6 signs you're not getting enough protein

[Photo: Caroline Attwood]
[Photo: Caroline Attwood]

Protein isn’t just for body builders and top heavy lads who like to bench press; it’s essential for everyone.

Protein is composed of small compounds called amino acids which are the building blocks of muscle mass. Hundreds of amino acids exist in nature but your body utilises just 20; 11 of which it can produce by itself. The other nine essential amino acids – so called because your body can’t synthesise them – you must get from food.

Getting enough protein every day is essential for repairing damaged cells and creating new ones. Animal sources of protein (milk, yogurt, cheese, meat, poultry, fish, seafood and eggs) are considered “complete proteins”, meaning they contain all essential amino acids. Quinoa and soy beans are the only plant foods known to contain all essential amino acids.

According the the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) adults should be consuming 0.75g of protein for each kilogram they weigh. On average women should eat 45g and men 55g of protein per day.

The chart blow illustrates the most common sources of protein in the British diet according to the British Nutrition Foundation.

[Photo: British Nutrition Foundation]
[Photo: British Nutrition Foundation]

Eating too little protein can result in deficiency which can have a negative impact on your health. So how do you know if you’re not getting enough? Below are some telltale signs.

  1. Thinning hair or hair loss

Hair is made mostly of protein. If your body’s reserves are low it’ll stop using it for non-essential things like hair. You may notice hair thinning or falling out.

2. You get ill regularly

Frequent illness is a sign of a weakened immune system. Immune cells are made from protein; if you’re under-eating it you could be compromising your health.

3. Intrusive food cravings

Eating carbs at mealtimes with very little protein means your body will digest food quickly. This causes a spike in insulin leading to a dramatic drop in blood glucose which can make you feel hungrier sooner. When your blood sugar is constantly rising and dropping, chances are, your brain’s going to pester you for sugary snacks. Eating sufficient amounts of protein at mealtimes will slow digestion leaving you fuller for longer and allowing blood sugar changes to be more gradual over time.

4. Feeling tired or weak

Insufficient protein intake over a prolonged period can trigger your body to seek protein from elsewhere. Namely breaking it down from your muscles. This can lead to loss of energy and strength. Of course low energy can be linked to a whole host of causes; sleep quality, lack of exercise and stress, so it’s important to consider all your lifestyle habits before drawing any rash conclusions.

5. Fluid retention

Skimping on protein may lead to fluid retention in tissues, this can be particularly noticeable around the feet and ankles. Protein helps to hold salt and water in the blood vessels, without it, fluid can seep into surrounding tissues and cause swelling.

6. You crave protein

Can’t stop thinking about juicy burgers, flame grilled chicken or a steaming bowl of lentil soup? That’s probably your body telling you to get more protein. Better listen up and chow down.

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