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Popular Indian foods rich in Proteins

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Proteins are large molecules consisting of amino acids which our body and cells in our body need to function properly. Proteins play a vital role in our body structure, functions, and regulation of the body’s cells, tissues and organs.

It is said that a human body’s muscles, skin, bones and many other parts contain a significant amount of protein. In fact, protein accounts for about 20% of total body weight. Enzymes, antibodies and hormones are proteins and it also works as a neurotransmitter and carries oxygen in the blood (hemoglobin).

There are three main types of nutrients that are essential as energy sources for our human body:

  • Proteins
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats

Functions of protein in our body:

Virtually in every biological process, proteins play a vital role. Some of the main functions of proteins in our human body are:

  • Make antibodies for our immune system.
  • Make hormones, which help cells send messages and coordinate bodily activities.
  • Build, strengthen and repair things such as tissue.
  • Actin and Myosin are the two types of proteins that are involved in muscle contraction and movement.

Transportation and Storage:

Proteins have a unique ability to transport substances across cell membranes that other molecules can't penetrate. Haemoglobin is a type of protein that is responsible for carrying oxygen in red blood cell. Myoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen. Ferritin is a protein that assists in the storage of iron and stores blood in the liver. Without protein for transportation and storage, we would not have blood to nourish our bodies.

Cell and Tissue growth:

Continuous supply of amino acids needed by the body in order to build the proteins that create tissue. Throughout our everyday lives, we constantly manufacture new tissues such as hair, teeth, skin and nails. The blood cells and skin cells last about a month while the cells situated in our digestive system lining last only two weeks. When the cells die and slough off, our bodies need new healthy tissue to replace them. It is only through the regeneration of new tissue that we can become healthy again.

Mechanical Support:

Collagen, the most abundant protein found in the human body is a type of structural protein that is fibrous in nature. Collagen is responsible for giving strength and support to tissues such as skin and bone that undergo continual wear and tear. Athletes that work out two or more hours a day rely on the body’s ability to manufacture new collagen, which keeps their joints healthy and strong and prevents injury.

Coordination and Motion:

Proteins are a major component in muscle contraction. It occurs when two fibrous protein filament glide across each other. On a smaller scale, sperms are propelled in motion by their flagella, which are made up of contractile units made of protein. Thus protein is mainly behind the movement of sperm.

Immune Protection:

Antibodies are highly specific proteins that are responsible for detecting a foreign substance or known as "antigen". The body produces a specific antibody to respond to an antigen and inactivate it.

Nerve Generation and Impulses:

The nervous system is responsible for keeping the body in balance. When a certain stimulus triggers the nervous system, it responds with an appropriate reaction. This cannot occur without a receptor site awaiting the stimulus. These receptor sites are made of protein complexes and are responsible for transmitting nerve messages from cell to cell.

Fluid Balance:

Protein has the unique ability to regulate the amount of fluid within a cell. The amount of protein within a cell will determine the cell's water content, as water is attracted to protein. When protein levels are low, fluid imbalances result. This type of system is important to prevent dehydration, as well as to enhance muscle and nerve cell function.

Foods high in protein are complete proteins in that they have sufficient quantity and variation of all twenty amino acids, Examples of complete proteins are animal-based foods such as fish, poultry, beef, pork. Eggs and dairy products also have sufficient amino acid composition and are considered complete. Protein is found in the following foods:

  • meats, poultry, and fish
  • legumes (dry beans and peas)
  • tofu
  • eggs
  • nuts and seeds
  • milk and milk products
  • grains, some vegetables, and some fruits (provide only small amounts of protein relative to other sources)

How much protein we require in a day? This is one common question that most of us wonder about. In general, it's recommended that 10–35% of your daily calories come from protein.

Recommended Dietary Allowance for Protein
                                                                                            Grams of protein needed each day
Children ages 1 – 3                                                                                               13
Children ages 4 – 8                                                                                                19
Children ages 9 – 13                                                                                                34
Girls ages 14 – 18                                                                                                 46
Boys ages 14 – 18                                                                                                 52
Women ages 19 – 70+                                                                                                 46
Men ages 19 – 70+                                                                                                 56

  Below listed are few examples on amounts of protein in particular foods:

  • 1 cup of milk has 8 grams of protein
  • A 3-ounce piece of meat has about 21 grams of protein
  • 1 cup of dry beans has about 16 grams of protein
  • An 8-ounce container of yogurt has about 11 grams of protein

Below mentioned are some of the best sources of protein for a vegetarian:

