By Deepika Rathod
Today’s young generation wants do everything at jet speed, and that too without taking care of personal health. They have personal issues, study issues, exams and are highly stressed, and in all of this they neglect their health. As ‘Youth Day’ was celebrated this week, I’m going to share information about a very important nutrient, which will help them improve their health: protein.
WHY IS PROTEIN IMPORTANT
The word protein is derived from the Greek word ‘proteus’ meaning ‘very important’. This speaks volumes about the nutrient. Proteins are the building blocks of body tissue and are essential nutrients for growth and maintenance of the body. Like carbohydrates, proteins are also a source of energy (1 gm protein = 4 kcal). In case carbohydrates are not available, the body uses its protein stores to provide energy. A single protein molecule is composed of a chain of amino acid molecules and twenty different amino acids are needed to make a protein. Some amino acids can be manufactured in the body but others need to be supplied through diet.
Accordingly, there are three types of amino acids: essential amino acids (cannot be synthesised in the body and need to be supplied through diet), conditionally essential amino acids (synthesised in the body but in conditions like stress and illness are needed to be supplied through diet), and non-essential amino acids (that can be synthesised in the body if nitrogen (from protein) is available in the diet).
CLASSIFICATION OF PROTEINS
From nutritional point of view, proteins are classified into three categories:
• Complete proteins or first class quality proteins: They have all the ten essential amino acids and promote good growth. For example, egg albumin, milk casein.
• Partially incomplete proteins or second class quality protein: These partially lack one or more amino acids and promote moderate growth. For example, wheat and rice protein.
• Incomplete proteins: They completely lack one or more amino acids and do not promote growth at all. For example, gelatin, zein (corn).
IMPORTANCE OF PROTEINS
• Proteins are vital for sustenance of life as structural components of muscle, tissues and vital body fluids like blood (eg albumin), as enzymes and hormones (eg insulin) for metabolism, as antibodies for immunity and for growth and repair.
• Protein is also utilised to create energy under conditions of intense exercise or inadequate carbohydrates supply.
• Protein helps in transportation of nutrients from intestines across intestinal wall to blood, from blood to tissues and across the membranes of cells of the tissues.
• Protein helps in regulating water balance in the body. Low protein level in the blood causes fluid accumulation in the cells resulting in oedema (water retention in body).
• Proteins maintain the body’s pH as they act as buffers due to their ability to neutralise an acidic or basic pH, thereby reducing the risk of conditions like acidosis or alkalosis.
• When proteins are digested, they are simplified into amino acids. Individual amino acids have various targeted effects such as growth hormone elevation, blood ammonia detoxification, increased mental alertness or mental relaxation, improved immunity, healing and recovery, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Insufficient protein in diet results in protein-energy malnutrition, which actually is a clinical condition that occurs due to inadequate protein and calorie intake. It is observed, especially in children (between ages 1 to 5), which initially results in growth retardation and later in Kwashiorkor and Marasmus.
Kwashiorkor is a form of severe deficiency of protein-energy, which may be characterised by irritability, anorexia, dermatosis and enlarged liver.
Marasmus is also a condition where the patient has severe deficiency of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
Thus, to avoid such disease at a very early age, it is important to have proper amounts of protein in your daily diet. A pregnant woman too should ensure adequate protein intake otherwise the growth of the foetus will be affected.
SOURCES OF PROTEINS
To avoid the protein deficiency or protein energy malnutrition, intake of right quantity and quality of protein is really important.
First Class Proteins: Whey, whole egg, milk, curd, paneer, chicken, fish, meats and egg white.
Second Class Quality Proteins: Soya, tofu, soy milk, quinoa, lentils, sprouts, whole pulses like chole/chana/rajmah and nuts and whole grains. These proteins lack one or more amino acids, but if taken in combination with other protein rich items can do magic for example rice and dal, dal and chappati, khichdi, kheer, soy or paneer paratha, etc.
To summarise, protein is an essential macronutrient (ie required in large quantity approximately 50 to 60 gms per day) required by the body for optimum growth, maintenance and repair. Inadequate and improper protein intake can lead to slow metabolism and greater susceptibility to fat storage and obesity resulting in more harm than good. So, incorporate more protein in your diet in order to lead a healthy life.
Proteins: The Life Saviour
By Deepika Rathod