Proteins for healthy living

Sushil Dhital


Jassi, the favourite protagonist of the daily soap ‘Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi’, seems to take a lot of protein, which has made her the brightest head in the office. So when it comes to drinking a tall glass of milk or forcing cereals and chunks of Soya bean down your throat, never say no. Fat, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins often overshadow protein, one of the most essential and abundant nutrients.

The main function of proteins is to help build new tissues and repair old ones. It helps in building skin, muscle and also helps in growth of hair and nails. They are the major constituents of blood, milk, brain, enzymes and cell inclusions. Protein present in body fluids also helps regulate body process.

All enzymes and hormones produced with in body are protein in nature. They are essential for carrying out digestion and various metabolic processes. Defence mechanisms of our body towards infectious micro-organism are also carried out by special protein called antibodies. If dietary carbohydrate and fat are unable to meet the body energy requirement, body uses muscle protein as a source of energy.

Our body, in general, requires one gram per kg body weight of protein. However, there is need for protein essentially during stages like infancy, pregnancy and lactation. Persons suffering from burns, wounds or wasting disease like tuberculosis also need additional proteins for regeneration of wasted tissues.

Protein requirements could be derived from animal such as egg, meat, milk and fish. Animal proteins are considered to be superior to plant proteins. The protein quality is determined by the amount of essential amino acids present in that food material.

Protein is made up of amino acids, often described as building blocks. We actually have a biological requirement for amino acids, not for protein. In other words, we must get these amino acids from our diets. Eggs, cow’s milk, meat, and fish have large amounts of all the essential amino acids.

This does not indicate that vegetarians are deprived of high quality protein. Cereals, pulses and Soya-based foods are excellent source of protein. Our regular diet of rice, bread, pulses, and vegetable with occasional intake of milk or meat seems to be best combination with regards to all essential nutrients.

The deficiency of protein accompanied by that of energy is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in our country. This is called protein-energy malnutrition (PEM). This results in stunted growth, slow mental development and learning ability. Less intake of protein during pregnancy may results in stress, which could give rise to complications such as vomiting and swelling of feet. These symptoms are usually accepted as a normal part of pregnancy but this might affect the growth of foetus.

Thus, fundamental knowledge of nutrients and their role in our body is necessary. Therefore, eat healthy and think wise.