We break down a few myths and delve deep into the importance of protein in building immunity and boosting health.
As India continues to remain in the throes of a pandemic, the country’s working professionals have found their lives upended by even longer working hours and seemingly unending daily chores. And even as the partial lockdown continues, the easy access to food, lack of exercise, and other distractions such as entertainment and family all conspire to drive the focus away from an important priority – immunity building.
The immune system is a complex network of cells, organs, and tissues that work in tandem to protect the body from infection. And while stress, sleep, diet, and exercise all contribute to improving immunity, this blog will focus on one of the core components of building immunity- protein.
So what is protein?
Protein is an essential macronutrient, meaning a type of food needed in relatively large amounts to stay healthy. Protein is found throughout the body—in muscle, bone, skin, hair, and virtually every other body part or tissue, according to Harvard University’s T.H.Chan School of Public Health. It makes up the enzymes that power many chemical reactions and the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood.
Protein is made from twenty-plus basic building blocks called amino acids. However, unlike fat
and carbohydrates, our body doesn’t store essential amino acids, so they must come from food.
What are the functions of protein?
The primary function of course is that protein is critical in repairing body tissue and fighting viral and bacterial infections. That apart, protein also makes enzymes, which are essential to our metabolism and which carry out essential bodily functions such as digestion, energy production blood clotting, and muscle contraction.
Proteins also make up several of the body’s hormones and transmit information between your cells, tissues, and organs. Additionally, proteins help maintain the fluid balance in the body as well as act as a buffer system, helping the body maintain proper pH values of the blood.
Protein deficiency among Indians
According to a report by the Indian Market Research Bureau, close to 80 percent of Indians have a protein deficiency, which is staggering. On top of that, results of a survey published by TOI showed last year that Indians don’t take protein deficiency seriously and in fact, 93 percent are unaware of ideal protein requirements. Turns out, the Indian diet consists of 60 percent cereal and while pulses and dals are rich in protein, they lack an essential amino acid, Methionine, which aids tissue repair.
Protein is important for everyone and not just bodybuilders
People tend to have this preconceived notion that since they are not involved in actively building muscle, they don’t require protein in their diet. But this is wrong.
Sure, as we mentioned earlier, protein does help in gaining muscle mass but in addition to that, it assists the body in muscle recovery and repair. Even those forms of exercise that don’t involve lifting heavy weights (in which the intent is only to stay lean and tone up) cause minor muscle tears and without sufficient protein intake, the body will not get the nutrients it needs to repair those torn muscles.
Ideal protein requirement
Although protein requirements broadly depend on an individual’s age, gender, size, body fat percentage, and activity levels, an average adult requires about 1 gram of protein per kg of body weight, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
But what’s alarming is that while the recommended daily protein intake stands at 60-90 grams, Indians usually consume only about 10-30 grams.
Vegetarian options for protein
Many people think that popular sources of protein such as chicken and egg whites are the major sources and there isn’t much of a choice for vegetarians or vegans. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is, vegetarian foods such as oats, soy, tofu, beans, lentils, yogurt, milk, cheese, green peas, nuts, seeds, whole grains, peanut butter, and mushrooms also contain protein and can meet the nutritional requirements of a meatless diet.
To conclude, while the lockdown is making most of us reflect, rejuvenate, and reassess our lives with a focus on improving productivity, it is crucial now more than ever to also build immunity and shape our diets with healthy protein foods.