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Protein: Why and how to include this nutrient in your diet

Protein is essential for your overall health. Know what protein is, its types, benefits, and side effects. This article is part of a week-long series by Health Shots for National Nutrition Week 2023.
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Nutri shots: All about protein. Image courtesy: Adobe stock
Manpreet Kaur Paul Updated: 21 May 2024, 02:23 pm IST
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Proteins are large and complex molecules made up of amino acids. They play a crucial role in various biological functions, including building and repairing tissues, supporting immune function, and acting as enzymes that facilitate chemical reactions in the body.

Why is protein important?

Proteins perform a wide variety of roles in the body including serving as enzymes that catalyze chemical reactions, acting as structural components of cells and tissues participating in signaling pathways, and aiding immune responses. A protein’s distinct three-dimensional shape and function are determined by the precise amino acid sequence that makes up the protein.

 

  1. Helps in overall functioning

Protein helps to build and repair muscles. It is also an energy resource, and is responsible for your growth and development. According to a study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Metabolic reactions also take place because of protein, plus it helps in the smooth functioning of bodily functions.

2. Helps in Weight loss

Protein also helps in maintenance of weight. According to a study, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, protein helps you stay full for a longer time as it produces a hormone called grehlin.

3. Good for your bones

Protein helps the calcium reach your body. People who have a higher intake of protein, have better bone mass and experience lesser risk of osteoporosis as well as fractures as they age, states a study, published in Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

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4. Helps with heart health

Protein is very good for maintaining blood pressure, which helps prevent heart attacks as well as strokes. In a study, published in Plos One, systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure was lowered after regular intake of protein.

Types of protein

Proteins are the building blocks of life, essential for the growth, repair and maintenance of our body’s tissues. Including a variety of protein sources in your daily diet is crucial to ensure you receive all the necessary amino acids required for optimal health. Here, we delve into the types of protein an individual should aim to consume daily.

1. Complete proteins

Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own. These amino acids are vital for functions like immune support, hormone regulation, and muscle maintenance. Sources of complete proteins include high protein foods such as eggs, poultry, fish, lean meats, and dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese. These are the highest protein foods.

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Include complete proteins in your diet. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

2. Incomplete proteins

Incomplete proteins are dietary sources of protein that lack one or more essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein that the body cannot produce on its own. These proteins are usually found in plant-based sources, such as grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. To ensure a balanced intake of essential amino acids, it is important to combine different incomplete protein sources in your diet and complement them with complete protein sources like animal products.

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3. Plant-based proteins

For individuals following vegetarian or vegan diets, plant-based proteins are essential. While there are not many high protein vegetables as most plant foods don’t contain all the essential amino acids in one source, combining different plant-based protein sources can create a complete protein profile. Legumes (beans, lentils, peas), soy products (tofu, tempeh), quinoa, nuts, and seeds are excellent sources of plant-based protein.

4. Lean meats

Lean meats such as chicken and turkey are low in saturated fat and provide high-quality protein. They also offer essential vitamins and minerals like iron, zinc, and B vitamins. When consuming meat, opt for lean cuts and practice healthy cooking methods like grilling, baking, or broiling to retain the nutritional value.

5, Fish and seafood

Fish and seafood are rich sources of protein and are also packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to heart and brain health. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are particularly beneficial due to their omega-3 content.

6. Dairy products

Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese provide calcium, vitamin D and protein. Go for low-fat or Greek yogurt, as they offer high protein content without excessive saturated fats.

7. Eggs

Eggs form a versatile protein source that contains all the essential amino acids. Besides the protein in eggs, they are also rich in choline, which is beneficial for brain health. Are you wondering how many grams of protein are there in an egg? 6.3 g of protein are there in one egg. Incorporate eggs into your diet through various preparations, such as boiled, scrambled, poached or bhurji. A high protein breakfast consisting of milk, cheese and eggs is ideal.

8. Plant-based alternatives

There are many vegetarian foods high in protein as well. With the rise in dietary preferences, there are now numerous plant-based alternatives to animal products. These include tofu, tempeh and plant-based meat substitutes. These options provide protein while catering to vegetarian and vegan diets.

9. Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are not only high in protein but also provide healthy fats, fiber, and a range of vitamins and minerals. Almonds, peanuts, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds are excellent choices to snack on or add to meals.

protein sources
Nuts and seeds are a good source of protein! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Also read: Unable to build lean muscle? Up your protein absorption with these tips

Foods high in Protein

Foods high in protein content include chicken, fish, red meats like mutton, eggs, milk, curd, tofu, soya chunks, lentils, chickpeas, black beans, Quinoa, nuts and seeds. what’s interesting is that most of these are high protein low calorie foods. There are many high protein snacks as well which are great for your health, and won’t make you put on weight as well.

