Do you know the signs of a protein deficiency? Not knowing how much you should consume can lead to a shortage, which might bring severe health consequences.
Our bodies require many different nutrients to be healthy, and each one has a specific purpose. With so much emphasis placed on fruits and vegetables, sometimes it’s easy to forget about protein. However, we need to make a conscious effort to get enough of this vital substance. Protein serves many vital functions.
Some of the way it impacts your body includes the following:
- Building and repairing tissue
- Producing hormones and enzymes
- Serves as the building block of blood, bones, cartilage, and skin.
How much protein does the human body require?
Experts recommend getting .36 grams of protein for every pound (.8 grams per kilogram) of body weight. When calculated, this usually means our protein intake should be anywhere between 46-56 grams. WebMD breaks protein intake down according to age:
- Babies: about 10 grams
- School-age children: 19-34 grams
- Teenage girls: up to 46 grams
- Teenage boys: up to 52 grams
- Adult women: about 46 grams (71 grams if pregnant or breastfeeding)
- Adult men: about 56 grams
There are many different ways to get our recommended amount of protein. Some of these sources include beans, soy products, greens, tempeh, and lean meat choices.
When protein is appropriately implemented into our diets, it can help us stay healthy, trim, and energetic. Simply put, protein is an essential nutrient that we must get enough for our bodies to remain in good condition.
Unfortunately, as with so many other essential nutrients, people can neglect to get the necessary amount.
Here are six primary signs that you may have a protein deficiency:
Do you exhibit any of these red flags of a nutritional deficiency?
1. Craving unhealthy foods
Harvard University’s School of Public Health explains how protein helps boost satiety. Thus, you reduce hunger and cravings for unhealthier choices.
Without adequate protein, we are much more likely to crave non-nutritional foods. This is because our blood sugar is off-kilter, tempting us to reach for carb-heavy and sugar-laden foods such as chocolate, candy, potato chips, pastries, soda, or bakery treats.
If this happens, we should resist indulging and getting a healthy snack with a good amount of protein. Examples of such snacks are nuts, seeds, tempeh, natural peanut butter, oatmeal, Coconut greek yogurt, and hummus. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, but all are foods that are pretty quickly accessible.
2. Joint and muscle pain
An Annals of Rheumatic Diseases article links consumption of protein to the synovial fluid that cushions your joints.
Since protein serves such an imperative role in sustaining our muscles, this side effect is not surprising in the least. Much of our protein is stored in what is called synovial fluid, located around our joints. Synovial fluid plays an important role in rebuilding muscles and lubricating our joints. When protein levels are low, reserves of protein stored in synovial fluid are often the first to be depleted. When this happens, joint stiffness and muscle pain are likely to result.
If this occurs, one is best served to eat a meal or snack rich in protein. If this protocol is followed, within a few hours, the pain once located in our muscles and/or joints should diminish significantly.
3. Low energy
As mentioned, low protein levels wreak havoc on our blood sugar levels. Without protein to stabilize blood sugar, our energy levels tank. Further, a deficiency often leads to episodes of moodiness and a decreased ability to manage the stress that we encounter throughout the day. As a result, our bodies are devoid of the necessary elements to calm down.
The takeaway: our bodies need protein to be calm and composed and get ourselves through the day efficiently and productively.
4. Inability to sleep
As mentioned in an earlier point, the body will crave carbs and sugar without sufficient protein. This is true even when the body shuts down in anticipation of sleep. When our heads finally do hit the pillow, our bodies will still crave necessary nutrition in the form of protein. Normally, individuals that do not get enough of the nutrient make a bad habit out of it.
Unfortunately, this habit carries over to sleep when the body needs fuel in healthy fats (generally derived from protein) to remain in a state of sleep. When you neglect proper nourishment, the body will naturally seek supplementation, waking us up to fulfill its needs. This results in a state of wakefulness and an inability to sleep.
A 2019 study by the National Institutes of Health Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute confirms that poor nutrition can be an underlying cause of insomnia.
5. Frequent illness
Protein is an essential nutrient for the sustainment of a healthy immune system. This is because our blood requires sufficient protein to perform necessary functions – namely, killing off the nasty and unwelcome trespassers that enter our bloodstream. White blood cells, for example, are protein-rich blood types responsible for seeking out and eliminating these unhealthy agents. Antibodies contained in white blood cells need protein to perform this function.
