Protein is Essential for Good Health

by Elisa Olivier-Nielsen, MA, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, EON Consulting

Protein is an essential nutrient vital in supporting optimal health and longevity.

Some of the important functions of protein include:

  • Growth and tissue repair.
  • Maintenance or increase of muscle mass.
  • Oxygenation of the blood.
  • Formation of hormones, enzymes (including digestive enzymes), hemoglobin, blood clotting factors, neurotransmitters, skin, hair, teeth, etc.
  • Supplying essential amino acids vital for functions and structures in the body.

Protein raises metabolism more than any other type of food; therefore, it assists in weight loss.

One may become protein deficient due to inadequate protein intake, not producing enough stomach acid or even lacking an adequate supply of proteases (digestive enzymes that break down protein, making them more readily available to be absorbed in the body).

Protein deficiency is very common in people over the age of 50, especially among women. In general, aging has been associated with:

  • Poor dentition, which impairs the chewing of protein-rich foods.
  • Reduced production of stomach acid due to issues with the stomach including taking PPIs (medications commonly prescribed to manage heartburn and GERD).
  • Reduced income, which hinders the intake of protein-rich foods.
  • Reduced production of digestive enzymes.
  • Liver, pancreas or kidney damage.
  • Poor absorption due to celiac disease, Crohn’s disease or parasites.
  • Impaired intestinal function.

Some of the symptoms of protein deficiency include: increased secretions in mouth, nose and eyes, water gain and swelling in hands and feet, cold hands and feet, muscle cramps at night, hot flashes, bleeding gums and no tolerance for exercise.

There are animal and plant-based sources of protein, and the recommendation is about 0.8 to 1.0 grams of protein/kilogram of body weight (roughly 50 to 65 grams protein per day for a 140-pound healthy woman).

Protein in foods:

  • 3.5 ounces white fish, 25 grams
  • 3.5 ounces chicken, 30 grams
  • 4 ounces ground beef, 25 grams
  • 1 egg, 7 grams
  • 6 ounces Greek yogurt, 15-20 grams
  • ½ cup cottage cheese, 13 grams
  • 3 tablespoons hemp seeds, 9 grams
  • 2 tablespoons almond butter, 7 grams
  • 1 ounce chia seeds, 4.7 grams
  • 3.5 ounces quinoa, 4.4 grams
  • 1 ounce pistachios, 5.8 grams
  • ½ cup tofu, 10 grams

Aim at eating a protein-containing food at each meal with about a 3-ounce serving at lunch and dinner.