Fats and carbohydrates go through their ups and downs: demonized one day, extolled another. However, protein is consistently praised for its ability to help all types of people build muscle, repair tissue, and aid vital bodily functions such as blood clotting and immune response.
What exactly is protein and why is it so important?
Protein is one of the three key macronutrients along with fats and carbohydrates. “It is particularly important because it does most of the work in our cells and is necessary for the structure and function of our tissues, organs and glands,” says Dr. Bill Cole, DC, a specialist in cellular health and an expert in functional medicine.
“Protein is vital for building, repairing and oxygenate the body, as well as playing a key role in the production of enzymes that digest our food. It is also an important part of the production and regulation of our hormones ”, he highlights.
The building blocks of proteins are amino acids. “There are 22 different amino acids, nine of which are known as essential amino acids. This means that they must be consumed in the food we eat because the body cannot manufacture them. “
How Much Protein Do We Really Need To Avoid Protein Deficiency?
While it is true that the body needs a constant supply of protein, there are particular times of growth, such as childhood, adolescence, pregnancy and old age (given the higher rate of muscle breakdown) that may require more. It is important to note that protein needs depend primarily on individual variations such as gender, weight, health, and activity level.
That said, in general, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is determined using the following equation: 0.36 grams of protein multiplied by kg of body weight. It’s key to note that research suggests that we should spread our protein intake throughout the day rather than consuming a lot of protein at once. “This makes it easier for our muscles to optimize their protein synthesis,” says Tamara Willner, ANutr, a registered nutritionist at Second Nature.
So what are the signs that your body could benefit from eating more high-protein foods?
The most concrete thing is that today it is difficult to have a deficiency because what commonly happens is to ingest an excess. But it could be because of this: An exception would be a protein deficiency caused by malabsorption syndrome, ”says Dr. Cole.
“Malabsorption syndrome is when a person consumes enough protein, but does not digest and absorb it well. This is often caused by a deficiency of digestive enzymes such as pepsin and a deficiency of hydrochloric acid (HCL) in the stomach, both of which are necessary for the digestion of proteins. Age and / or poor diets high in processed foods are common causes. Furthermore, the rampant use of antacids in modern society will also lower HCL levels, compromising protein digestion. “
If you’re concerned you might be deficient, Susan Greeley, a registered nutritionist and chef-instructor at the Institute for Culinary Education, highlights 11 symptoms of protein deficiency that may be your body’s way of telling you that you could use more protein in your diet. .
1. Slow wound healing
“Protein is necessary for wound healing, and when it doesn’t exist, wound healing is compromised, collagen formation is impaired, and wounds can worsen as well.”
2. Weak immune system, such as frequent infections
“It is well known that protein malnutrition affects immune function. The mechanism for this has to do with the functions that amino acids have in the formation of antibodies, also known as proteins, and in the regulation of immune responses “.
3. Pérdida muscular (sarcopenia)
“This is generally age-related, but it can occur at any age due to malnutrition, eating disorders, illness, and so on. In general, we lose muscle mass as we age. Protein requirements for adults increase after age 70 and exercise is also necessary to help maintain muscle. “
4. Weakened bone strength
“This can lead to more fractures, especially in the elderly. Collagen formation, support, and repair at various stages of life are affected by protein deficiency, as is muscle mass, and the two work together! “
5. Hair loss
“This may be related to the level of iron, which is a common micronutrient deficiency that results from a lack of protein foods in the diet, particularly meat and legumes.”
6. Brittle nails and dry skin
“It is normally seen in a more severe protein deficiency, but it is not uncommon in the elderly as well.”
7. Increased hunger and food cravings
“When you do not consume enough protein, it is common to have cravings, since the body activates the appetite to obtain what it needs.”
8. Fatigue and weakness
“Protein is a macronutrient, which means that it supplies the body with energy. When a person has protein and calorie restriction, weakness and fatigue are often the first signs. “
9. Mood swings
“Most people have heard of at least one amino acid, tryptophan, as it is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Other amino acids are also required to make neurotransmitters. When deprived of protein, the supply of amino acids is limited and / or deficient and negatively impacts our brain function by limiting the body’s ability to synthesize neurotransmitters. “
10. Poor growth (in children)
“Structural functions, such as building muscles, building collagen, bones, teeth, etc., and all other functions of protein are severely compromised in protein deficiency in children.”
11. Bad sleep or insomnia
“Again related to the amino acid tryptophan: Studies have shown that increased intake of tryptophan improves sleep in adults with sleep disorders.”