Between managing time and life, most people struggle to plan their meals in advance which leads to meals that are full of carbs and low on protein. This is one of the main reasons for protein-deficient diets. Protein deficiency leads to tiredness and fatigue, which is easily blamed on a busy lifestyle.
The recommended dietary allowance or RDA for protein for an average Indian is 1 gm per kg body weight. Thus, a person weighing 60 kgs must have 60 gms of protein per day.
However, a trend of low protein intake has been observed in Indians, especially in urban areas.
For example, the daily diet of a working Indian would include something like upma, poha or cereal for breakfast, and chapatis and vegetable for lunch, since carrying liquids like dal and curd is not convenient. Snack time includes tea and something quick like biscuits or bhel.
As a result there is virtually minimal protein intake till the evening and the daily protein requirement is most often not met. Children too, consuming fast food and maida based meals like noodles, burger, pizza and pasta, miss out on protein especially important for their rapid growth - as their parents are often unaware of how much protein they should be getting.
The options for non-vegetarians are unlimited with eggs, chicken, fish and red meat, but vegetarians struggle with few protein rich foods available such as milk, dairy products, pulses/dals, soy/tofu, and nuts such as almonds and walnuts etc. We can optimise protein intake by including a bit of protein to all meals through the day.
Here’s How You Include Protein in Your Daily Diet
At breakfast time, your morning cup of tea or coffee can be substituted with a healthy smoothie or a milkshake containing fruits, yoghurt/milk. Adding whey to the shake can give you an extra protein boost. Whey is very easy to mix into such shakes, or taken alongside your traditional breakfast of poha or upma. Protein rich shakes and meals are not only restricted to those who exercise or workout, but would benefit most of us, as an average Indian is not meeting their recommended daily protein intake the time.
Having a bowl of dal/pulses every day in lunch or dinner will help in meeting the optimum protein required in a day. Vegetarians should have handful of nuts and include dairy every day which will not only contribute to the overall protein consumption, but also help maintain a healthy lifestyle. In addition to that, non-vegetarians can consume eggs/egg whites, and lean meats such as chicken and fish to maintain adequate protein intake every day.
Measuring Your Protein Intake
Though the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for protein varies for different age groups, it is recommended that certain sections of the population may need higher levels of protein intake. This depends on factors such as age, gender, life cycle stages such as adolescence, pregnancy/lactation and activity level.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the daily RDA for protein is as follows:
As seen in the chart, the protein intake for children, pregnant and lactating mothers is more than the recommended 1 gm/kg body weight – indicating that their protein requirements are higher than normal. Similarly patients who are recovering from an illness or trauma will also need higher protein intake. Then there are the athletes and the gym going population that is into weight (resistance) training who will definitely benefit from a higher protein intake up to 1.5 – 1.7 gms/kg body weight.
Some elite athletes, may need as much as 2-2.5 gms/kg body weight daily.
List of Protein-Rich Food Items
A large variety of plant and animal-based foods are high in protein. These include:
- Meat: eggs, fish, chicken and red meat
- Dairy: skimmed milk, curd, paneer, skimmed milk powder
- Whey protein
- Legumes: pulses and dals
The meats, eggs, dairy, whey protein and soy are considered first class protein, which means that they have a full complement of all amino acids - the building blocks of protein, while nuts, legumes and cereals are considered second class protein sources.
Including any or all the above foods in the diet on a regular basis will lead to adequate protein intake which will give multiple health benefits.
(Niti Desai is a Consultant Nutritionist with a clinic in south Mumbai and was attached to Cumballa Hill hospital for 17 years.)