Protein is a component of food, a macronutrient and energy provider. Protein is the basic building block of human structure and is necessary to form muscles, skin, hair, nails, bones, blood, hormones, enzymes and immune cells. Noted Dutch chemist Mulder. G J (1838) described protein as “unquestionably the most important of all known-substances in the organic kingdom and without it no life appears possible on our planet
Chemically, proteins are complex organic compounds made of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Depending upon different types it may also contain sulphur , phosphorous, iron, iodine, copper and cobalt. Primary function of protein in body is growth and maintenance.
Proteins are made up of amino acids (AA) and about 500+ kinds of AA have been discovered out of which only 22 kinds serve as the constituents of the human body protein. Amino acids are the alphabet characters of our body protein and complicated combinations of these 22 kinds produce as many as 100 thousands of various proteins in our body. Essentially, proteins are chains of amino acids linked together like beads on a necklace. The individual amino acid falls into two groups.
Essential AA- called so since the body cannot manufacture and hence food is the only source
Non-Essential AA- can be synthesized in the body and need not appear in the food, not that they less important
Now what happens when protein enters our body?
All the dietary protein that enters into our body is broken down to free amino acids by different enzymes from the stomach, pancreas, and small intestine and absorbed into the blood. Our body has an AA pool which supplies to different cells and Liver , to be used for manufacturing of body protein, production of energy and production of fat. Remember, to make body protein, a cell must have all 22 AA simultaneously.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 0.83 g per every Kg of body weight. Protein is extremely important for growth, pregnancy, lactation, convalescence and body building. Largest amount of body protein is in the form of lean muscle tissue. Hence if one is looking to gain muscle, then he should have a positive protein balance. When AA requirement is not met, body breaks down muscle protein into AA and this affects the body protein balance.
But the requirement of protein varies from person to person due to bio-individuality, blood type and protein type. Hence you need to experiment with protein in quantity and source (vegetarian/animal) and see what works for you, your body and lifestyle.
How much is your Protein intake?
Check for any of the following symptoms
Too-little protein- Indicated by feeling lighter, feeling spacey, fatigue, weight loss, weakness, anaemia, change in the color of facial skin, hair and its texture and pot belly appearence.
Too much protein- Indicated by low energy, constipation, dehydration, heavy feeling, lethargy, weight gain,sweet cravings, tight feeling, stiff joints, foul body odor, bad breath .
In sever cases, acidity, kidney dysfunction, bone loss and osteoporosis can be observed.
Current urban trends encourage an increase in protein consumption through meat and diary. Some believe that we do not need a lot of protein. We recommend you to find out what works for your body by trial and error and observing your body. Your mind may disagree with what your body wants. Trust your body.
Here are some inputs
- Blood type diet-Do you remember your blood type ? ‘Eat right for your type’ written by Dr Peter D’Adamo is an excellent guide to determine the protein needs based on blood type. This is based on the theory that each blood type. (O, A AB and B) is derived from a different time in human evolution and thus affects how people of each type react to food and diseases.
- O TYPE- O type are the oldest blood type coming under that hunter- gatherer culture. They function best on a high protein diet from animal sources.
- A TYPE- Originated in the agrarian age and are more adapted to a plant based diet centered on grains, vegetables, beans and milk from cows
- B TYPE- Originated with the emergence of nomadic people. Have flexibility in adapting to both plant and animal protein,
- AB TYPE- Evolved thousand years ago and tend to be highly sensitive and mysterious to different diet patterns.
- Metabolic type- Metabolism is the rate at which you convert food into energy. Knowing you metabolic type also helps you to know the best food you metabolize best and its quantity. You can determine your metabolic type by answering questionnaires, or taking simple medicals tests. You can fall into any three of the following metabolic types
- FAST BURNERS / PROTEIN DIET- Frequently hungry and crave for salty and fatty foods. They burn carbs quickly and need a high protein diet to slow down metabolism.
- SLOW BURNERS/ CARB TYPE – Weak appetite and need high amounts of carbs to speed up metabolism. High tolerance for sweets and tend to obese easily. Low protein diets satisfy their need.
- MIXED- Average appetite and moderate craving for sweet and starchy foods. Need a combination of protein and carbs in their diet.
Sources of protein in diet
Vegetarian and animal protein sources
Vegetarian protein sources include beans, legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains and leafy greens( broccoli, spinach, collard, lettuce, kale)
Beans, especially soy has high quality protein but beans are difficult to digest and assimilate. Cas cause gas and indigestion. Hence soak overnight or sprout them by soaking a couple of days. Soy has an increasing global demand as a vegetable source of protein. It is one of the most genetically engineered crops and so make sure you get organic.
Animal protein sources include meat, egg , fish, dairy and bee pollen. Even though rich in quality protein, animal foods are high in fat and cholesterol which can cause heart diseases, cancer, obesity and constipation. Factory farmed meat contains anti biotics and hormones and hence its important to eat high quality, organic, free range, grass fed forms of animal protein. To help digest animal protein eat plenty of vegetables and try to eat a small quantity at a time. No bigger, no thicker than the palm size of your hand ( Dr Barry Sears- The Zone Diet) is the thumb rule
Beef, Chicken, Duck,
turkey etc are different types of meat. Try different types and rotate to avoid
stagnancy. Discover what works best with your body. Organic egg is a practical,
inexpensive source of good protein. Eat the whole egg to get the ‘total energy’
of the egg. Stay away from farm raised fish and go for wild fish that are lower
in the food chain (like sardines) to reduce the risk of mercury and added
In consuming dairy, beware of lactose intolerance and go organic, local and grass-fed sources. Try buttermilk, yoghurt, butter or ghee as an alternative to milk.
We have an intuitive thinking that animal foods increase sense of personal power, self esteem and confidence and that it makes you more alert, aggressive and strong. Protein has got definite connection to your mood since eating protein produces dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain which makes you more alert and energetic. But at the same time, over eating of meat can cause tension and irritability,
Protein bars and protein powders are the latest trends in the market. Many contain many chemicals and unnatural sweeteners. You need to check for high quality (Amino acid content and digestibility) ingredients. These are not meal replacements and are not recommended in large amounts.
The bottom line is, protein consumption is a personal thing. Everyone needs different types and amounts based on different factors like taste, preference, body shape, size, blood type metabolic type, genetic background, age, life cycle and other bio individual factors. Hence, many advisors on protein and diet are too much of generalizations. If all the above information sounds too confusing and complicated, don’t worry. Just observe your body and how your body responds to experiments because knowing your body is the essential first step in discovering how to stay healthy.