Protein is one of the crucial building blocks of our diets, providing satiety while we eat and then powering most of our cellular function once absorbed into our bloodstream.
They provide structure to our organs, tissues and glands and fuel our immune systems. Protein helps our bodies grow and repair themselves.
Given the abundance of food and its availability in our society simple protein deficiency is relatively rare, but it can come about when your needs aren’t met during critical life stages when you need more of it (childhood, pregnancy and senior years) or if you have malabsorption syndrome, in which you’re consuming enough of it but your digestive system is not absorbing it as well as it should.
Food scientists have not reached a consensus on how much protein we should eat every day and the answers they do give depend heavily on age, weight and physical activity. However, aiming for 0.4 grams per pound will probably get you into the ballpark.
Symptoms of insufficient protein:
Hair, Nail, Skin Issues
The first symptom of protein insufficiency often appears as hair loss, with lower collagen, elastin and keratin production showing up first in the rapid turnover in your follicles. It can also lead to peeling skin and nails and noticeable ridges on your fingernails.
If you’re getting knocked down more frequently by colds and other communicable diseases or finding that cuts and bruises aren’t healing as quickly as they should, your immunity could be taking a hit due to low protein intake.
Protein forms the structure of all your cells including immune cells, so it’s especially important for healing and rebuilding cells after an infection or injury; any shortage of it will sooner or later show up in your immune response.
Hunger & Cravings
Since protein is the nutrient that makes our digestive system feel its fullest, it stands to reaso
n that not having enough of it will lead to increased hunger. On top of that protein also helps to regulate blood sugar levels. Not having enough of it in your system can lead to sugar highs and crashes that will create additional cravings, creating a double whammy of hunger.
Weaker Muscles & Bones
Lower consumption of protein has been associated with loss of muscle mass, particularly for the elderly but it can happen for anyone not eating or digesting enough protein. Collagen formation needs support from protein, which means your bones are going to be affected as well, potentially becoming more brittle and easily fractured.
What You Can Do
These symptoms can be caused by other medical issues and should be checked out by a health care provider in any case to determine their cause. But if you want to start adding protein to your diet there are plenty of healthy sources to choose from, including legumes, tempeh, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy.