Protein is an essential macronutrient that is essential for all living organisms. Found in a variety of animal and plant-based foods, it is vital in helping our bodies recover by building and repairing body tissues such as muscles, skin, hair, and nails. Protein also serves as building blocks for enzymes and hormones in the body. Proteins are composed of amino acids. There are 22 amino acids – your body produces 11 of them, however 9 amino acids cannot be made by the body and must be consumed through food.
You can see why it is imperative that you consume enough protein to maintain health. There are several signs that you might have a protein deficiency, which over time can lead to several health issues, including muscle loss, weakness, and impaired immune function.
- Muscle Weakness – Lack of adequate protein intake can lead to deterioration of muscle mass.
- Hunger & Cravings – Constant food cravings and needing to snack often may be a sign that you are not getting enough protein. Eating protein is important in appetite control and helps keep you fuller for longer.
- Hair, Skin, and Nail Troubles – Your hair, nails, and skin are made op of several proteins, including keratin and collagen. Lack of protein in your diet can cause thin hair, loss of hair, peeling skin and nails, weakness and ridges in nails.
- Brittle Bones – Because protein is essential for building and maintaining bone density and strength, you may be at an increased risk for bone fractures or breaks.
- Fluid Retention – Extreme protein deficiency may cause edema/swelling in the abdomen, feet, hands, or legs. Adequate protein plays a huge part internally in keeping fluid from accumulating in tissues.
- Fatigue – Not consuming enough protein can reduce lean body mass and diminish muscle strength over time, resulting in weakness and fatigue. It can also lead to anemia, a condition that results in inadequate oxygen-rich blood that can cause you to feel weak and fatigued.
- Compromised Immune System – Getting sick regularly could mean you have a poor or compromised immune system. A protein deficiency can increase your risk of infection since amino acids play a role in regulating immune cells.
- Mood Swings – A lack of protein can affect your mood. Many neurotransmitters in your brain are made of amino acids. These are mood regulators and low levels from a lack of protein can cause anxiety and depression.
It is pretty hard to become protein deficient if you eat a variety of whole foods, comprised of protein (from meat, chicken, fish, or beans), fibrous fruits and vegetables. Many people can meet their protein requirements from diet alone, but some may struggle eating enough. Protein supplements can be beneficial and come in a variety of forms to suit a variety of dietary needs. No matter what diet you may follow, there are many ways to add more protein and protect our bodies and health.