For instance, enzymes are made of proteins and help to break up components of nutrients so that the gut can absorb them.
  • Proteins can bind to certain substances and transport them. For example, haemoglobin is found in red blood cells and transports oxygen from the lungs to the other parts of the body.
  • Proteins allow for movement. The most important proteins in this regard are actin and myosin. They are found in the skeletal muscle and enable it to contract.
  • Proteins serve as messengers and regulatory substances. For example, insulin is a protein that is produced in the pancreas and responsible for lowering blood sugar.

The proteins in our body constantly refresh and replace themselves over the course of our lives. It's important to make sure that you are getting enough protein, particularly during phases of intense growth or increased demand (childhood and youth, pregnancy and breastfeeding).

The best sources of protein

Proteins are found in plant and animal food products. Whether animal or plant proteins are of higher quality has been a controversial topic of discussion in science for a long time. The quality of a protein depends on the essential and non-essential amino acids it contains. Generally animal and plant proteins contain the same amino acids. Only their composition and quantity differ depending on the food. Animal protein is more similar to that of humans, which makes it better or easier to reabsorb into the body. Nutrition experts recommend a mix of animal and plant protein. Plant products contain more fibre and vitamins and less fat than animal products.

Animal-derived food products that are high in protein:

  • Parmesan cheese: 35 g protein per 100 g
  • Lean beef mince: 28 g protein per 100 g
  • Trout: 24 g protein per 100 g
  • Chicken breast: 23 g protein per 100 g
  • Salmon: 20 g per 100 g
  • Prawns: 19 g per 100 g
  • Low-fat quark: 13 g protein per 100 g
  • Plain yoghurt: 6 g per 100 g
  • Eggs: 6 g protein per medium-sized egg
  • Milk: 3 g per 100 g milk

These lists are not exhaustive.

Plant-based food products that are high in protein:

  • Wheat germ: 32 g per 100 g
  • Pumpkin seeds: 25 g protein per 100 g
  • Soybeans: 24 g per 100 g
  • Almonds: 21 g protein per 100 g
  • Red lentils: 21 g per 100 g
  • Chickpeas: 20 g per 100 g
  • Porridge oats: 13 g protein per 100 g
  • Quinoa: 13 g per 100 g
  • Broccoli: 3 g per 100 g
  • Spinach: 3 g per 100 g

How much protein do we need?

By eating a balanced diet, you can easily cover your daily protein requirement. According to the Swiss Society for Nutrition, the general guideline for adults is 0.8 to 1 g protein per kilogramme of body weight. Older people, high-performance athletes and pregnant women need more protein. Here's an example: You weigh 55 kg. That means you need 55 x 0.8 to 1 g protein = 44 to 55 g. This would be your daily protein requirement. For people aged 50 and over, the daily requirement for protein increases to 1 to 1.2 g protein per kilogramme of body weight.
"With every egg that you eat, depending on its size you consume up to ten grammes of protein. Eating an egg is a cost-effective and efficient way to get your protein." Prof. Reto W. Kressig, Medical Director University Geriatric Medicine FELIX PLATTER

Why do older people need more protein?

Your energy requirement decreases by 25% between the ages of 25 and 75 as muscle mass is replaced by fat cells. However, you still need micronutrients and protein. That's why it's recommended that from age 50 you consume 1 to 1.2 g protein per kg of body weight in the form of animal or plant protein. A study by the University Geriatric Medicine FELIX PLATTER showed that older people in particular were not eating enough or had an unbalanced diet due to reasons such as reduced appetite, immobility and chewing and digestion problems. Over half of the 300 study participants were malnourished. One consequence of this is muscle atrophy, which every fifth person suffered from, as the body resorts to using its own muscle protein if it isn't receiving enough protein from food.

The perfect plate

When you're young, the energy you require is significantly higher: between the ages of 25 to 75 it decreases by around 25%. However, you still need the same amount of micronutrients and protein, or possibly even more. That's why the ideal plate composition for a 30-year-old is different from that of a 50-year-old.

From age 50 the focus should be on more protein but fewer calories. The protein content in an ideal meal for a 50-year-old should be substantially higher.

