By Neelanjana Singh
Protein Week 2021: Have you often wondered what factors impact our quality of life? The WHO (World Health Organization) definition of QoL encompasses four important and interconnected domains of health–physical, psychological, environmental and social. It is fascinating to experience how the company of a loved one or a scenic location with clean air can uplift the mood and enhance well-being.
Quality of Life (QoL) can hardly be measured by a diagnostic test, like a blood test or a CT Scan. Although precise in their assessment of physical health, these tests do not provide a complete picture of our well-being.
Before the onset of the pandemic, health concerns like those of anxiety and depression were largely neglected. Since Covid, these issues have been seen in large segments of the population, therefore compelling our attention towards more than just the physical aspect of health. A person with a healthy BMI who is plagued with loneliness and low self-esteem is not a healthy person.
Increased physical activity has been indicated as one of the ways to enhance QoL. Physical activity brings about changes in neurotransmitters in the brain that are associated with depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances, lowering the incidence of these concerns.
Staying physically active is something that most of us struggle with. However, it is important to remember that as long as we make a good start, the rigour and routine of physical activity is self-regenerative. Building strong skeletal muscle tissue contributes to physical strength and performance. A prerequisite for increased muscle tissue is to get an adequate supply of high-quality protein. A 2017 Indian survey found that nine out of 10 Indians consume a diet deficient in protein. It is not a surprising revelation given the fact that we are an established carb-loving country, with rice, roti and paratha dominating our plates and palates.
Protein plays several important roles to improve our QoL.
Boosts immunity: The amino acids in proteins are responsible for the body’s defense systems, antibodies, enzymes and hormones. The essential amino acids that play a key role in immunity are arginine, glutamine and branched chain amino acids (BCAA). Immune cells that are supported by protein include leucocytes, cytokines and phagocytes, all of which keep the body disease-free.
Preserves & builds muscle mass: Building muscle mass is a process that begins early in life. In adulthood, adequate and good quality protein intake maintains the muscle mass that we gradually begin to lose with age. Proteins preserve muscle mass during rest and increase muscle mass when we exercise.
Improves mood: Physical exercise is perhaps the most potent and underutilised antidepressant that is also free of cost. To exercise regularly, an adequate intake of protein to build and preserve muscle mass is a must.
Fights weakness and fatigue: Low protein diets are often the cause of easy fatigability and weak muscles leading to aches and pains, and slow recovery from injury.
Helps manage weight: Adequate protein intake gives you a sense of satiety, which prevents overeating and thus the risk of obesity. Excess weight is an impediment to exercise, and in order to lose weight, one must exercise. Moreover, coronavirus is particularly harsh to those carrying excess weight, especially in the younger age group, increasing the risk of developing complications and disability.
Eating adequate protein is a must on many counts. But, how much protein is enough for an adult?
Measure your weight in kgs and multiply by 0.8, if you are moderately active. For example, if you weigh 60 kgs, you need 60 x 0.8g (48g) of protein in a day. The requirement of protein changes with illness, during recovery from disease, intense workouts, pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Sources of protein
How does one get adequate proteins in the diet? Simply ensure that all your meals have a source of good quality protein in reasonable quantities and combinations.
Dairy and its products, soy, egg, chicken, fish, all dals, legumes, nuts and seeds are the dietary sources of protein. While you don’t have to give up eating your favourite carbs, there is certainly a need to alter the portions and proportions that you may be used to. Instead of eating a big portion of rice with a small portion of dal, reverse the ratio by eating more dal and less rice.
Snacks also need our attention. It has been reported that there has been a 66% increase in snacking, with midnight snacking becoming more common with a higher consumption of processed, unhealthy foods. Boredom and stress have led to an increase in ‘emotional eating’, especially that of ‘comfort foods’ that are rich in sugar and fat.
Protein-rich foods, such as sprouted legume chaat, chana cutlets, soy kabab, tofu or cottage cheese tikka, smoothies with nuts and seeds, and egg preparations, can also make for excellent snack options.
(The author is a nutritionist and wellness consultant, the author of Our Kid Eats Everything)