A lack of protein or deficiency occurs when your intake is unable to meet your body's needs. If you are deficient, your body may show signs and symptoms that should not be ignored as this can cause various health issues or make an existing problem worse.
If you want your body to function properly, you need to make sure you're giving it enough of this macronutrient. Especially since the role of proteins is not only to be a source of energy (4 Cal/g), but to provide the tools to help the body recover and repair itself.
In addition, they greatly contribute to the feeling of satiety.
Table of Contents
- The Importance of Dietary Protein
- Symptoms of a lack of protein
- How to get more protein
- Protein consumption for athletes
- What foods high in protein should you eat?
The Importance of Dietary Protein
Basically, this nutrient is made up of long-chain amino acids, the building blocks of muscle. Although protein is an important nutrient for the body, you may be lacking in it. Protein deficiency occurs when your intake through food or supplements is unable to meet your body's needs.
If you are deficient, your body can show signs and symptoms that should not be ignored as it can generate various health problems and make them worse. In this article, you will discover the signs and symptoms that may indicate that your diet is lacking in protein.
You should get at least 10 % of your daily caloric intake from protein. But it is really a minimum, even for the elderly. As you will read later, an athlete should rather consume 30 to 35 % of his protein diet, whether of animal or vegetable origin.
Symptoms of a lack of protein
The effects of protein deficiency are quite numerous and can have serious health consequences. You will discover the 11 main signs to take into consideration. This will allow you to think about your daily needs and rebalance your diet.
1. Loss of muscle mass
Your muscles are made up mainly of protein and if the body lacks it, we tend to lose muscle volume. In fact, muscle wasting is one of the first signs of insufficient protein intake.
2. Increased risk of bone fractures
The bones are also weakened when you eat little protein. Native proteins made by the body from essential amino acids help maintain their strength and density. Not consuming enough protein foods weakens the bones and increases the risk of fractures.
3. Fluid retention (edema)
One of the most common signs of a lack of protein is swelling, called edema, especially in the abdomen, legs, feet and hands.
One possible explanation is that proteins circulating in the blood, including albumin, help prevent fluid from building up in the tissues. But edema can have other causes, consult your doctor for an informed opinion.
4. Mood swings
The brain uses chemicals called neurotransmitters to relay information between cells. Many of these neurotransmitters are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Thus, a lack of protein in the diet could mean the body's inability to produce enough of these neurotransmitters.
If this is your case, it can impact the functioning of your brain. With low levels of dopamine and serotonin, for example, you may feel depressed or overly aggressive.
5. Hair, nail and skin problems
These are made up of proteins like elastin, collagen and keratin. When the body cannot make them, one may experience hair loss or brittle hair.
Other consequences are dry, scaly skin and deep ridges on the nails. Diet isn't the only possible cause, of course, but it's something to consider.
6. Weakness and fatigue
Research shows that a week without eating enough protein can affect the muscles responsible for posture and movement, especially if you're 55 or older.
And over time, a lack of protein can lead to muscle atrophy, which reduces strength, makes it harder to maintain balance, and slows metabolism. It can also lead to anemia, when cells don't get enough oxygen, which increases the feeling of low energy.
7. Protein cravings
If you're not eating enough protein, in the short term, your body can tell you by making you want to eat it. You should give in to these urges.
If you really want a good chicken or a bowl of lentil soup, listen to your body and eat. A healthy diet involves meeting your own nutritional needs.
8. Sugar cravings
According to Alissa Rumsey, a New York-based dietitian and author of Unapologetic Eating (in English), proteins are digested more slowly than carbohydrates. If you eat a meal that is mostly carbs with not enough protein, it will be digested quickly and raise your blood sugar.
This spike in blood sugar with significant insulin production is followed by hypoglycemia. And when blood sugar goes down, you have to eat more sugar. This phenomenon unfortunately leads many people to type 2 diabetes.
The key is to consistently eat protein with complex carbohydrates so that everything is digested more slowly and blood sugar changes are more gradual.
9. Hunger and increased calorie intake
It probably seems obvious to you that protein fuels you. These are also one of the 3 sources of calories with carbohydrates and fats. Proteins and lipids are the only nutrients that you cannot live without, unlike carbohydrates.
If you're often hungry despite having regular meals, it's probably a protein issue. Studies have shown that eating foods with protein helps you feel full throughout the day. Conversely, a meal rich in simple carbohydrates does not stick to the stomach. Also, choose a hard-boiled or soft-boiled egg and nuts when you have a craving rather than cookies.
10. Slow wound healing
People who are nutritionally deficient in protein often find that their cuts and scrapes take longer to heal. The same seems to be true for sprains and other exercise-related mishaps.
This may be due to the body not producing enough collagen. The latter plays an essential role in connective tissues as well as in the skin. The body also needs protein for clotting.
11. Get or stay sick
Amino acids in the blood help the immune system make antibodies that activate white blood cells to fight viruses, bacteria and toxins. You need protein to digest and absorb other nutrients that are essential for maintaining optimal health.
There's also some evidence that protein can alter levels of "good" disease-fighting bacteria in the gut.
How to get more protein
Fortunately, since the cause of a lack of protein is simple to understand, so is the solution. If you have a mild protein deficiency but are not undernourished, just eat a healthy diet with more protein-rich foods. You will always want to aim for a balanced diet that also includes complex carbohydrates and good quality unsaturated fats.
Remember that eating protein does not necessarily mean eating meat, but simply consuming protein comprising the 9 essential amino acids for the human organism. The natural protein sources are more varied than you think and also include legumes or nuts.
Protein consumption for athletes
If you exercise regularly and have a balanced diet, you'll probably be fine. But serious athletes with intense training programs need more protein – about twice as much as the average person, or about 0.5 to 1 gram of protein for every pound of body weight every day.
Don't overdo it though. Indeed, a excess protein can also cause health problems. It is estimated that above 3.3 g per kg of body weight, the risks are higher than the benefits.
What foods high in protein should you eat?
Fortunately, most people do not have true protein deficiency disease in industrialized countries. If your only fault is having an unbalanced diet, increasing the amount of protein through food will probably be the way to go to solve your problem.
And there's a wide variety of high-protein foods you can choose from even if you're vegan.
What's really crucial is that you incorporate all nine essential amino acids into your diet daily. “Complete” protein sources contain all of these amino acids. For omnivores, it's easy since many foods of animal origin contain them: dairy products, meats, eggs, whey proteins and casein.
But there are excellent sources of vegetable proteins who can help you meet your needs. Just one important thing to keep in mind: One of the pitfalls of sources for vegetable proteins is that they do not contain all the essential acids. Fortunately, by combining multiple plant protein sources throughout the day, such as rice for lunch and lentils for dinner, you can collect all nine amino acids and set your daily protein intake.
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