All you need to know about protein
How much do you need? Do you need supplements? What are proteins?
There’s a trend among a lot of fitness enthusiasts to go on a protein eating frenzy. This leads to excess protein which could cause weight gain, flatulence, bloating, and leaching of calcium from the body, elevated uric acid levels, gout, and damaged kidneys. Nutritionally speaking, there is no need to add any extra vegetarian or non-vegetarian proteins over and above what one is already consuming. Basically, eating extra proteins gives you no extra benefit.
Do vegans and vegetarians lack proteins in their diet? The good news is that a varied, plant-based diet gives us all the proteins we need. In fact, whenever a grain such as wheat, rice, or any millet is mixed with a legume such as peanut, beans, or lentils, they form a ‘complete protein’ containing all essential amino acids.
There are 20 amino acids that form the building blocks of protein. Nine out of these essential amino acids, cannot be formed by the body and must be sourced from our diet. Most importantly, the main function of proteins is to help the body to grow and repair damaged tissue cells. It also contributes to immune function, synthesis of essential hormones and enzymes, and preserving lean muscle mass.
Vegetarian proteins in the form of legumes, beans, pulses, and lentils are superfoods full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Today, we all know that the mantra is to eat from the plant kingdom to boost your immunity. The latest research from the American Dietary Association (ADA) cautions against going above your basic daily proteins requirement and recommends a reduction in consumption of non-vegetarian sources of protein. Vegetarians are less likely to develop high cholesterol and cancer as compared to non-vegetarians. Plant proteins do not cause bodily complications. Have you ever heard anyone say “beware your beans, legumes, pulses, and lentils might cause cancer and raise your cholesterol levels”?
So how much protein do we need to include in our regular diet? That depends on various factors like age, gender, activity level, or health status. The American Dietary Association recommends 0.8 gms of proteins per kilogram of body weight for men and women. This works quite well for the Indian population too as it meets the body’s daily needs. An average man weighing 70 kg needs 65 to 70 grams of protein a day while an average woman weighing 55 kg needs approximately 50 grams of protein.
However, the body’s protein requirements are raised slightly during growth phases which are infancy, childhood, adolescence, pregnancy, and lactation. During the first 6 months of infancy, your body requires 2-3 grams of protein per Kg of body weight. In the following 6 months, the infant body requires 1.5 grams of protein per Kg of body weight. A pregnant woman needs an additional 14 grams per day during the 2nd and 3rd trimester whereas a lactating mother needs an additional 25 grams per day.
Going to the gym regularly or lifting excess weight is NOT a license to eat more protein. Even professional athletes who workout for a couple of hours need a few extra grams but not excessive amounts. I am sure you have heard of the popular Keto Diet. Their whole criterion is excess fat, while the protein requirement does not cross the standard level.
Now you must be wondering what one should do with the protein supplements that are flooding the markets? If one is eating a balanced diet containing a variety of proteins throughout the day, they do not need to look towards the supplements and if for some reason you have to take protein supplements it should be done under a doctor’s supervision.
It is best to consult a nutritionist to gauge your protein requirement before jumping on the supplement bandwagon. Please keep in mind to not eat more or less, but just the right amount needed for your body to avoid causing any health problems.
Let us see the various proteins found in our diet — vegetarian or non-vegetarian.
Please pay special attention to the non-vegetarian sources of protein that can harm your body mentioned at the end of this list :
Vegetarian Sources of Protein :
1. Whole Pulses (Rajma, Chole, Cow Pea, Black bean, etc).
- Dals (green moong dal, yellow moong dal, split moong dal, masoor dal, toor dal).
- Roasted Bengal Gram Powder.
- Nuts (Cashew, Almonds, Walnuts, Pistachios)
- Seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, fennel seeds, black and
white sesame seeds, garden cress seeds, Sabja, etc)
- Cow’s Milk
- Buffalo Milk
- Skimmed Milk
- Edamame Beans
- Nut Milk (almond or cashew)
Good sources of Non-vegetarian protein to be had in limited quantities :
Sources of Non-vegetarian protein (Red Meats) to avoid :
4. Any processed meat
5. Cold cuts
A pro-tip: always include a protein with a source of Vitamin C. This is because Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that aids in the digestion and assimilation of proteins in your body better. Good, easy sources of Vitamin C are freshly squeezed lemon juice, tomatoes, garcinia Cambodia (kokum), raw mango powder (aamchur), tamarind (imli).
Please also remember to cook your protein in a good quality fat like cow ghee, cold-pressed oils, mustard oil, coconut oil. These aid in protein assimilation and elimination.
Whenever you eat protein please understand that a balanced meal means a vegetable + protein + grain. Some well-balanced meals are :
1. Missal or usual pav with lots of onion and tomatoes
2. Fish/egg/chicken curry with rice and vegetables
3. Vegetable omelet + roti.
4. Sabzi + dal + chawal or roti.
One must add a salad (koshimbir) with the above. When it comes to meeting your daily protein quota, worry not about calculating every last gram. Follow a general rule: help yourself to about two servings of protein. Remember that veggies and grains have small amounts of protein too. The point is, as long as you make varied, sensible choices, you will always meet your protein requirements.
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– Naini Setalvad