What Is Protein? How Much Protein Do You Need, Benefits, Food Sources, and Much More
Protein needs no introduction, does it? You know this as one of the three vital nutrients that constitute your diet (the other two being fats and carbohydrates). There are several products, including foods, supplements, energy bars, etc., that you can take your daily recommended intake. Diets like the paleolithic diet and the Atkins diet are specifically built to increase your protein intake, which you can try after consulting your doctor and nutritionist.
But what exactly is protein, and how much protein do you need to cume each day in order to stay healthy? For this, we recommend reading this article till the very end. Here, we will discuss everything, including what is protein, why is it important, how much protein you need to take daily, what happens when you don’t take enough protein, what happens when you take more of this macronutrient, and much more.
What Is Protein? Why Do You Need Adequate Amounts Of It?
Proteins are large, complex molecules that play several important roles in the body. They perform most of the functions in cells and are necessary for the structure, function, and regulation of your body’s tissues and organs.
Proteins are composed of hundreds or thousands of smaller units known as amino acids, which are connected to one another in long chains. Twenty different types of amino acids are there that can be consolidated to form a protein. The sequence of amino acids specifies each protein’s unique 3D structure and its distinct function. Amino acids are coded by concoctions of three DNA building blocks (nucleotides), contingent upon the sequence of genes.
Proteins play a significant role in:
- Helping repair cells and making new ones
- Carrying molecules throughout the body
- Protecting your body from viruses and bacteria
- Fostering proper growth and development in children, teenagers, and pregnant women
Without taking adequate amounts of protein, you can miss out on any of these key functions, which eventually could lead to various health issues. These include failure to grow, loss of muscle mass, improper functioning of heart or lungs, and even premature death.
How Much Protein Do You Need Daily?
The vital amino acids that our body can’t produce naturally could be found in the foods you eat. You need to incorporate a variety of protein-rich foods in your diet, which isn’t that difficult since protein is naturally found in a plethora of nutritious foods - many of which may be already a part of your diet. When you eat those specific foods, your body will take protein in your food and decompose it into amino acids that could be used by your body.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.
To calculate the desired number of grams of protein you should consume each day, note your bodyweight in pounds and multiply it by 0.36. The result should get you within the recommendation to source 10 - 35 percent of your total daily calories from protein. Generally, that implies having some sort of dairy at each meal in addition to a piece of meat (that’s nearly 3 ounces) - or the equivalent amount of plant-based protein at lunch and dinner.
Remember, the recommended daily intake of protein may change depending upon your age and general health. It may change for athletes too. People who are athletes or exercise frequently need to increase their protein intake to 1.1 - 1.7 g per kg of their body weight daily. Anything more than that is considered excessive protein.
What Are The Symptoms Of Protein Deficiency?
Protein deficiency occurs when you don’t take enough protein. The most serious cases can lead to a form of malnutrition called kwashiorkor. This condition affects people living in very poor countries that don’t have sufficient food to feed people. It usually doesn’t affect people living in the United States, and when it does, the problem is linked to some kind of abuse.
Some common symptoms of protein deficiency include:
- Loss of muscle mass
- Thinning of hair
- Delayed growth and development
- Edema, which is swelling that’s caused due to increased fluid in the body tissues
Although Americans are unlikely to have a protein deficiency, those following certain types of diet need to be really cautious about their protein intake. Vegetarians and vegans particularly have to ensure that they are sourcing enough protein.
Meats are excellent sources of protein, and those who do not consume meat need to find alternative sources of protein elsewhere. Fortunately, there are numerous plant-based protein sources, including nuts, beans, tofu, etc., for the non-meat eaters to get their daily dose of protein. Dairy products are also abundant sources of protein for vegetarians.
Protein: Crucial For Weight Loss and Weight Management?
Protein is strongly associated with weight loss - this is one of the most prominent reasons why it has gained so much popularity in recent years. Several studies have shown that protein might help people lose weight or maintain weight because:
Consuming sufficient amounts of protein has a positive effect on resting metabolic rate.
Protein-rich foods increase the feeling of fullness. Consequently, people having sufficient protein may take fewer calories over the course of the day and lose pounds if they end up at a calorie deficit.
What Are The Best Sources Of Protein?
You can increase the amount of protein you consume by making slight changes to what’s on your plate. The following are some of the protein-rich foods that you should include in your diet:
- Greek yogurt
- Black beans
- Chicken breast
- Peanut butter
While choosing your protein sources, make sure to pay attention to the fat content of the foods as well. For example, skinless poultry and fish are better choices than red meat because they don’t have high levels of saturated fats that could be really dangerous in excess as they tend to increase bad cholesterol levels (LDL).
Side Effects and Health Effects Of Getting Excessive Protein
Although proteins are super healthy, you can easily overdose them. Many people pay close attention to only the benefits of taking more proteins. However, too much of everything is bad; this holds true for proteins as well. The major problem is that your body doesn’t know what to do with excess protein and can end up damaging your kidneys, liver, or bones.
Studies suggest that there is no benefit of taking proteins more than the recommended amount, but there are some potential side effects, including:
- Bone loss
- Kidney stones
- Liver complications
- An increased amount of calcium in the bloodstream
Certain meat-heavy diets such as the carnivore diet can also be harmful and elevate your risk of developing coronary artery disease and certain types of cancer, including breast and prostate cancers.
Proteins and Food Allergies: What Do You Need To Know?
Food allergies usually occur when your body’s immune system attacks specific proteins. Your body will attempt to fight back by making its own proteins, which are known as IgE antibodies or immunoglobulin E. In case you have an allergy to a certain protein, the next time you eat or drink any foods containing those proteins, you will experience an allergic reaction such as itching, difficulty breathing, etc.