Without sufficient protein, our bodies’ ability to seek out and eliminate bacteria or viruses is drastically reduced. Naturally, this development makes the human body more susceptible to various illnesses.
6. Inability to focus
Protein is responsible for the health of various neurotransmitters in the brain. This is unsurprising since our brain’s neurons are made mostly of fat, with protein being the primary source of the healthy fat variety. Further, amino acids, the building blocks of protein, make up the foundation of our brain’s chemical receptors. Simply put, what we eat ultimately determines the nerve chemicals that will dominate these brain pathways, affecting how we feel.
Ingesting a heavy dose of carbohydrates ultimately makes us feel more sluggish because they increase amino acid tryptophan, which puts the brain in a ‘calm’ state. Lastly, eating protein raises levels of specific amino acids that initiate the production of norepinephrine and dopamine. These two chemical messengers keep us energized and productive since they play a crucial role in brain activity and alertness.
Sixteen foods to help you avoid a protein deficiency
Fortunately, you can reverse protein deficiency by adding these foods to your menu. You will also find some vegetarian and vegan options!
Seafood and fish are excellent sources of protein. Oily fish like salmon has omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and help you manage your blood sugar. Other excellent options of seafood include the following:
- Rainbow trout
Besides high-quality protein, fish also supplies you with vitamin D, B2, calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium. Buy wild-caught seafood and fish whenever possible. Farm-raised fish or seafood contains contaminants. Plus, wild fish have a higher level of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids.
2 – Eggs
Eggs are a great source of digestible protein. A medium-sized egg supplies you with 6.29 grams of protein. Eggs are an economical source of protein, vitamins, healthy fat, and minerals. Studies show that eggs are one of the highest quality proteins, second only to breast milk.
For many years eggs were considered unhealthy due to their higher cholesterol levels. Scientists continue to study the effect of eggs on cholesterol. So until there is a real understanding about eggs and cholesterol, if you suffer from cardiovascular disease, use caution about eating too many eggs.
3 – Whole grains and seeds
Many plant-based whole grains are rich in protein. One-half cup of a whole-grain gives you 6 grams of protein, but if you pair your whole- grains with leafy greens or dairy, you double your protein in one meal. Examples of whole-grains include these grains:
- Brown rice
- Whole-wheat couscous
Plant-based proteins contain vitamin B, niacin, magnesium, fiber, antioxidants, and minerals. Adding whole grains to your diet lowers your risk of becoming obese, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.
4 – Chicken and turkey
When you include chicken or turkey in your diet, you’ll be sure to get enough protein. One ounce of chicken or turkey will give you a whopping 25 grams of protein. White meat is usually lower in fat than dark meat, and turkey is only slightly leaner than chicken. Besides healthy protein, chicken and turkey contain zinc, B vitamins, selenium, and iron.
5 – Oatmeal
Oatmeal is an economical grain to add to your weekly diet. One half a cup of oats for breakfast gives you 17 grams of protein. If you add one cup of almond milk with 2 grams of protein to your oats, you increase your protein to19 grams. That’s a great way to boost your protein first thing in the morning. Oatmeal is full of healthy fiber, which helps reduce your cholesterol for better heart health.
6 – Edamame
Edamame is a young soybean that you can eat right out of their little green pods. You can steam, roast, or microwave your edamame. Drizzle a little olive and sprinkle salt on top, and they’re ready to eat. Edamame contains 11 grams of protein in half-cup, so it’s a super healthy protein snack any time of the day.
7 – Lentils
Packed with protein and fiber, lentils are a super healthy legume. They’re economical and easy to prepare. Soak the dried lentils overnight in the fridge. Then drain off the water and cook for 20 minutes or until tender. Add a little kosher salt, garlic, and cumin. Add lentils to soups, side dishes, or salads. Lentils are packed with nutrients. One cup of lentils provides the following nutrition:
- Protein 17.9 grams
- Vitamin B6
The ancient art of cheese making is centuries old. You can make cheese from goat, bison, camel, and cow milk. Most of the milk you drink comes from cows, but goat milk and goat cheese have grown in popularity in the United States over the last couple of decades. Although Americans are drinking less milk, they are eating more cheese. It’s no wonder because cheese tastes great and has so many health benefits. It contains calcium, fatty acids, vitamin A and D, zinc, phosphorus, riboflavin, and protein. Some cheeses have more protein than others. Here is a list of the cheeses with the highest levels of protein.
