Pro at protein
By Apoorva Joshi
Everyday we see someone around us preaching about how protein is essential and people drinking protein shakes get enough protein. However, do you know how much protein does your body need and how to get it? Let’s have a look at the basics of protein.
Why do we need protein?
Amino acids are building blocks of proteins. Twenty different amino acids make a protein. There are certain amino acids that the body is capable of making. They are called non-essential because even if you don’t consume them, the body can make on its own. However, there are nine amino acids which the body can’t make and have to be supplied through food. These are known as essential amino acids. Why do we need these amino acids? The body needs proteins to repair the tissues after the damage caused by the daily wear and tear. It also needs proteins for the growth of muscles and tissues. To maintain the quality of hair, skin and nails, we need proteins. Proteins also play an important role in maintaining our immunity, transmitting nerve impulses, contracting muscles for movements etc. Apart from these functions, just like carbohydrates, proteins yield energy too. Therefore, you now have a fair idea how proteins play a vital role in maintenance of good health in an individual.
How much protein do we need?
For Indian kids and adults, National Institute of Nutrition publishes dietary guidelines based on research. So, here are the guidelines for kids:
Based on this table, if you are a 13-year-old girl, you need to consume around 51.9 gm of protein every day. Does this mean every 13-year-old girl needs to consume exact 51.9 gm of protein? Not necessarily. These guidelines are published keeping in mind an average Indian girl of that age. Based on one’s height and weight, lifestyle, health status etc. the requirements may vary a little from these guidelines.
Another major thing to keep in mind is, it is not just the quantity of protein but also the quality of protein that matters. The quality depends on the bioavailability and amino acid profile of the protein. Bioavailability of each protein indicates how easily the protein gets absorbed and used up by the body. The amino acid profile suggests if the protein has all the nine essential amino acids in adequate amounts. Animal based proteins (Milk, Egg, Meat, Poultry, Fish) have all the nine essential amino acids and are highly bioavailable. Vegetarian sources like pulses and cereals do not have all the nine essential amino acids and are less bioavailable. However, the correct pairing of foods (cereal + pulse combinations like dal + chawal, idli + sambhar, bread + peanut butter) can provide all the essential amino acids in adequate amounts.
How do we eat that much protein?
Here are a few options to include in your daily meals along with their protein content:
It is not necessary for you to keep calculating your protein intake every single day. An easier way can be to make sure you include at least one serving of protein with every meal. e.g. a couple of eggs in breakfast, 1 katori dal with lunch, a handful of nuts between meals, 1 katori paneer sabzi with dinner and a cup of milk at bedtime may help you have over 40gm of protein without planning for any ‘high-protein’ recipes specifically. Also, some of the cereals like wheat/rice, vegetables may not be the best sources of protein but do contribute towards your overall intake.