How to tell if you have a protein deficiency

Written by Aiden Wynn

A nutritionist gives us the lowdown on protein deficiency. 

Protein is an incredibly important nutrient. It is a key building block in all of our cells, and it ensures that everything from our skin and hair to our enzymes and hormones are healthy and functioning properly. It’s also necessary if you’re into your fitness and want to safely build muscle. 

While protein deficiency is relatively rare in the UK, there is still a risk that some people are getting too little of it in their diets. The British Nutrition Foundation recommends that adults get around 0.6g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, which means that it should make up a pretty sizeable chunk of your diet. It’s also a good idea to vary where you get your protein from, because of the diverse ways in which your body breaks down and uses different types of protein.  

We asked holistic nutritionist Cheryl Telfer to give us an insight into the symptoms of protein deficiency, the long-term effects it can have, and tips on how to add more protein into your diet, so you can ensure you’re getting what you need. 

What are the signs of protein deficiency? 

There are a number of different signs that you may be deficient in protein. The wide variety of potential symptoms has to do with the fact that, according to Healthline, protein deficiency can have a negative impact on almost all of your bodily functions. 

Some of the most notable early warning signs include skin problems such as redness and dryness, as well as brittle hair and nails. 

Moodiness is another tell-tale sign that you aren’t getting enough protein, due to the part it plays in regulating your hormones. And, as Cheryl explains, twitching and muscle loss are other indicators, which may be slightly more serious. 

What long-term effects can protein deficiency have?

As well as the immediate signs of protein deficiency, there are also more serious, longer-term implications. Not having enough protein in your diet “can lead not only to wasting of muscles but also to degenerations of internal organs and systems, including the brain and nervous system”, explains Cheryl. Left unchecked, this could lead to serious neurological conditions and muscular atrophy. 

How can you up your protein intake? 

The good news is that it is very easy to up your protein intake, regardless of what kind of diet you have. The best sources are, however, meat. Cheryl recommends “good quality meats like grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken”. Fish is another great choice, “especially oily fish like salmon and mackerel which are also a source of omega-3”.

If you are vegan or just prefer plant-based options, then you need to make sure you are eating plenty of tofu, nuts, seeds and legumes.  

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Images: Getty

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