Did You Know?
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommends that proteins should contribute to about 15% of the daily calorie intake.Importance of Proteins
» Proteins are everywhere in our body, be it the skin, hair, nails, muscles, bones, or the tiniest cell. Our survival and character inheritance from our parents (genetic coding)
also happens with the help of a protein - DNA. Proteins are also used by the body to build hormones, enzymes, antibodies, and the transmitters that help regulate the chemical reactions in the body.
» Hemoglobin, the carrier of oxygen in the blood
, is also a protein. In emergency situations, our body can effectively convert protein to sugar and fat, and use them as fuel. Taking into consideration the role proteins play in our body, it is recommended that you ingest your daily dose of proteins and keep your energy levels soaring.
» Proteins are made up of amino acids
. When proteins are ingested, they are acted upon by the digestive juices in our body and broken down into amino acids. These amino acids can be classified as essential and non-essential
amino acids. Essential amino acids are the ones that are not synthesized by the body and, therefore, it is exceptionally essential for your body to get optimal amount of food rich in proteins. As far as non-essential amino acids are concerned, our body can manufacture them, so external sources are not required.
» Proteins can be obtained from two sources: animal sources and vegetable sources.
While non-vegetarians can enjoy the benefits of obtaining protein from both animal and vegetable sources, vegans have to rely on a protein-rich vegan diet to obtain their required amounts of protein. Let us have a look at both the protein sources.
List of Protein-rich Food Items
The most commonly known animal protein sources are:
- Meat (Beef, Lamb)
- Lobster and crab meat
It is important that one does not resort to meat as the only source of protein, as meat also contains a high level of saturated fat which is very harmful to the body. Substituting meat with fish or poultry is a better idea as it is a healthier choice.
Good News for Vegetarians
Meat and eggs are not the only sources of proteins one can consume. Dairy products and a whole lot of vegetables, especially green, leafy vegetables, like spinach, are rich in protein. Thus, vegans have ample (vegetarian) protein-rich food products they can turn to. Let us have a look at them.
- Parmesan Cheese
- Nonfat Mozzarella
- Soy Milk
- Cottage Cheese
- Squash and Pumpkin
- Brussels Sprouts
- Cup of cherries
- Dried apricots
- Dried prunes
- Peanut Butter
- Whole grains: Quinoa, Barley, Brown rice, Oatmeal
- Nuts: Almonds, Peanuts, Cashew nuts, Pecans
- Oil seeds: Flax seeds, Sesame seeds, Sunflower seeds
- Liquids: Whey, Buttermilk
Fruits have a very high protein content; nevertheless, bananas and cherries have a slightly higher content of protein as compared to other fruits. On the other hand, almost all vegetables have a relatively higher protein content than fruits. Legumes and nuts are also good sources of protein; thus, a vegan should consume a variety of these food items
to get the required amount of protein into their system.
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Proteins
Aim for a Proper Mix of Vegetable and Animal Protein
According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), an adult needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (a kilogram equals 2.2 pounds). Vegetarians, mainly vegans, require 1 gram per kg body weight proteins in one day. Animal sources are "complete" (given that they provide all the essential amino acids) and pack in a greater punch of protein than plant sources. Vegans can compensate by combining different types of proteins, like grains and legumes.
What an Excess of Proteins Can Do
|Children aged 1-3
|Children aged 4-8
|Children aged 9-13
|Girls aged 14-18
|Boys aged 14-18
|Women aged 19-70+
|Men aged 19-70+
Protein sources can be very tricky and at times, misleading. If you eat too much meat or cheese, your body's protein requirement is met; however, other problems, like high cholesterol levels and weight gain, can arise. A diet high in protein can increase the risk of high cholesterol, as protein-rich food items are also high in saturated fats, which in turn can lead to heart diseases.
Excess protein also increases the strain on the liver and kidneys
, as the excess forces the kidneys to work overtime. This stress could lead to kidney dysfunction. Some eatables rich in protein are high in nucleic acid, which when broken down produces uric acid. Too much of uric acid can lead to a condition known as gout, wherein the joints in the body become inflamed, tender, and hurt a lot during movement. On the other hand, a protein deficiency can lead to growth problems. It can cause skin problems and generally make the individual look tired and unhealthy.
Moderation is the key.
Do not stuff your child with cheese burgers and pizzas just because cheese is high in protein. You will end up fighting the next big problem - obesity! Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Don't eat too much of anything just because it is rich in one nutrient. Check the overall pros and cons.
Options for You
Take a pick from some of the low-fat, high-protein choices mentioned below.
Have lean cuts of meat (remove any fat that you can see).
Remove the skin to reduce the fat content.
Try to use beans wherever possible instead of meat.
Use the 'low-fat' or 'fat-free' version of milk, yogurt, and cheese
Opt for egg whites instead of the whole egg.
If you are still not clear about which protein-rich food products to choose from, the best thing to do will be to contact your health care provider or a nutritionist.
He/she will be able to evaluate how much protein is ideal for you based on your weight and age.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and should not be substituted for the advice of a professional nutritionist/dietitian.