Whenever protein is mentioned, it is usually for its ability to repair and build muscle. However, this compound can do much more. From aiding the immune system to easing digestion, protein is essential to many of the body’s processes. Learn more about healthy sources of protein and what they can do for your health.
How Protein Works
Protein is basically a chain of different amino acids. The body needs 20 types of amino acids to function normally. Some are considered essential because you cannot live without them, and others are non-essential because they play a supportive role.
Essential amino acids include leucine, lysine, threonine, histidine and valine. Because the body can only produce 11 out of 20 amino acids naturally, 9 have to come from healthy sources of protein.
Signs You Need More Protein
If you are not eating enough protein, you might experience subtle but very telling symptoms. The most common sign is muscle weakness. Because protein strengthens and repairs muscle, the aches and pains you feel might indicate that you are running low.
Other symptoms include brittle nails and thinning hair. Hair and nails need protein to grow and stay healthy. Without it, nails can become dry and break easily. Hair also tends to lose its shine, become thin or even fall out.
Hunger is another good sign of low protein. If you get hungry soon after eating, it is highly likely that your diet contains more carbohydrates than protein. This type of hunger is usually accompanied by a craving for sweet treats, fatigue and mental fog.
Healthy Sources of Protein
Although meat in general is considered the best source of protein, chicken, turkey and steak have slightly higher amounts. Tuna, halibut and salmon are also among the top providers. Don’t eat meat? Eggs, Greek yoghurt and cottage cheese are great alternatives for vegetarians.
Speaking of vegetarians, tofu and soy milk are also healthy sources of protein. A bowl of miso soup with tofu, dried lentils and green peas is a simple, protein-packed lunch. For a healthy snack, you can grab a handful of mixed nuts or nibble on beef jerky.
Unhealthy Sources of Protein
Be careful when sourcing protein from meat. Meats with saturated fat can do more harm to your health than good. The fat can increase your cholesterol and endanger your heart. If the meat is marbled, remove the white fat for a healthier meal.
Processed meats are just as dangerous. Cured bacon and sausages contain too much sodium, which can elevate blood pressure. They also have sugars that upset blood sugar levels and fats that are hard to digest.
Recommended Amount of Protein
Protein needs vary from person to person. Children, for instance, need higher amounts than adults, and active adults need more protein than those who live a sedentary lifestyle. This is why it is difficult for health institutions to set the RDI (Recommended Dietary Intake).
Nonetheless, most health experts recommend consuming 0.36 grams for every pound you weigh or 0.8 per kilogram. It is also advisable to choose organic, healthy sources of protein instead of relying on supplements.