Types of protein to include in daily diet

Proteins are essential macronutrients that play a crucial role in building and repairing tissues, producing enzymes and hormones, and supporting overall bodily functions. Including a variety of protein sources in your daily diet ensures you get a well-rounded intake of essential amino acids. Here are some types of protein-rich foods you should consider including in your daily diet:

Animal-based proteins

  • Lean meats: Chicken, turkey, lean cuts of beef, pork, and game meats are good sources of high-quality protein.
  • Fish and seafood: Salmon, tuna, prawns, sardines, shrimp, and other seafood provide protein along with healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Eggs: Eggs are a complete protein source and also contain important vitamins and minerals.
  • Dairy products: Milk, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese are rich in protein and also provide calcium.

Plant-based proteins

  • Legumes: Beans (black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, etc.), lentils, peas, and soybeans are excellent sources of plant-based protein.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds are protein-rich options.
  • Whole grains: Quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat, and oats contain decent amounts of protein in addition to complex carbohydrates.
  • Tofu: These soy-based products are good sources of protein and can be used in various dishes.
  • Plant-based dairy alternatives: Products like soy milk, almond milk, and pea protein milk offer protein content similar to traditional dairy.

Processed protein foods

Protein bars and shakes: These can be convenient sources of protein, but it’s important to choose options with minimal added sugars and artificial ingredients.

It’s important to aim for a diverse protein intake to ensure you’re getting a variety of amino acids that your body needs for optimal function. If you’re following a specific dietary pattern, such as vegetarianism or veganism, it’s especially important to combine different plant-based protein sources to ensure you’re getting all essential amino acids.

How much protein do I need? Daily protein requirement

An individual’s daily protein requirement can vary based on several factors, including age, sex, activity level, and overall health goals. So if you are wondering how much protein should I eat, here are some general guidelines for daily protein intake:

1. For sedentary adults

People with minimal physical activity, the recommended protein intake is often around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This means that a person with a weight of 70 kg would need about 56 grams of protein per day.

2. For pregnant and lactating women

The requirement of protein for pregnant women increases by 10.3gm/kg/day and 22.8gm/kg/day in the second and third trimester respectively. The requirement of proteins in the lactation period increases by 17.8gm/kg/day during 0-6months time period

3. For athletes and intense training

Athletes and people involved in intense training, such as bodybuilders or endurance athletes, might need even more protein to support muscle repair and growth. Wondering how much protein you need to gain muscle, note that the  protein intake can range from 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

4. For children

Children in the age group of 1-9 years is between 0.8-0.9gm/kg/day. Children have a higher protein requirement as compared to adults due to their rapid growth and development during the early stages of life. Additionally children are more active than adults and protein is important for providing energy.

How to avoid side effects of too much protein?

In general, consuming a high-protein diet in balanced proportions can be safe for most people, but it’s important to consider a few factors before making significant changes to your diet. Excessive protein intake may not be good for health.

1. Individual needs

The optimal protein intake varies depending on factors such as age, gender, activity level, and overall health. What might be considered a “high” protein diet for one person might be a moderate or even low protein diet for another.

2. Kidney health

If you have preexisting kidney conditions, a high protein diet could potentially strain your kidneys. It’s advisable to consult with a nutritionist before significantly increasing your protein intake.

3. Digestive system

A sudden increase in protein consumption might cause digestive discomfort for some individuals. Gradually increasing your protein intake can help your body adjust.

4. Balanced nutrition

While protein is important, it’s essential to maintain a balanced diet that includes carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals from a variety of sources.

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A well-balanced diet is extremely important! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

5. Long-term sustainability

Consider whether high-protein meals are something you can sustain over the long term. Fad diets or extreme dietary changes are often difficult to stick with and might not provide all the nutrients your body needs.

6. Source of protein

The sources of protein matter. Go for lean protein sources like poultry, fish, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Highly processed or fatty protein sources might come with other health risks.

7. Physical activity

If you’re very active or engaged in intense workouts, your protein needs might be higher to support muscle recovery and growth.

Summary

Remember that balance is key in any diet. A diet that is excessively high in any one nutrient, including protein, can potentially lead to health issues. It’s important to focus on a well-rounded, varied, and nutrient-dense diet that meets your individual needs and goals.

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About the Author

Manpreet Kaur Paul is an executive nutritionist at Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Faridabad. She is proficient in creating diet plans for pregnant/ lactating women, weight loss, high cholesterol and obesity during pregnancy, pediatric cases, people with lifestyle modifications and kidney disorders. She aims to ensure holistic nutrition among people of all age groups and help them achieve a healthy mind in a healthy body. ...Read More

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