Proteins are "the building blocks of life" and are essential for good health. The body needs a certain amount of protein every day to not only ensure that your diet is balanced, but also to repair damaged cells and create new ones. This macronutrient makes up the major component of all our cells and provides the essential amino acids that keep our bodies up and running. The problem is, some of us aren't getting as much of it as we should be. 

What is Protein? 

Proteins are used to make muscles, tendons, organs and skin, as well as enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and various tiny molecules that serve many important functions.

There are 20 amino acids, 8 of which are what we call essential amino acids because they cannot be synthesized by the human body, and hence has to be supplied through diet, and we have 12 non-essential amino acids, which our body can produce itself. 

Proteins are made out of smaller molecules called amino acids, which are linked together like beads on a string. These linked amino acids form long protein chains, which are then folded into complex shapes.

Digesting a protein rich food requires more energy by the body. Hence it burns calories from the already stored fat or from carbohydrate source,which in turn helps in weight loss and weight maintenance. 

Animal Protein v/s Plant Protein 

Protein is not just about quantity, but also quality. Animal protein provides all essential amino acids in the right ratio for you to make full use of them as animal tissues are similar to your own tissues. The best sources of protein are meats, fish, eggs and dairy products, as they have all the essential amino acids that your body needs. Protein should be of high biological value which is best absorbed by the body. Eg: eggs. They are High Biological Value (BV) protein through animal sources. 

Soya comes next to egg in terms of high biological value protein and it’s a vegan source. However, if you don't eat animal foods, getting all the protein and essential amino acids your body needs is a bit more challenging. That is why vegetarians are more prone to protein deficiency. However, some of the best sources of plant proteins are tofu, lentils, chickpeas, dry fruits, quinoa, etc. Few people really need protein supplements, but they can be useful for athletes and bodybuilders. 

What about the Average Person?

Everyone has a protein intake ceiling. It varies with your height and weight. But getting the ‘right amount of protein depends on many factors, including your activity levels, age, and muscle mass and current state of health if you’re at a healthy weight, don't lift weights and don't exercise much, then aiming for 0.36–0.6 grams per pound (0.8–1.3 gram per kg body weight) is a reasonable estimate.

This amounts to:56–91 grams per day for the average male.

46–75 grams per day for the average female.

What is Protein Deficiency?

Protein deficiency is when your intake is unable to meet your body’s requirements. An estimated one billion people worldwide suffer from inadequate protein intake. The problem is especially severe in Central Africa and South Asia, where up to 30% of children get too little protein from their diet.  Vegetarians and vegans are also at risk of protein deficiency as they follow an imbalanced diet. 

Too little protein may cause changes in body composition that develop over a long period of time, such as muscle wasting. Protein deficiency can affect almost all aspects of body function. As a result, it is associated with many symptoms. The most severe form of protein deficiency is known as “Kwashiorkor”.

Here are the 13 major red flags that you’re not getting enough protein.

1. Weight loss: There are two different kinds of protein deficiency: ·  Kwashiorkor, which occurs when you eat too little protein but enough calories and Marasmus, where your protein and overall calorie consumption are both low. If you aren’t getting enough protein, that probably means you aren’t eating enough calories,you’re following an unhealthy diet, or have some digestive imbalances. If you eat too few calories, your body will use the protein you do eat for energy instead of building muscle. Conversely, some people might gain weight, as their bodies respond to a lack of fuel by slowing down their metabolisms.

2.  Hair, skin, and nail troubles: Protein deficiency often leaves its mark on the skin, hair and nails, which are largely made of protein. Thinning hair, peeling skin, and ridges in your nails are some of the first signs your body may not have enough protein.  

3. Feeling tired or weak: When the body doesn't get the required amount,of protein, it breaks down muscles, in order to get the required amount of amino acids, from muscle fibres. Breaking down muscle mass also slows down the metabolic rate. This leads to loss of energy and strength, making you feel tired all the time. 

4. Sugar cravings: Digesting protein takes more time compared to carbohydrates. When your meal comprises mostly carbohydrates, your body will digest it fast, causing the blood sugar levels to first go up and then drop.This results in a sugar craving. In order to avoid this, eat adequate amount of protein along with carbohydrates so that your body digests the food slowly, and the changes in blood sugar levels are gradual. 

 5. Anaemia: If your body isn’t properly nourished by protein, you’re prone to lack vitamin B-12 and folate, which can spur anaemia—a condition where your body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells. This can also cause low blood pressure and fatigue. 

 6. Immunity:Your overall immunity may suffer, which could take the form of getting sick regularly or taking longer to recover. The immune cells are made from proteins,so you’re going to suffer a domino effect if your diet isn’t balanced.

 7. Low blood pressure and low heart rate: When you have a protein deficiency, your blood pressures plummet.  This impacts a myriad of other functions in your body since nutrients aren’t getting to vital tissues.  

8. Liver problems: Protein deficiency and liver disease are often lumped together.Without protein, your liver struggles to remove lipids and detoxify it.  

9. Muscle and joint pain: Muscle weakness, pain, or being flabby where you used to be muscular may be a sign your muscles or joint fluid is breaking down to supplement calories instead of using the protein you eat to build muscles,tissues, and cells. 

10. Muscle weakness: Middle-aged men may experience sarcopenia, a natural loss of muscle mass due to aging, and they may lose even more muscle if they’re not getting enough protein in their daily diets.     

11. Swelling:When your body is lacking protein, you can suffer a condition called oedema;you balloon in your extremities because of fluid retention. Protein plays a part, internally, in keeping fluid from accumulating in tissues, especially in your feet and ankles. 

12.  Slow recovery from injuries: Just as your immunity takes a hit, your body’s ability to heal and rebuild new cells, tissue, and skin can be impeded by a lack of protein. 

13.  Stunted Growth in Children: Protein not only helps maintain muscle and bone mass, but it’s also essential for body growth. Thus, deficiency or insufficiency is especially harmful to children whose growing bodies require a steady supply. Stunted growth is also one of the main characteristics of kwashiorkor in children.