You’ve probably heard that it is important to have enough protein, but why is it so important? How does it keep us healthy? Protein is an essential nutrient and the building block of the body responsible for growth, muscle repair, maintenance, immunity and energy.
Research says that 9 out 10 Indians consume insufficient protein and 93% of the population is unaware of how much protein they should consume each day. According to a study in 2017, 80% of Indians do not consume the recommended allowance of protein per day.
How much do I need?
Let us consider how much protein we truly need. A person's protein needs differ depending on the daily activity levels, age and life stage as well as health conditions. Pregnant and lactating women have a higher requirement than other people. On average an adult man requires 54 g/day and an adult woman requires 46g/day.
As per Recommended Dietary Allowance RDA (2020), adults require 0.83 g of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Pregnant and lactating women require 20% more than the RDA.
Low protein intake can result in hair loss, hormonal imbalance, loss of muscle mass, growth retardation and oedema (fluid retention).
Excessive protein on the other hand can result in calcium loss, kidney damage, weight gain (excess protein stored as fat), constipation and diarrhoea.
Since protein needs depend on such a range of factors, to understand your specific needs and develop a customized meal plan that incorporates sufficient protein it would be best to discuss with a dietician.
Am I consuming the right kind of proteins?
A protein consists of 20 amino acids of which 9 are essential amino acids. However, eating the right combination of food sources will provide your body with all the essential amino acids it needs.
Vegetarian Sources: Milk and milk products, nuts and oilseeds, soybean and soy products (tofu, soy milk), yogurt, pulses and legumes.
Non-Vegetarian Sources: Eggs, fish, poultry and lean meat. These food sources are known as complete proteins as they provide all the essential amino acids to the body.
Busting myths about proteins:
Many of us neglect or overdo our protein needs because of long-held myths. However, this macronutrient is necessary to strengthen muscles, maintain tissue health, and boost immun
Myth 1. Vegetarians have limited choices for protein food.
Fact: Vegetarian sources do lack one or more essential amino acids. However, vegetarians have a wide variety of plant-based protein sources to choose from. For example, sprouts, legumes, nuts and seeds such as walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, quinoa, flax seeds. Among plant sources, soybean and soy products provide high-quality proteins for vegetarians. A diet that includes one or more of these foods will help meet the daily protein requirement.
Myth 2. Protein shakes/powders are necessary for weight loss.
Fact: Losing weight is all about burning more calories than you consume. If you replace your meals with protein shakes, you can potentially reduce your daily calorie intake. However, after a while, you will need to return to solid food, which leads to excess weight gain. You will miss out on the nutritional benefits of whole foods if you replace regular meals with protein shakes.These are only supplements and they are not natural food sources, nor are they the only option to increase protein intake. Moreover, for effective weight loss the protein requirements must be customized for the individual. Talk to your diet counsellor about the sources and how much protein you need for weight loss.