  • Legumes Dal is a very important ingredient in our day to day life (kitchen). They are almost 25% protein by weight, containing 3 times more protein than rice or wheat. A variety of pulses, beans and dals should be eaten throughout the day.
  • A vegetarian should have some kind of dal in all his meals be it as curry or in salad. There is no dearth of dishes available in every Indian state that incorporates legumes. ½ a cup of lentils provides 8.9 gms of protein which is more than that in an ounce of meat.
  • Soya - Soy needs special mention, as it is the highest and best source of protein for a vegetarian. ¼ litre of soymilk contains more protein than regular milk, and soy products like tempeh and tofu are as good as meat proteins.
  • Grains/Quinoa- The protein content in quinoa contributes as complete protein, compared to other grains. About a quarter cup gives 8 grams of protein. Among other grains, amaranth and wheat have the highest protein.
  • Nuts and seeds – Every vegetarian needs to have an ounce of nuts (peanuts included) daily. Almonds, pistachios, cashews have always been part of Indian cooking and rich in protein. An ounce of nut contains around 6gm of protein and 165kcal. These are often used as seasoning, in upma, as curry base or as chutney.
  • You could also make your own nut butter by grinding any one kind of nuts that include peanuts, almonds, cashew nuts into a smooth paste and use one tablespoon as spread on whole grain breads. Seeds like sesame, sunflower, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds are also easily available.
  • Milk – Milk, buttermilk, paneer, and sweets or curries based on these are sources of protein in the Indian diet. Luckily we have several dishes based on these. Including these along with a regular intake of milk or buttermilk will provide good protein. A quarter litre of milk contains 8 grams of protein.
  • Spirulina – One tablespoon of spirulina contains 4 grams of protein.

What happens when you do not eat the right proteins? What are the symptoms?

  • Lack of energy and easy fatigue
  • Tiredness on exertion or exercising
  • Unhealthy looking hair, splitting, falling and brittle nails
  • Dry flaky skin
  • Headaches
  • Fluid retention
  • Failure to grow (in children)
  • Delay in healing

Protein is always associated with sportspeople and growing children. We all need sufficient amount of protein throughout our life for healing wear and tear of our body and keeping our immune system strong. Getting enough protein is not an issue with those who are non-vegetarians but is an issue with most strict vegetarians. We need about 10% to 15% of our calories from proteins or 0.8 to 1 gram for every kilo of our normal weight. The average sedentary adult should have 40 grams of protein per 100 pounds of body weight.

Some of the foods that are rich in proteins are:

  1.  Low-Carb Flat Breads Low-carb flat breads, including mission tortillas, contain about 30 grams of protein each, making them a great source of protein for vegetarians to choose as part of their diet.
  2. Chick Peas Chick peas are a food that is full of protein. These beans have 16 grams of protein per 200 gram serving. This is by far one of the best sources of protein for vegetarians.
  3. Kidney Beans Kidney beans provide 15 grams of protein per 200 gram serving. Kidney beans are rich in protein, and they are a hearty food as well.
  4. Baked Beans Baked beans are high in protein as well. With 12 grams of protein per 200 gram servings, baked beans are a great vegetarian protein source.
  5. Tofu Tofu is an alternative to meat. It can be used for cooking various kinds of dishes. A 140 gram serving of tofu contains 11 grams of protein. As well as having high protein content, tofu is also rich in iron and magnesium.
  6. Almonds Almonds are a nut with a number of health benefits, including having a high amount of protein. A 1/4 cup serving of almonds contains 8 grams of protein. Almonds have lower saturated fat content and are a great way for vegetarians to get protein.
  7. Peanut Butter Peanut butter is a high source of protein as well. 30 grams of peanut butter contain 7.5 grams of protein. Although peanut butter is a food that is higher in fat, when added to a vegetarian diet in moderation, it will help to meet the daily recommendation of protein.
  8. Soy Milk Soy milk is another vegetarian food choice that is high in protein. At about 7 grams of protein per 8 ounces of soy-milk, adding this drink to any diet will help reach the daily amount of protein needed by an individual.
  9. Dried Apricots Although at the bottom of the list, dried apricots are also an option that is high in protein. An 8 ounce serving of this dried fruit provides 5 grams of protein. Dried apricots are low in fat and cholesterol and are a great protein option for vegetarians.
  10. Avocado Avacado is a protein rich food that provides about 5 grams of protein per 8 ounces mashed. This fruit is great added to any vegetarian diet. There are a number of foods that provide a protein source for vegetarians. 

These choices include fruits, vegetables and nuts. When combined with other nutrient rich foods, these vegetarian options help to provide the daily recommended amount of protein. Apples can be consumed in both raw and cooked form, with or without skin and contains a range of health benefits. 2 medium sized apples give around 0.60 grams of protein.

When served in slices with skin, it yields 0.30 grams of proteins. A balanced diet includes proper portions of not just protein, but should have a perfect proportion of vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates too. Include at least some of the above mentioned food in your diet which combined with other important nutrients will yield positive and healthy results.

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