- Parmesan: This hard cheese has the highest amount of protein of all cheeses. One ounce equals 10 grams.
- Romano: One ounce is 9 grams. This is another hard cheese with a zesty, salty flavor.
- Swiss-low fat: Milk with a nutty flavor, eating one ounce of Swiss cheese provides you with 7.5 grams.
- Low-fat cheddar: This popular cheese has anywhere from 5.5 grams to 7.5 grams per ounce, depending upon the type of cheddar you choose.
- Gouda: Higher in vitamin K than many foods, gouda has 7 grams of protein per ounce.
- Gruyere: This fondue favorite cheese provides 7 grams in one ounce.
- Goat cheese: A tangy, soft cheese that’s great for crumbling on salads, one ounce of goat cheese gives you 6 grams.
- Blue cheese: Not everyone loves the distinct flavor of blue-veined cheeses. Crumbling one ounce of blue cheese on top of your favorite salad will provide you with 6 grams.
- Brie cheese: What party is complete without Brie? This soft cheese that you spread on crackers contains 6 grams per ounce.
9 – Black Beans
Black beans are economical and packed with fiber and protein. Like lentils, you can purchase black beans dried or in a can. Use black beans in soups, on top of salads, or mix them with a little salsa and warm them up. Spoon your warmed black beans over brown rice for a complete protein meal.
10 – Tofu
Tofu is a soy milk bean curd that’s been pressed into blocks. It comes in firm or soft blocks. One-half cup of this healthy meat alternative gives you 15 grams of protein. Try frying or stir-frying the tofu with a sauce or seasonings to enhance its flavor.
11 – Chickpeas
Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are packed with healthy plant protein. One cup of chickpeas contains 39 grams of protein. Blend the chickpeas in your food processor with a little olive oil, garlic, salt, cumin, and pepper for a delicious dip for carrots, pita chips, or crackers. You can also roast chickpeas in the oven. Sprinkle the chickpeas with a teaspoon of garlic powder, olive oil, and kosher salt—lay garbanzos on a baking tray and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Roasted chickpeas are a great crunchy alternative to potato chips.
12 – Beef
Beef contains amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. It’s a rich source of protein, and when eaten in moderation, once or twice a week, beef helps your body build strong muscle tissue. Eating red meat can prevent anemia, or low iron, especially in young women between 18 to 40 years of age.
13 – Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds provide a whopping 25 grams of protein per half-cup. These tiny oval seeds also contain magnesium, zinc, and healthy fat. Buy only the organic brands of pumpkin seeds since they don’t contain processing chemicals as the regular pumpkin seeds do.
14 – Greek Yogurt
Yogurt is fermented milk, and it’s packed with healthy nutrients. Yogurt helps manage blood sugar and reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes. Because it’s fermented, yogurt contains beneficial probiotics, which are live bacteria that aids your digestive system plus boost your immune system.
One study found that the live bacteria in yogurt helps your gut digest milk protein easier, so you absorb more amino acids in yogurt. Avoid eating sugary yogurts. Instead, choose Greek or plain yogurt for the best nutrition.
15 – Pork
All meat contains amino acids, which help your body support and produce strong muscle tissue. Pork is a healthy, low-fat meat choice.
A three-ounce serving of pork also provides these nutrients:
- Vitamin B6
Pork tenderloin and pork sirloin fall both within the American Heart Association Heart check, suggesting that your meat choice should contain only 5 grams of fat or less.
16 – Peanuts
just one gram of raw peanuts contains 7.3 grams of protein, according to the Peanut Institute. This plant-based protein is often overlooked as a healthy source of nutrition. If you’re eating low carb, look no further than the peanuts. Peanuts contain fiber, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and B vitamins.
You might overlook peanuts because they are high in fat, but it’s a healthy fat that lowers the bad cholesterol and raises the good cholesterol. So, from now on, munch away on peanuts without guilt.
Final thoughts on overcoming a protein deficiency
Protein is essential for good health. It helps you build muscle tissue, boosts your hormone levels, and provides antioxidants.
Add plant-based protein to your list of alternative protein sources. Whether you choose legumes, peanuts, or pumpkin seeds, you’ll boost your protein levels without adding unhealthy fats. When you buy meat, choose leaner cuts and trim off unwanted fat before cooking.
So, if you’re confused about how to eat enough protein in your diet, look no further than this list of protein sources. Eating these foods will take away your worries of a protein deficiency to feel healthy and happy.