Protein: Knowing the best sources, the benefits and how much is too much

Many of us, when planning our meals, consider aspects such as calorie, fat or even salt consumption – but how many of us also really think about protein intake? New ongoing research and experts point out that it is extremely essential to integrate protein in the daily diet. Indeed, a recent study published in Hypertensiona peer-reviewed journal American Heart Association (AHA), said a balanced diet that includes protein from a wider variety of sources can help adults reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure.

Thus, given the emphasis on protein in your daily diet, how much should you really eat? But before we dive into the how, let’s understand what exactly protein is.

What is Protein?

Protein plays a key role in the creation and maintenance of bone, muscle, cartilage and skin cells. “Protein is made up of essential amino acids that the body cannot make on its own; therefore, one must obtain them through one’s diet. These amino acids are necessary for tissue growth and repair. Without them, the body would start breaking down its own muscles to get them. That is why it is crucial to get your daily dose of protein from the foods you eat,” said Tanvi S Chiplunkar, Senior Dietitian, Bhatia Hospital Mumbai.

Simply put, protein is a “necessary component of any diet because it fuels your cells so you have the energy to stay active.”

Are you consuming enough protein? (Photo: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

Functionally, inside the cells of a human body, all receptors, enzymes, and metabolic activities are essentially proteins. Likewise, antibody which help prevent various diseases by fighting foreign organisms are also proteins, explained Dr. Upal Sengupta, Senior Consultant Nephrologist, Fortis Hospital and Kidney Institute, Kolkata.

Does a lack of protein lead to a deficiency?

“Yes absolutely. Deficiency can make you vulnerable to infections and disease, lead to swollen legs, slow wound healing and reduced muscle mass. So in case you have been diagnosed with protein deficiency, follow the instructions given by the consultant,” said Dr Jinal Patel, Registered Dietitian, Apollo Spectra Hospital, Mumbai.

Protein Benefits

One of the main benefits is that it helps muscular mass for those looking for a bulky construction. According to Chiplunkar, “As an essential macronutrient, you need an adequate amount of protein in your body to maintain good health. If you don’t get enough protein in your diet, your body can use its muscles to produce energy.

We now know that it is imperative to eat protein as recommended by the doctor, so let’s look at its other benefits:

It helps with

*blood clotting
*Function of the immune system
*Maintenance of muscle mass
* Maintain stable blood sugar. “Adequate protein intake also helps with hormone creation. Insulin (a small protein) is a hormone that helps manage blood sugar levels. It usually involves the interaction of organs like the pancreas and the liver,” Dr. Patel said.
*Maintain hunger.
* Cell growth, repair and maintenance – amino acids are the building blocks of protein – they play a major role in hair growth.
*Growth, development and repair of muscle, cartilage and skin.
*Digestion, facilitating the creation of enzymes and hormones and hormonal regulation. “Digestion is carried out by digestive enzymes which are ‘protein in nature’,” adds Dr. Patel.

Sources of protein

The AHA’s 2021 Dietary Guidance for Improving Heart Health recommended eating healthy sources of protein, primarily plant-based, and may include seafood and low-fat or fat-free dairy products and, if you want, lean cuts and unprocessed forms of meat or poultry.

You can opt for eggs, almonds, oats, milk, broccolispinach, quinoa, fish, lentils, asparagus, soy, yogurt, nuts, dairy, seeds, carrots, seafood, avocado, chickpeas and tofu.

Protein needs differ for children, adults and the elderly (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

How much to have?

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recommends that an average adult should consume around one gram of protein per kg of body weight each day. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Dietary Reference Intakes report for macronutrients, a sedentary adult should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight. This means that an average sedentary man should eat about 56 grams of protein per day and an average woman should eat about 46 grams, according to the NIH. According to AHA, two servings, or 5.5 ounces, of protein per day are recommended.

Protein needs differ for children, adults and the elderly. While older people will need more protein to maintain muscle mass and strengthwith bone health, a child in the age range of 4 to 9 years old, he/she will be recommended 19 grams of protein every day (however, the expert will decide again after monitoring the overall health), has said Dr. Patel.

People between the ages of 9 and 13 can consume 34 grams per day. If the child is in the 14-18 age group, a boy will need 52 grams and a girl may need 46 grams. “As for adults, men will need 56 grams of protein and women around 46 grams. The elderly need about 2.0 g/kg/day. But, it is best to speak to an expert who will guide older people as needed,” Dr Patel said.

How to include proteins in your diet?

Start with minor changes, like replacing that piece of toast with an egg or adding a serving of meat to your favorite starch dish, Chiplunkar said. “If you are transitioning from a vegetarian diet or vegan diet and you want to add meat, slowly incorporate the red meats. Vegetarian sources of protein like milk, curd, buttermilk, cheese, soy can be incorporated into the diet,” she said.

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