28 January 2022
Ever played with Legos? Or bought your kids any Lego set? Think of these building blocks as proteins that make up the human body, and think of the wheels as carbohydrates, that come along with all the blocks in the Lego set. The wheels help you move, but they do not build structures; you can only build with blocks aka proteins aka amino acids.
Proteins are found in each and every tissue of our bodies including muscles, bones, skin and hair. Even the hormones that regulate all our bodily functions are made up these amino acids, that combined together are called Protein.
We need about 20 of these amino acids, of which our bodies can synthesize 11 (when provided with the right nutrition), while 9 of the remaining amino acids, called essential amino acids need to be consumed in the form of food daily. The key thing to note here is that our bodies don’t store amino acids so it needs to make them from scratch every time and we must focus on including proteins in our diet every single day. This requirement varies at different stages of our life and also during different situations of our lives; a deficiency of which can cause growth defects, weak muscles, reduced immunity, and an inefficient heart and respiratory system.
The second most important thing to note is that it not just the quantity, but the quality of the source of your protein. There is an abundance of both – plant and animal sources of protein, all we need to do is make sure that our diets must be rich in all essential amino acids.
At its absolute primary level the function of proteins in the body is to keep up with the wear and tear by building new cells – from bones to muscles to skin and even our brain. It acts as a catalyst for metabolic reactions in our bodies providing structure to tissues and organs.
In addition to its essential functions of growth and maintenance, and biochemical reactions driving metabolism, proteins act as messengers in their capacity as hormones triggering communications from one organ to another, in between cells. While travelling through our blood.
In an absence of proteins we would all be a sack of bones, muscles and organs (assuming for a second that the muscles, bones and organs already exist, although that is not possible either without proteins) with basically no structure at all. What keeps us upright or allows us to move are connective tissues and all, I mean ALL connective tissues, for eg – keratin, collagen, elastic which make up our tendons, ,ligaments and skin are all made up of proteins. And that is why the first issues you star observing, with a protein deficient diet are hair fall, dull skin, joint pains and weak muscles. Now imagine how important it is for growing children, because what they eat now is setting them up for the rest of their lives.
You must have heard about pH balance; like the pH of our stomach is 2 while that of our blood is 7.4. What do you think keeps it at these specific values? Why doesn’t the pH vary for different people with different lifestyles? Because these levels are important for our survival and proteins play a crucial role in regulating them in our bodily fluids.
And finally, the buzzword these days – Immunity! It is proteins which help us form antibodies that helps fight viruses, bacteria and other infections. With a lack of proteins, effective antibodies aren’t formed in the cells, allowing the viruses and bacteria to multiply, making us sicker and compromising our immune system every passing day.
Proteins are abundant in a variety of food sources. They aren’t like vitamins and minerals that are rare to come by and concentrated to specific foods only. Then where are we going wrong really!!!
Basically, not many of us focus on A) the variety of protein, remember we need 9 different kinds of them in our food and B) the quality of the protein. And, I like to add a third point as well which is C) Proportion of proteins in our meals.
I could list down, both plant-based and animal-derived, sources of proteins here – pulses, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs, meat, fish etc., but you already know that and already eat and give your children most of it, so I’m not adding anything new with this list. Let’s take it to the next step and talk about real and implementable steps towards improving the protein consumption in your child’s diet, taking one point at a time –
So how should a typical day’s meal look like to get 33gms of protein –
Remember, we are essentially made up of proteins! Not fats, not carbohydrates.
Karnica Singh Nandal
Integrative Nutrition Health Coach & Yoga Instructor
Institute for Integrative Nutrition, NY
The Yoga Institute, 500hr TTC, Mumbai
Your cliché Engineer with an MBA degree, a corporate professional turned wellness enthusiast – I empower people to take responsibility for their own health and achievement of their personal wellness goals by educating, motivating, inspiring, and guiding towards long lasting lifestyle changes.
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