Protein makes up the major components of all our cells and provides the essential Amino Acids that keep our bodies up and running. Problem is, some of us are not getting as much as of it as we should be.
The body needs protein for growth and maintenance of tissues and your body’s protein needs are dependant upon your health and activity level. It is also a building block for enzymes and hormones. For this reason, protein deficiency has a wide range of symptoms. Different people have different protein requirements depending on their body weight, muscle mass, physical activity and age. Bodyweight is the most important determination of protein requirements. The recommended protein amount is 0.8 g per kilogramme of body weight. A deficiency is likely to occur when your intake is unable to meet your body’s requirement.
Julian Eyotam, a nursing officer at Mwanamugimu Nutrition Unit at Mulago National Referral Hospital, says a number of children in Uganda suffer from protein deficiency. “When there is insufficient protein intake(Kwashiokor) the body takes protein from Skeletal Muscles to preserve more important tissues and body functions. As a result, lack of protein leads to muscles wasting over time, which may delay or prevent growth in children, he says adding that the deficiency also causes wasting away in Ederly people. A slight increase in protein intake may slow the muscle degeneration that comes with old age.
Skin, hair problems
Besides underdevelopment in children, Kwashiorkor also often leaves its mark on the skin, hair and nails, which are largely made of protein. It leads to hair thinning, faded hair colour, hair loss and brittle nails in both children and adults. This is one of the commonest symptoms among children that suffer from protein deficiency.
With a protein deficiency, says Dr Denis Katanku Musoga, a nutrition at the Uganda Heart Institute, the bones are also at risk. “Insufficient protein intake has been linked to a lower bone mineral destiny and an increased risk of fractures. This is the more reason menopausal women are advised to increase their protein intake to reduce their risk of hip fructures,” he adds.
This increases the risk or severity of infections because the white blood cells are easily weakened. Respiratory tract infections easily attack people with such a deficiency and they take long to heal. There are both plant and animal sources from which we can obtain proteins.
Animal Based Sources
Healthy sources of protein such as free range eggs, and grass-fed meat are also good source of zinc and many other minerals.
When you consider beef or poultry, ensure that you choose lean cuts, and grill it or trim off all the fat from the meat before you cook it.
Katanku says, “with the health message going around the world, more people are now taking on vegetables, legumes and other plant bases sourcesxto avail their daily nutritional needs because plant proteins are said to be safer than animal protein.
Plant Based Sources
Legumes such as lentils, peas, chickpeas and beans are great protein sources. Eyotary says “Most dark coloured, leafy green and vegetables contain protein. Eaten alone, these foods are not enough to meet daily proteon requirements, but few vegetable snacks can increase protein intake particularly when combined with other protein-rich foods. Brocolli, kale and mushrooms are good protein sources.”
Other plant-based protein sources include grains and cereals such as oats, millet, sorghum, maize, peanuts, fruits such as guavas, avocados, oranges, banana, chia seeds. Tempeh, torn and texturised soy protein are good alternatives for meat. “These are high in protein, probiotics (live bacteria which are beneficial to the digestive health) and are a source of mineral such as Magnesium, Phosphorus and Manganese,” says Eyotane.
How much protein do we need?
Each person is unique in terms of their exact protein needs your body weight, gender, age and level of activity or excercise all determine how much protein is best for you and your needs likely vary day to day.
• According to experts, the recommended daily minimum intake of protein for adults who arecat an average weight and activity level is 56 grammes per day for men, and 46 grammea per day for women.
• These amounts are equal to eating about 0.36 grammess of protein for every kilogram that you weigh.
• Remember that most experts recommend consuming about 20 to 30 per cent of your overall caloriea from protein foods.