The basics of protein: some takeaways-

Protein is translated as ‘primary substance’, amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and are responsible for all functions of your body. Proteins have two functions, structural for the growth and repair of body tissues, and metabolic for the production of enzymes, hormones, antibodies, neurotransmitters and energy. Amino acids are molecules that combine to form proteins. The Greek meaning of protein is of prime importance, and water is the most plentiful substance in the body. Without protein, we would be unable to rebuild body cells, tissue, muscles, organs and synthesize many important enzymes, neurotransmitters used in the nervous system. For example, take serotonin, the important structural proteins that make hair, skin and nails, and the all-important hormones of the endocrine system. Protein also helps to maintain the volume and the composition of body fluids. 

We do not need to eat an excess of it, which most people end up doing. It’s detrimental to eat an excess of protein. I think more clarity on the subject of proteins, will help us understand why we need to each just the right amounts of it.

Non-essential amino acids

More than half the amino acids are non-essential, what this means is that the body cannot synthesize them for itself. Proteins in foods usually deliver these amino acids, but it is non-essential they do so.

Essential amino acids

There are eight essential amino acids that the human body cannot make at all or cannot make in sufficient quantity to meet its daily needs. These must come through diet.

Conditionally essential amino acids

Sometimes a non-essential amino acid becomes essential in special cases if the diet fails to supply enough of essential amino acid.

Does being non-vegetarian i.e., eating only animal protein make for completing our protein needs?

When we think of protein foods, most people only focus on animal proteins. Thirty years ago these were labelled as ‘first-class proteins.’ Vegetarian sources of protein were labelled as ‘second class protein.’ When in fact, vegetarian sources of protein contain the essential amino acids, albeit in smaller quantities. A limiting amino acid is an amino acid that is present in relatively small amounts but below the recommended essential amino acid requirements. A good example is quinoa short on the amino acid lysine-here lysine is the limiting amino acid.

What is a complete protein?

A complete protein is a food that contains all 8 essential amino acids in the right proportions. Eggs are a good example of such a type of protein.

Signs of protein deficiency:

  1. Lack of mental concentration
  2. Lack of emotional stability
  3. Suppressed immune response
  4. Degeneration of body tissues and collagen
  5. Joint pains, weak muscles, nails, hair loss
  6. Lack of energy

How much protein do you need?

Approximately on the average after ye age of 19 about 55 grams a day for a man and 45 grams a day for a medium-sized woman. About 15 per cent of our daily calorie intake should be protein. For example, if you consumed a 2000 calorie diet, then the protein element should be 300 calories.

How to calculate your protein requirements?

  1. Find out your weight in kilograms.
  2. Multiply this by 0.8 to get your RDA in grams per day.

So what can vegetarians do to up their protein?

  1. Eat a wide variety of foods not necessarily at one meal.
  2. Top up with the essential amino acids lacking in their diet.

Some myths and facts on vegetarian protein foods

  1. It’s a myth that vegans and vegetarians do not get adequate protein from plant-based sources; a balanced vegetarian diet always supply adequate absorbable protein,
  2. If you are a non-vegetarian, be careful of too much consumption as part of it becomes a toxic mucoid substance known as ‘ama’ in Ayurvedic tradition contributing to heavy mucous conditions that will make you sluggish and more attracted to stimulants like alcohol, sugar, coffee. Overconsumption will also lead to acidic blood, calcium deficiency, and a tendency to cancers and other degenerative diseases. I know you are all thinking, well what does one do? Plus animal protein has way too much-saturated fats. This leads me to my next point-
  3. Balance the consumption of animal protein with leafy greens and loads of vegetables; this way it assimilates better.
  4. B12 is obtained from animal foods for non-vegetarians, and amongst vegetarians can be sought out by including fermented foods in one’s diet, also in the healthy person abundant amounts are made by gut bacteria in the colon.
  5. Protein deficiencies will occur when the following happens: liver damage (caused by alcohol); a person who is addicted to sugars, soft drinks; a woman/man who has eating disorders: bulimia or anorexia. Those who do not eat whole grains, seeds, nuts or legumes; those who do not chew their food.

Improving protein utilization

  1. Avoid intoxicants: coffee, alcohol, Indian chai (too much).
  2. Avoid refined foods, especially sugar.
  3. Avoid copious amounts of animal foods, balance with greens.
  4. Improve lifestyle habits: Work, rest, sleep and exercise.
  5. Combat stress levels.
  6. Don’t multi-task, focus on completing one task at a time.
  7. Chew, chew and then chew some more!
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