Protein: An Essential Nutrient

Proteins to the human body are what water is to plants. Growth, development and in fact our very survival depends upon the protein intake!


Proteins are unique in the sense that they can multitask like no other nutrient. Let’s just look at the dazzling array of things proteins do:


• They can be utilized for energy when energy stores are low
• They act as transporters for other important nutrients like iron, cholesterol, fats
• Helps digest other nutrients – Proteins are part of enzymes which break down other nutrients such as starch, fats into smaller molecules
• Building blocks in the form of muscles and other tissues
• Defend against infections as part of antibodies (the body’s natural defence system)
• Hair, nails, teeth are all made of proteins
• As part of hormones, they regulate many important activities: Examples include insulin, which is a hormone secreted by pancreas, that controls blood glucose levels, and thyroid hormones, which regulate metabolism, body temperature and the synthesis of other proteins


Is there anything the proteins can’t do? Not much! What happens when there is not enough proteins in our diet? This can have an alarming range of consequences, which in milder form could just be lowered immunity to infections, slower healing wounds and hair loss. In severe deficiencies, we see protein calorie malnutrition, classic features of which are growth retardation in children, wasting of muscle and fat, dry skin, eye and vision problems and so on.


Proteins are made up of smaller units called “amino acids”. The body can synthesize some amino acids while some have to be provided in the diet. The former is termed “non-essential amino acids” and the latter are called “essential amino acids”. Some amino acids are required in increased quantity only during certain stressful conditions and illnesses and these are called “conditional amino acids”


An adult requirement of proteins is roughly 0.8 to 1 gram per kilo of ideal body weight. That means, if a person weighs 60 kilograms which is ideal for his height and age, he would need 48 to 60 grams of protein per day to meet the demands of various functions in the body. But the requirements are based on the “quality of protein”. While choosing the sources of protein, it is important to remember that proteins with a higher biological value are needed in lesser amounts, while those with lower BV are needed in larger amounts. (proteins are classified based on how much of it is absorbed and utilized by the body. Egg protein is the bench mark where 100 % of proteins in it are utilized and so has high bioavailability. Plant proteins have lower biological value).
Here is a list of protein rich foods


• meat, fish or poultry
• soyabeans or soya nuggets
• egg
• paneer or tofu
• beans or lentils
• milk and curd


Whip up some high protein snacks by tossing some non fat tofu with grilled pineapple and capsicum, or mix up a spicy chaat using soya chunks (boil and cut them into pieces, mix up onion, tomato, grated cucumber, mango and chaat masala !).
Other good sources of protein include:
Whole grain cereals including whole wheat, rava or sooji, ragi, bajra, quinoa
Nuts and seeds, including almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, or walnuts (these are high in calories, and need to be controlled to avoid weight gain)


Including these foods can ensure you get a high protein meal any time of the day!
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