Last Updated December 20th, 2021
What is protein?
Protein is a macronutrient that is an essential component of every cell in the body. Proteins are made up of chains of smaller compounds called amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids. However, they are usually divided into 2 broad classes,
- Essential amino acids: These can be produced by the human body.
- Non-essential amino acids: These cannot be produced by the body and has to be supplemented through diet.
The body mainly uses protein to build and repair tissues. Apart from that, protein is also used to synthesis enzymes, hormones, and chemicals in the body. Protein is also used in making bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.
Since protein is a macronutrient along with fat and carbohydrates, the body requires a large amount of protein to function. Fat and carbohydrates are stored by the body so it can be used when they are in short supply. However, protein is not stored in the body so a person needs to regularly consume protein to maintain the levels.
Sources of protein
Some of the main sources of protein include
- Lean meat, poultry and fish
- Dairy products
- Seeds and nuts
- Beans and legumes
- Soy products like tofu
- Some grain and cereal-based products are also sources of protein
How much protein do you need?
The amount of protein needed varies from person to person depending on their age, weight and general health. However, approximately, the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for protein is
|Adult men||0.84 g/kg|
|Adult women||0.75 g/kg|
|Pregnant and breastfeeding women||1 g/kg|
|Men and women above 70 years||1 g/kg|
|Boys aged 9-18||0.94 g/kg|
|Girls aged 9-18||0.87 g/kg|
For example, a man weighing 100 kg has to take 84 g of protein per day.
Benefits of consuming a high-protein diet
A high protein diet is usually consumed by bodybuilders or sportspersons. This is because protein allows their bodies to bulk up or town down by transforming their bodies from a catabolic state (loss of weight by the breakdown of muscles) to an anabolic state (loss of weight by the build-up of muscles). However, a high-protein diet could also benefit normal people.
Protein is an essential component of anyone’s diet as it needs to be consumed regularly due to the body not storing protein. A high protein diet is beneficial in many ways as it helps you
Consuming a high protein diet will help you feeling full for longer. This, in turn, will result in you consuming fewer calories. Increasing your protein intake from 15 to 30% will result in your eating 441 fewer calories each day.
Get your energy levels up
The body takes more time to breakdown protein compared to carbohydrates. As a result, your energy levels will remain high for a longer period of time. Carbohydrates only give you a temporary surge of energy due to a rise in the blood sugar levels.
Improve hair health
Hair is made up of mostly protein so when you increase your protein intake you automatically improve your hair health. If your hair is thinning or looking dull then it might be due to protein deficiency.
The skin is also primarily made up of protein. So if you consume a lot of protein-rich foods, your skin health will automatically improve. People with protein deficiency often have
- Thin and tired-looking skin
- Flaky skin
- Skin redness
- Skin swelling
Maintain healthy nails
If you have nails that are brittle or always breaking then it could be a sign of protein deficiency. As nails are made up mostly of protein, eating a protein-rich diet will automatically result in you having better nails.
Work out better
Protein improves muscle mass and makes them stronger. So if your diet is rich in proteins, you will be able to work out harder and faster. Your stamina will also improve.
Since having a protein-rich diet will allow you to exercise better, you will also be able to sleep better. This is because the body needs rest after exercise, so it automatically induces sleep when you’ve worked out hard. Apart from this, a study has also shown that people who consume a high protein diet sleep better than people who consume a high carbohydrate diet.
Studies have also indicated that there is a link between feeling better emotionally and consuming protein-rich food. It is believed that this is due to an amino acid called tryptophan, which boosts a person mood and reduces symptoms of depression.
Reduce muscle loss in old adults
As people grow old, they begin to lose a lot of muscle mass. As protein is related to building muscles, a protein-rich diet can help older people maintain their muscle mass. This helps in lowering the risk of developing osteoporosis and bone fractures. More muscles will also allow old people to exercise, which is always beneficial.
Consuming a high protein diet helps in the faster repair of damaged tissues. This is because eating a lot of proteins are linked to the body being able to repair itself faster.
The cons of consuming high-protein diets
Although most believe that consuming a high protein diet is always beneficial, it is not always true. Most people start this diet to lose weight and there is scientific proof that eating a high protein/low carbohydrate diet will help a person get slim.
Changing your diet to include more protein and fewer carbohydrates will change your metabolism into a state called ketosis. During this state, the body starts producing energy by burning fat instead of carbohydrates. Ketosis tends to suppress appetite and leads to the elimination of the body’s fluids through urine. This automatically leads to weight loss.
However, this can have long term health consequences on the body. These are
Increase in ammonia levels in the body
The body produces a lot of ammonia when it breaks down proteins and this leads to the build-up of this compound in the body. This can cause confusion, tiredness, coma and even death.
Excretion of calcium
Studies have also shown that people who consume a high protein diet excrete a lot of calcium in their urine. It is believed this happens as the body tries to counteract the increase in acids in the body caused by protein consumption. Too much calcium depletion leads to osteoporosis.
