Protein-rich diet
Protein-rich diet File photo

For Better Immunity, Try Protein

A study shows 70 per cent of India's population is at risk of protein deficiency

Priya Karkera | Sep 23, 2020

With the pandemic era, consumption of a well-balanced diet can be the right key to good health and a better immune system. More than 70% of the Indian population is found to be at a risk of protein deficiency among different age groups, as per a study conducted by leading research agency IMRB which evaluated the protein contribution from Indian diets. These alarming statistics leads way to bring out the daily importance of proteins in the Indian diet. Indians by nature consume a carbohydrate rich diet all through the day, therefore balancing with adequate protein rich options must be emphasized.

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Let’s look at what are proteins - Proteins are made up of hundreds or thousands of smaller units called amino acids, which are attached to one another in long chains. There are 20 different types of amino acids that can be combined to make a protein. There is a large connection between food produced, to available to consumed. If we consider proteins, the requirement is directly proportional to quality and digestibility.

Immune system is the first line of defence against any harmful bacteria, virus, and any foreign substances. The cells of immune system rely on proteins for repair and wear and tear. This builds the link between importance of proteins in the daily diet for better immunity.

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There are mainly 2 types of proteins – Complete and Incomplete.

Complete – Consisting of all the essential amino acids

Incomplete – Missing some of the essential amino acids

The best sources of proteins come from –

  1. Millets
  2. Milk and Milk products - Paneer
  3. Dals, Pulses, and sprouts.
  4. Eggs
  5. Chicken, Fish, Meat and Seafood
  6. Soya bean
  7. Nut and seeds

Traditional practices in India mixing cereals and pulses increase the bioavailability of proteins and are excellent options to be included in daily diet. From Khichadi in the north, to Pongal in the south the cultural diversity of India allows using wide variety of pulses. This is a classic example of - Complementary proteins where two or more incomplete protein sources that, when eaten in combination (at the same meal or during the same day), compensate for each other’s lack of amino acids.

When we speak of the requirement of proteins across age groups, it is related to the weight of the individual. In children there are Recommended dietary allowances for every nutrient laid down by Indian Council of Medical Research. However, in case of underweight or obesity the requirements may need close monitoring by a Doctor or qualified Nutrition professional.

Traditional Indian Millets are some good sources of proteins which can be considered in our daily diet. They contain about 5% – 8% of proteins and considering a good availability across the country, they must be used in daily cooking.

What are Millets – Millets are cereal crops and small seeds grasses cultivated across India.

Some examples of millets grown in India are - Sorghum, Pearl millet, Finger millet, Foxtail millet, Kodo millet, Proso millet, Barnyard millet, and Little millet. The table below shows the traditional names of the millets across states in India.

Milk proteins are mainly – Caesin and Whey in a proportion of 80% an 20% in bovine milk. It is considered as a complete protein.Casein is considered a “slow” protein, as it slowly empties from the while Whey is considered a “fast” protein due to its rapid digestion.However Milk lacks fiber, and hence must be ensured that plenty of fruits and vegetables are also consumed throughout the day.

As per the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) protein consumption statistics, it shows that despite milk production being adequate in India, the consumption ratio remains low. Varied reasons being affordability and adulteration diluting the nutritive value of the foods.

Dals and Pulses are staple Indian foods consumed regularly. They are good sources of low fat proteins alternatives. In addition, they also contain essential vitamins and minerals including iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium and zinc helping to boost the immune system. Pulses are particularly abundant in B vitamins such as folate, thiamine and niacin and various essential amino acids, including lysine.The World Food program advices at least 60gms of pulses per day. This can be easily achieved by consuming a big bowl of Dal in lunch and dinner, adding some sprout preparations for either meals.

Soya bean is an exceptionally high-quality, plant-based protein that supports healthy growth and development. Soy protein is a complete protein in that it meets all the essential amino acid requirements to support normal growth and development of infants and children and across age groups. Soy protein is also low in fat and free of saturated fat and cholesterol. It is an ideal protein source to boost the nutrient density of foods. It is the only vegetable protein that is complete.

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Eggs are yet another source of complete protein. About 50% of the concentration of protein is found in egg white and the rest is distributed in the yolk, shell, and membrane.

1 egg can contribute up to 6 gms of good quality protein.

Similarly, other nonvegetarian foods like Fish Chicken and Meat are excellent sources of good quality proteins. However, their preparations must ensure limited use of fats and oils to avoid making it calorie dense.

Nuts and oilseeds are power packed snack items which can contribute to almost 10% of daily protein intake. Examples like almonds, walnuts, peanuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pistachios are quick snacks to reach out to.

A daily balanced diet with a protein element in every meal from the above listed sources can ensure a boost in protein consumption for better health.

(The author is a Pediatric Nutritionist, Chief Nutrition officer – Fitterfly Technologies, IAPEN Mumbai Chapter Secretary, ASPEN – India Global Nutrition Partner – Country representative)