Let's start to answer that question by looking at what protein actually is and what is does in our body.
WHAT ARE PROTEINS?
Proteins are the building blocks of our whole body. Most parts of our body are a type of protein. A protein is a macro-nutrient made from amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids and when combined they form a protein. Some amino acids you can make in your body and some you cannot. The ones you can make in your body are called non- essential and the ones you can't make are called essential. There are 9 essential amino acids that can only be obtained through your diet. Eggs, for example, contain all 9 essential amino acids.
WHERE DO PROTEINS GO?
Once consumed, proteins are digested primarily in the stomach (with the help of hydrochloric acid) and the intestine (with the help of enzymes). Proteins are broken down into amino acids which are absorbed by the small intestine. The intestinal cells will use some of the amino acids for energy or protein synthesis, while the remaining amino acids (about 65%) are transported to the liver. The liver will use the amino acids for energy and to synthesize proteins for itself or the rest of the body.
WHAT IF YOU DON'T HAVE ENOUGH PROTEIN?
If you're not eating enough protein you might feel weak, become sick more often, have slow healing wounds, brittle hair and nails, hair loss and oedema (fluid retention). Your muscles may weaken and eventually a lack of protein will affect your internal organs, like your heart. You may also become prone to bone stress fractures; if you are an athlete prone to bone stress factors, this can be a symptom of an inadequate food intake and a diet low in protein.
THE BENEFITS OF PROTEIN
There are many benefits of proteins and here are some of them;
· Proteins are the major building block for muscle and tissue and they aid in muscle and tissue repair. They also help in blood clotting and wound healing
· Proteins make up enzymes, so sometimes digestive issues can be caused by a lack of protein in the diet.
· Proteins make up the immune system and some hormones.
· Proteins transport oxygen, fats, vitamins, and minerals throughout the body.
· They regulate systemic inflammation and function as an antioxidant
· Proteins assist in maintaining fluid balance in the body. That’s why when people get low on protein, they often get Oedema.
· Proteins are an integral part of DNA synthesis
· And proteins keep us fuller for longer, they promote satiety and delay gastric emptying
Proteins also provide energy for the body. Most people think of protein and automatically think of muscles, however protein is also a source of energy. If you’re not eating enough food or enough carbohydrates and fats, then protein will be used for energy instead of for muscle repair.
THE BEST PROTEIN SOURCES
The best source of protein is from animal products like, meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy. These sources are rich in protein and are more easily absorbed in the human body. They have what we call high bio-availability. There are also great sources of plant proteins, like soy, beans, legumes, nuts & seeds. These plants are high in protein, but the protein has a much lower bio-availability. So, if you are vegan or vegetarian you will need to eat a lot of these types of vegetables at every meal. Much more that someone who is including animal proteins in their diet.
Back to the question; Are you getting enough protein in your diet? If you are including a good source of animal or plant protein in most meals and snacks and you have none of the symptoms for low protein intake, then you are most likely be meeting your protein requirements. And in the case of protein, more is not necessarily better. Your body can only absorb about 20-40g of protein at any one time. That’s about the size of a small steak or a chicken breast or 2 cups of cooked lentils. So it is always beneficial to distribute your protein intake over the day, starting with a good balanced breakfast.
Disclaimer: Please note that the information in this or any other blog posts on this site may not be suitable or apply to you, depending on where you’re at in your mental health and/or eating disorder/diet recovery journey. This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to be a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before making any changes