Loss of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants
People who follow a high protein diet usually tend to consume only meat. They eat very fewer fruits and vegetable, which are full of vitamins, fibers, and antioxidants.
Increase levels of saturated fats in the body
Animal sources of protein are also usually high in saturated fats, which increases the chances of a person developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.
Eat the right proteins
Choosing the right proteins is important as it will help you lose weight in a healthy manner. Eating too much-processed meats such as hot dogs, sausages, and deli meats will only increase your chances of getting type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and colorectal cancer. Nutrition experts recommend getting proteins from these sources
- Fish: Apart from protein, fish contain less fat and are an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Poultry: Chicken also has a lot of healthy protein. Although it also has saturated fat, this can be avoided by removing the skin.
- Beans: Beans are an excellent source of protein especially if you are a vegetarian or a vegan. Apart from that, it is also loaded with fiber that helps you feel full for hours.
- Nuts: Almonds and other nuts are loaded with protein. They give you nearly as much protein as animal sources.
- Whole grains: They also contain a lot of good protein plus fiber.
Vegetarian sources of protein
If you are a vegetarian, you may think that you will not be able to get enough proteins due to most of them coming from animal sources. However, that is not completely true as there are a lot of vegetarian foods that are also rich in protein. These are
- Black beans: Also known as turtle beans due to their shell-like appearance, black beans are an inexpensive source of protein. One cup (172 grams) of cooked black beans contains approximately 15.2 grams of protein.
- Lima beans: Also known as “butter beans” due to their starchy, buttery texture, lima beans can be added in a variety of dishes due to them having a nice flavor. 100 grams of lima beans contain 8 grams of protein. Apart from that, Lima beans are also a good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber and normal fiber.
- Corn: Also known as maize, corn is available almost everywhere in the world. Depending on the variety, the protein content in corn (called zeins) ranges from 3.4 grams to 7 grams. Corn is also a rich source of many vitamins and minerals.
- Potatoes: Potatoes have become synonymous with carbohydrates. However, potatoes also contain protein. A 100 gram serving of potato approximately has 2 grams of protein.
- Broccoli: Broccoli belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family, which includes kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and cabbage. A 100 gram serving of broccoli approximately has 2.8 grams of protein. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption broccoli decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease.
- Cauliflower: Cauliflower is naturally high in fiber and B-vitamins. It is also a good source of protein; a 100-gram serving approximately has 1.8 grams of protein. Apart from that, it also has antioxidants and phytonutrients that can help prevent cancer.
- Chinese cabbage: Also known as bok choy, this vegetable is loaded with antioxidants and important nutrients that protect the body against free radicals. It also contains proteins; a 100-gram serving approximately has 1.1 grams of protein.
- Oats: Mainly eaten as porridge, oats are rich in dietary fiber (due to it containing many grains). They are also rich in protein, with a 100 gram serving approximately containing 2.4 grams. Apart from that, they also have a range of healthy cholesterol-lowering properties.
- Tempeh: Tempeh, which is a soy product, is exceptionally rich in protein, with a 100-gram serving containing 19 grams of protein. Apart from that, they also contain prebiotics and a wide array of vitamins and minerals
- Spirulina: Spirulina is an organism that grows in both fresh and saltwater. It is a biomass of blue-green algae. Although it does not really come in the category of foods, it is mentioned due to its high protein content. 100 grams of spirulina contains 57 grams of protein.
- Hemp seeds: They are the seeds of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. They are very rich in protein as they have the same quantity of protein as beef and lamb. 100 grams of hemp seed contain 31.56 grams of protein.
- Chickpeas: Chickpeas are high in protein as well as fiber. 100 grams of chickpeas contain 27 grams of protein. They also contain vitamin K, folate, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, choline, and selenium.
- Quinoa: This is one of the best sources of protein for vegetarians as they contain 11 amino acids. 100 grams of quinoa contains 4.4 grams of protein.
- Greek yogurt: Greek yogurt is different from normal yogurt as it is thicker due to it being strained more to remove liquids. It is a good source of protein, with 100 grams of Greek yogurt containing 9.5 grams of protein. It is also an excellent source of calcium.
- Avocados: Avocados are very nutritious as they are loaded with protein, unsaturated fat, fiber and other nutrients. 100 grams of this fruit contains 2 grams of protein
- Watercress: Watercress is a leafy vegetable that grows in natural spring water. 100 grams of watercress contains 2.3 grams of protein. They also have a very high level of dietary nitrate.
The bottom line
Although a high protein diet may sound attractive, people should consume a balanced diet that also consists of carbohydrates and fiber. Studies have indicated that eating only protein-rich foods may give rise to many health problems (like high levels of uric acid in the body) in later life. Furthermore, limiting or excluding carbohydrates from one’s diet may also cause problems.
However, people who want to follow this diet should take care not to eat more than 25–30 g of protein in each meal. You should also consult a dietician before starting this diet.
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