Understanding the role of protein

Updated: Oct 28, 2018

Did you know that protein is the largest component of our body, second to water? Protein helps to build enzymes for digestion, hemoglobin, hormones and antibodies for the immune system to ward off infections. If we do not get sufficient protein through our diet or if there is a malabsorption issue the body will start to draw from muscles and tissues to compensate. 

While all food has some protein not all food has “complete” forms of protein. Protein is broken down into amino acids which are then used by the body. There are many amino acids but eight essential ones can only be obtained through food (versus made by the body). There are many food sources that contain all eight essential amino acids, including animal products. Vegetarians and vegans must be especially mindful about incorporating complete sources of proteins into their daily diet since they avoid animal products. Some examples of vegetarian sources of complete proteins include hemp seeds, chia seeds and quinoa. There are also certain foods that can be combined to get complete protein such as brown rice and lentils. 

Besides inadequate protein consumption through the diet an individual can become deficient in due to malabsorption stemming from poor digestion. This happens when there is insufficient secretion of Hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the stomach and/ or inadequate secretion of an enzyme called pepsin. When one or both of these is not secreted in the quantities needed the protein will not be broken down efficiently and can cause symptoms such as fluid retention, dry skin, hair loss, nail issues, muscle wasting, hormonal issues, catching cold and flus easily and an overall state of fatigue or weakness, to name a few. Additionally, protein that is not digested properly sets off allergies and food intolerances in the system and digestion must be addressed in these cases.

How much protein should you get? The daily requirements vary according to activity level of the individual, weight and height however a general maintenance dose for a non-active person is 0.75g per kg. For example, a sedentary person weighing 60kg would need about 45g of protein per day to maintain muscle, given that they are digesting this protein properly. To give you an idea this would require eating 2 tbsp of hemp seeds (~10g), ¾ C of quinoa (~8g), 1 cup of chickpeas (~14g) and two eggs (~13g) in one day.

If you think you may not be absorbing the protein that you are consuming check out my Understanding digestion and simple ways to improve it” article, get in touch with me for a personal consultation or key supplement recommendations to improve your digestion.