Many people associate a high-protein diet with processed shakes and heavy meat consumption. However, there are various reasons why individuals might want to ensure they consume enough protein – whether to support a plant-based diet, an active training regime, or to maintain energy levels during menopause.
Protein is an essential macronutrient that is responsible for building the structure of our bodies. It is made up of amino acids, which serve as the building blocks for tissues such as bone, muscle, and skin. Additionally, amino acids are crucial for the production of enzymes, hormones, and immune cells that are necessary for our survival.
Unlike carbohydrates and fats, our bodies do not store protein. Therefore, it is important to consume it regularly to meet our nutritional needs. This becomes especially crucial during menopause when women experience significant hormonal changes and metabolic shifts.
The recommended daily protein intake varies depending on the individual. Current guidelines suggest aiming for around 0.75g per kilogram of body weight. However, many experts recommend rounding this up to 1-1.2 g/kg, especially for women, to ensure optimal health. It is common for women to not consume enough protein, as convenience often outweighs nutrition when it comes to food choices. Individual protein requirements may vary based on activity levels, overall health status, and specific needs such as strength training or certain diseases and injuries.
Protein plays a crucial role during menopause. As we age, our muscles become less efficient at utilizing protein, so it becomes more important to preserve muscle mass and maintain healthy bones. Menopausal women are at risk of losing lean tissue and muscle mass, and protein intake can help prevent this. Additionally, protein plays a role in maintaining strong bones, which is vital during menopause when the risk of osteoporosis increases. Optimal protein intake can also aid in weight management, as it helps promote a feeling of fullness and prevents muscle loss, which can slow down metabolism. Protein is also necessary for hormone production, which is disrupted during menopause. Amino acids are crucial for producing hormones, neurotransmitters, and enzymes that support optimal cognitive function.
Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to obtain enough protein on a plant-based diet. Plant foods contain all the essential amino acids necessary for our bodies, and they also come with added benefits such as fiber, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. Swapping even a small percentage of animal protein for plant protein can result in improvements in health and a lower risk of disease. For those following a vegan diet, it is important to include a diverse range of plant-based protein sources such as beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables to ensure a complete amino acid profile.
Protein deficiency is rare, as protein is present in many foods. However, inadequate protein intake can lead to muscle wasting, weakness, fluid build-up, anemia, and slow growth in children. Signs that someone may benefit from increasing their protein intake include brittle nails and hair, feeling cold and hungry frequently, experiencing blood sugar spikes, mood swings, and exhaustion. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is recommended to consult a nutritionist or healthcare professional to assess your protein intake and overall nutritional needs.
When it comes to incorporating more protein into your diet, it is helpful to make protein a part of every meal. This can be achieved by including lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, tofu, legumes, and nuts. For plant-based diets, aim to include one or two high-protein plants in each meal, such as chickpeas, lentils, or hummus. Whole grains, which typically contain more protein than refined alternatives, should also be included in each meal. Protein-rich snacks, like nuts, hummus, or roasted edamame beans, can be added to provide additional protein and promote satiety. It is important to listen to your body and consider factors such as lifestyle, age, and health when determining your individual protein needs. If there are concerns about protein intake and overall nutrition, consulting a nutritionist or healthcare professional is recommended.