You could be one of those people trying so hard to cut weight by minimising or doing away with consumption of protein-rich foods like fish, meat, beans, milk and much more. However, it is high time you consulted a nutritionist because you could be hurting your body.
Dr Dieudonne Bukaba, a nutrition expert at AVEGA Clinic Remera, Gasabo District, says protein deficiency is when people do not get adequate amounts of protein from their diet, thereby risking kwashiorkor, a common case in children.
He says the major symptoms of kwashiorkor are edema and a swollen abdomen.
Bukaba adds that another common symptom of kwashiorkor is a fatty liver.
“If the condition is not treated, it may develop into fatty liver diseases, causing inflammation, liver scarring and potentially liver failure. Fatty liver is a common condition in obese people, and those who consume a lot of alcohol,” he says.
The nutrition expert says severe protein deficiency may cause brittle nails and hair loss, but it can affect the skin, causing redness, flaky skin and depigmentation.
According to Private Kamanzi, a dietician at Amazon Wellness Centre in Remera, proteins are formed by small units called amino acids, which are classified as essential and non-essential amino acids but both are needed by the body for better health.
Bukaba says proteins are vital for muscle growth and maintenance, adding that loss of muscle mass is one of the first signs of inadequate protein intake and thus a higher risk of bone fractures.
“Proteins help in growth, especially for children, because they are the most macro nutrients the body needs for growth. They also repair damaged tissues, especially for people who have undergone a number of operations,” Kamanzi explains.
“Due to severe protein deficiency, impaired immune function may increase the risk to cruelty of infections, a common symptom of severe protein deficiency,” he adds.
A study in older women showed that following a low-protein diet for nine weeks significantly reduced their immune response, Bukaba says.
Kamanzi adds that enzymes and hormonies are proteins that help to regulate body metabolism. They also help to build the immune system hence making it easy for the body to fight a number of diseases.
He says HIV-positive patients need to feed on enough proteins in order to build a stronger immune system.
However, Kamanzi warns against cow’s milk in children below one year because it contains casein that affects the digestion process. He advises parents to instead introduce soya products, fish, peas and beans that can be smashed for children above six months.
Bukaba emphasises that low protein intake may increase appetite which leads to gaining weight, thus leading to obesity.
Kamanzi adds that pregnant women need proteins, especially animal proteins, because they are filtered in the kidney. “But in second and third trimesters of the pregnancy, they should reduce the consumption of proteins because the infant is grown up, which interrupts the functioning of the kidney. The reason most pregnant women’s legs swell is due to over consumption of proteins,” he says.
How much protein does one need
Bukaba says the proteins one needs depend on many factors, including body weight, muscle mass, physical activity and age, but body weight is the most important determinant of protein requirements.
“You need 0.4grams of protein for each pound of body weight (0.8 grams per kg). This converts to 66 grams of protein per day for an adult weighing 165 pounds (75 kg),” he explains.
But for athletes, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends a daily protein intake ranging from 0.5 to 0.6 grams for each pound of body weight (1.2–1.4 grams per kg), which should be enough for muscle maintenance and training recovery.
However, scientists don’t agree on how much is enough. The International Society of Sports Nutrition’s daily recommendation is 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight (2 grams per kg) for athletes, though older adults also seem to have higher protein requirements just like the athletes.
Kamanzi says most people need 150 grams of proteins per day, but for those who are on chemotherapy treatment, and those with any damaged part of the body, need extra proteins.
He further says diagnosis for protein deficiency depends on the symptoms, for example, bilateral edema (both legs swell due to fluid imbalance), or when you have light hair, big stomach with ribs and if you easily fall sick.
Which proteins are necessary for one’s health?
Kamanzi says there are two types of proteins, which include plant origin proteins like g-nuts, soya, beans, peas, broccoli, and animal origin proteins like meat, milk, chicken, fish, turkey but he advises people to feed more on plant origin foods.
However, he discourages high consumption of proteins because it can lead to diseases like colon cancer, osteoporosis, obesity and many more, resulting from red meat and high cholesterol.