What the portion looks like on the plate will differ depending on the energy required. This is dependent upon age, sex, height, physical activity and physiological condition.

gesund&stark – the magazine focusing on food and fitness

The Felix Platter Stiftung für Forschung und Innovation has developed the "gesund&stark" magazine in cooperation with Betty Bossi. Its goal is to raise awareness on the problem of malnutrition in old age. The magazine offers simple recipes and fascinating facts in order to bring a whole host of information about protein to the table.

It is available in German and French.

Order your print copy of "gesund&stark" from the Felix Platter Stiftung or download the electronic version now.

Order now

Omelette with peas and cheese – a high-protein dish in less than 25 minutes

Serves 2

  • 1 bunch spring onions including green stalks
  • ½ tbsp olive oil
  • 350 g frozen peas, thawed
  • 25 ml water
  • ½ tsp salt
  • A pinch of pepper
  • 1 organic lemon

Slice the spring onions into thin rings. Heat the oil in a pan. Sauté the spring onions, add the peas and cook together briefly, pour in water, cook for another 5 minutes, and then season. Grate lemon zest from half of the lemon and mix it in.

  • 40 g hard cheese (e.g. Appenzeller)
  • 5 fresh eggs
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • A pinch of pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Grate the cheese using a rösti grater and then set aside. Crack the eggs into a bowl, finely chop the thyme, add it in and season. Heat ½ tbsp oil in a non-stick frying pan. Pour in half of the egg mixture, covering the bottom of the pan. Cover the omelette and cook it on low heat for approx. 2 minutes until firm. Portion half of the peas and cheese onto the egg, then cover and heat for approx. 2 minutes. Plate up the omelette. Prepare the second omelette the same way.

You'll find other enjoyable high-protein recipes in the "gesund&stark" magazine which you can request free of charge.

Order the magazine now

New developments from research: leucine – ideal muscle fuel

Leucine is the most important essential amino acid when it comes to building and maintaining muscle mass. When you have more muscle, you improve your performance and reduce the risk of injury. A European study showed that the muscle mass of study participants from a nursing home gained 250 g of weight when they consumed a whey protein sip feed drink enriched with leucine daily over a period of 13 weeks.

It is recommended that adults consume 10 to 50 mg of leucine per kg of body weight daily. People over the age of 60 are recommended to have 5 000 mg of leucine daily.

One of the best suppliers of leucine is parmesan, with 3 500 mg per 100 g. Walnuts, peanuts, porridge oats, almonds, meat, liver, tuna, halibut, lentils, peas and soybeans also contain a lot of leucine. Eating a balanced diet should supply your daily requirement of leucine without needing supplements.

SWICA can support you with exclusive services

Up to 900 francs* for preventive services each year
Nutrition plays an important role in your health and wellbeing. That's why SWICA supports its supplementary insurance customers with up to 900 francs* per year (*find out more) with a variety of offers in the area of nutrition such as nutrition advice, nutrition apps, TCM, diet and nutrition programmes with SWICA-recognised advisors or service providers. By the way, supplementary insurance is a valuable add-on to your basic insurance in every case, and you can purchase a plan from SWICA at any time, regardless of which insurer currently provides your basic insurance.

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Free nutrition advice from santé24 for SWICA customers

Would you like to eat more healthily and consciously, perhaps lose a few pounds, or do you have any general questions regarding nutrition? SWICA's customers can access free nutritional advice from specialists at the santé24 telemedicine service. Call santé24 to make an appointment.

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SWICA – Because health is everything

Being active pays off. SWICA – unlike many other health insurance companies – supports your personal commitment through a wide range of activities and offers relating to health promotion and preventive healthcare. Whether you're looking for nutritional advice, yoga, tai chi, fitness classes, swimming lessons, breathing exercises, personal training, mindfulness training, tennis or one of the other available options, you enjoy attractive contributions of up to 1'300 francs* per year from the COMPLETA FORTE, COMPLETA PRAEVENTA and OPTIMA supplementary insurance plans (*see detailed information).

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