Know the connection between Protein and Immunity

Protein is very important for us because unlike fats and carbohydrates, it is not stored in the body and its deficiency can lead to depletion of our muscles mass.

Due to the dual perspective I get as a practicing nutritionist and health writer and researcher, it pains me to see the amount of misinformation floating around the macro nutrients - fat, carbohydrates and proteins. Everyone is talking about them, but the information is often misleading, particularly about protein. Not many know about the right amount of protein to eat and the right way to get it. I fear that most of us are not getting enough protein in our diet and many of us are not getting enough quality protein, the kind our body needs to survive and thrive.

Protein is very important for us because unlike fats and carbohydrates, it is not stored in the body and its deficiency can lead to depletion of our muscles mass. Plus it is needed for maintenance, upkeep, and regen-eration of all our body cells, and organs - right from hair to hormones, antibodies to nerves, haemoglobin to bones. So we need to eat enough good quality protein everyday. But most of us don’t, and that puts us at risk of protein deficiency. It’s time to take protein seriously.

The need of the hour is education. We need to talk more about the importance of muscle health, role of adequate protein intake and exercise for a healthy, and disease-free life. This conversation is imperative now as protein is essential for boosting our immunity too. Fortunately, most of us are born with optimal immunity as our bodies come equipped with it, by default. