role of protein in a balanced diet

The Role of Protein in a Well Balanced Diet

Next to water, protein is the most abundant nutrient found in the human body. Protein is an important component of every cell in your body. The amino acids help make enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and several tiny molecules that serve an important function in maintaining good health. Your muscles, bones and many other tissues are made of proteins and your hair and nails are just proteins. Now, you know why your hair falls and nails turn brittle when you suffer from protein deficiency.


Around 20 amino acids form the basic molecules of proteins and in the human body these 20 amino acids combine to form thousands of different proteins. Out of 20 amino acids, 9 amino acids are essential and have to be sourced from the diet. Since the body is able to process the remaining amino acids, they become non-essential. Among these non-essential amino acids, there are certain that become conditionally essential during conditions like repair, old age and muscle wastage.


It comes as a surprise that protein, a macronutrient, essential to sustain life goes missing in 9 out of 10 typical Indian plates? A study in BMJ Open journal recently showed that India is a nation that consumes excess starch and fat that reflects in our poor muscle mass. Primarily, protein serves 5 key functions in the human body


One of the primary roles of protein is tissue repair and muscle building.  This makes protein critical for patients recovering from sickness, growing children and elderly. If the protein content in your diet is low, the muscles will break down and will not be able to repair those cells, resulting in weakness. As muscles continue to degrade, you’ll find it difficult to walk a mile or climb a flight of stair. Along with strength training exercises, eat enough proteins to build muscles.


Eating protein rich foods for every meal is the shortcut to build immunity. Immunoglobulins or antibodies floating in your blood is an indicator of a healthy immunity and is made of amino acids. These antibodies attack viruses and bacteria. Therefore, eating protein rich foods is the shortcut to strong immunity. Moreover, proteins are a wholesome package and often offer multivitamins on the platter that are required to fortify your body’s defense. 


Each time you work out, your muscles suffer from wear and tear. Since your muscles act as sponges for 30-45 minutes after exercise, you must supply proteins (15-25g) to rebuild and repair the micro tears in the muscles. This makes you less sore the next day and increases your lean muscle mass, which helps your body burn calories more efficiently 24-7.


Protein helps in weight management, as it not only improves calorie burn but also restricts cravings for junk foods. Unlike carbs, your body takes a longer time to digest proteins. This keeps you fuller for a longer duration, reduces hunger pangs. Since proteins are denser foods, the body has to work harder to digest them. As a result it burns more calories. Eating proteins keeps the blood sugar stable and prevents cravings for junk foods. For people who’re dieting protein-rich meals are particularly important because when losing body fat, a high protein diet prevents the muscle loss that occurs when dieting.


Foods rich in protein are invaluable in preventing and managing lifestyle diseases by lowering triglycerides, a kind of fat floating in the blood and a marker of heart health. Moreover, increased protein intake automatically lowers carb content of diets, which helps in better management of diabetes. 


Vegetarians are more deficient in protein than non-vegetarians. Healthy protein intake depends on weight and age with a recommended intake figure of 0.8g per kg of weight per day often cited.  British Dietetic Association recommends 55g protein in a day for an average man and 45g for a woman.


Good sources of proteins are meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, milk and legumes. All proteins are not equal. Animal sources provide complete proteins and vegetable sources are incomplete ones. This doesn’t make vegetarian proteins inferior, rather they require supplementation.

  • Rice and beans
  • Roti and lentil soup
  • Spinach salad with almonds
  • Hummus and whole-grain pitas
  • Whole-grain noodles with peanut sauce

Soy is a plant-based protein and contains nine essential amino acids in balanced quantity along with heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Dairy is an exceptionally good source of protein and provides essential amino acids.

Keep that protein close to you and watch your fitness, immunity and strength benefit.