We need our protein. It is essential to our well-being because it is the building block of our muscles, skin, hormones, and enzymes, while also playing a key role in our body’s tissues. A protein deficiency can be the forerunner of numerous health issues, and not consuming enough protein in our diets can cause subtle, unwanted changes in our bodies over time.
Generally speaking, protein deficiency is not a serious problem in the U.S., even though an estimated billion people worldwide, per healthline.com, suffer from inadequate protein consumption. The problem is especially acute in Central Africa and South Asia, where estimates of the occurrence of inadequate protein in the diet affects 30 percent of children.
In much of the rest of the world, vegans and vegetarians are at risk of protein deficiency because of their adherence to imbalanced diets. Health experts say that an optimal amount of daily proteins is 0.4 grams for every pound of your body weight; a 175-pound man, for instance, should be ingesting about 70 grams of protein a day.
What Does Protein Do for Us?
Protein is not only a builder of muscle, it also gives us energy, helps our bodies recover from a long, hard work day or a strenuous exercise workout, for instance. It even plays an important role in making us feel fuller longer after a meal, helping to curb our appetite for snacks and other indulgences that can lead to an expanded waistline.
Per mindbodygreen.com, protein is composed of long-chain amino acids, which fuel the aforementioned muscle growth. Our body can’t do all the work alone. While it does produce 11 of our amino acids, the nine so-named “essential amino acids” must be consumed via what we eat at the table – our diet. A protein deficiency can lead to food cravings, interfere with a person’s fitness objectives, and produce other wide-ranging effects on how we look and feel, per self.com.
Signs and Symptoms of a Protein Deficiency
A protein deficiency usually doesn’t hide itself quietly inside your body; eventually related signs and symptoms will appear. Be on the lookout for the following:
- Persistent feelings of weakness and hunger. Because protein takes longer to digest, per rd.com, it will leave you feeling fuller longer as it energizes you. Without protein, you go in the other direction, on both counts.
- Losing weight becomes a monumental task. There are numerous reasons why weight loss can be a problem, and a protein deficiency is one of them. One study, cited by Reader’s Digest, determined that dieters who increased their protein intake to 30 percent of their total calories ate 450 fewer calories a day and lost 11 pounds over three months.
- Hair loss. Our hair is composed primarily of protein; a lack thereof could result in our shedding hair quicker than normal.
- Frequent illness. At play in this regard is our immune system. It needs good nutrition to function reliably and efficiently, and a protein deficiency can lead to a loss of T cells, which are valuable germ fighters.
- Swollen lower legs and feet. A shortage of protein makes us more susceptible to fluid retention around our ankles and feet. Otherwise, a sufficient presence of protein will help hold salt and water in blood vessels instead of allowing them to seep into surrounding tissues, per Harvard Health Publications.
- Food cravings. These are usually related to a diet low in protein combined with high levels of carbs and sugar. Protein helps level out the blood sugar highs and lows, per mindbodygreen.com.
- Irregular menstrual cycles. A low-protein/high-carb and sugar diet can lead to insulin resistance and other factors that disrupt female hormones.
- Slow injury recovery. Sufficient amounts of protein are needed to help heal and regenerate new cells, tissue, and skin.
- Muscle and joint pain. This could be a sign of muscles or joint fluid breaking down, conditions that can be thwarted by a proper level of protein.
- Brain fog. This refers to how the presence of protein helps regulate blood sugar levels.
- Stunted growth in children. A steady supply of protein is a requisite for body growth. An estimated 161 million children worldwide experienced stunted growth in 2013, per healthline.com.
Want to know what to emphasize in your diet or via vitamins and supplements to help supply you with protein? Here’s a quick-hitting list:
- Seafood, because it’s low in fat, per webmd.com. Salmon works well, even though it’s a bit higher in fat content than most fish.
- Poultry white meat. Good source of lean protein.
- Dairy products. Think milk, cheese, and yogurt.
- Eggs. But keep it to one or two a day.
- Beans. Baked beans, that is.
- Pork tenderloin. This white meat is 31 percent leaner than it was 20 years ago, per webmd.com.
- Soy protein. Healthy for the heart, too.
- Lean beef. Has less saturated fat than a skinless chicken breast.
- Whey protein. 25 grams of protein per serving.
- N-Acetylcysteine. Comes from an amino acid.
- Shark cartilage.
- Amino acid chelated magnesium.