Along with fats and carbohydrates, proteins (protein) are among the most important nutrients for our body and should be an integral part of our diet. Everyone who eats a healthy and balanced diet knows how important it is to consume sufficient protein. It supports muscle building, stimulates fat burning and is involved in numerous, vital metabolic processes in the body. Protein is essential for us and a protein deficiency can have a negative impact on our psyche and health. What are proteins anyway? What are the first signs of protein deficiency and how much protein a day should we eat to stay healthy and fit? These are probably questions that all of us have asked ourselves at some point. But don’t worry, you’ll find the answers to them, as well as the best sources of protein for a healthy diet, right now in our article.
Table of Contents
- What are proteins and what does the body need them for?
- Animal or vegan protein is better?
- Signs of protein deficiency: how much protein do we need a day?
- These are the most common signs of protein deficiency
- How do you succeed in eating more protein?
What are proteins and why does the body need them?
Before we take a closer look at the signs of protein deficiency, let’s briefly explain what proteins are. We all know that they are important for building muscle and stimulating weight loss. However, protein is much more than that and performs numerous, important bodily functions. It repairs old cells, builds new ones, ensures that important substances are transported through the body and strengthens the immune system. Protein is made up of 22 amino acids and while some of these can be made by the body itself, 10 are essential and must be obtained from food.
Animal or vegan protein is better?
Protein is not about quantity, but quality and many people are unsure whether animal or plant protein is better. There is no general answer to this and everyone decides for themselves. Animal protein is similar to body protein and is characterized by a high biological value. It provides us with almost all the important amino acids, but it also has disadvantages and high-fat meats can promote cardiovascular disease, obesity or dyslipidemia. While vegan protein sources are not as well utilized by the body, they usually contain neither saturated fats nor cholesterol or purines. To prevent protein deficiency, a mix of animal and plant protein would be optimal.
Signs of protein deficiency: How much protein do we need a day?
So, how much protein do we need in a day? There is no blanket answer to this question either, and the daily requirement depends on many factors. According to the German Nutrition Society, adults need to consume between 0.8 and 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day. Or explained more simply – if you weigh 60 kilograms, your daily requirement is between 48 and 72 grams. But depending on your age, gender and activity level, the recommended amount of protein also varies. For example, pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as infants and children, need more protein. To stimulate muscle recovery, athletes also have increased protein needs.
These are the most common signs of protein deficiency
It is estimated that approximately 1 billion people worldwide suffer from protein deficiency. Although it mainly affects developing countries in South Asia and Central Africa, certain people in developed countries are also at risk. Especially due to a very low calorie malnutrition or if we mainly eat junk food and ready-to-eat foods, protein deficiency can occur. With these signs of protein deficiency, you can quickly see if you are consuming enough protein or should adjust your eating habits.
Loss of muscle mass
Are you working out regularly, sweating it out at the gym every day, and still nothing is happening? What does your diet look like? When we don’t consume enough protein, the body gets the proteins from elsewhere and usually resorts to the protein in the muscle tissue. So this breaks down muscle and in the long run we become weaker and lose weight. Loss of muscle mass is one of the most common signs of protein deficiency and usually becomes noticeable after about 1 week.
You’re lying on the couch and suddenly you feel a craving for a bag of chips or a hamburger – sound familiar? Since proteins are hard to digest and take longer to be utilized, they keep us full for a longer period of time. A diet rich in protein also ensures that blood sugar levels remain constant. A fluctuating blood sugar level, on the other hand, often leads to cravings and the result is a few extra kilos on the scale. So, if you feel hungry all the time and if you can’t control your appetite for junk food, this is also a sure sign of protein deficiency.
Hair loss and brittle nails as a sign of protein deficiency.
Your fingernails have become more brittle or you have been unsuccessfully battling severe hair loss for months? A low-protein diet also negatively affects our appearance, and hair loss and brittle nails are also among the most common protein deficiency symptoms. Collagens, elastin and keratin belong to the so-called structural proteins and are essential for our skin, hair and nails. In some cases, the skin can also lose elasticity, which in turn promotes the formation of wrinkles.
Weak immune system and slower wound healing
Flu, cough, cold and co. again ? And this despite the fact that you take sufficient vitamins and basically eat a healthy diet? Immunoglobulins and antibodies protect our body from infections and diseases and if it does not produce enough of them, the immune system becomes weaker. As a result, we become more susceptible to viruses and are often sick. Since protein is responsible for cell formation, impaired and slower wound healing is another common sign of protein deficiency.
Fatigue and mood swings
When we consume too little protein, it can also have a negative impact on our psyche. In some cases, a protein deficiency can lead to mood swings or even mental illness, such as depression. If you have been feeling more sluggish, unfocused or tired than usual lately, this is most likely a sign of protein deficiency.
How do you manage to eat more protein?
A diet rich in protein helps you lose weight, promotes muscle growth and makes you feel better. Okay, so how can we eat more protein to prevent protein deficiency? To increase the biological value, it is best to rely on a combination of animal and vegetable protein sources. And here are a few tips on how you could add more protein to your diet.
- Make sure you consume a protein source at every meal. Whether it’s eggs for breakfast, grilled chicken to fill you up with salad, or cheese for a snack, the possibilities are endless.
- To stimulate muscle recovery, drink a protein shake after a workout or treat yourself to homemade protein bars.
- Peanut butter with fruit as well as nuts are also rich in protein and healthy fats, making them perfect for in-between meals.
- Yogurt or cottage cheese for breakfast are low in calories and full of important nutrients like selenium, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins B12 and B2.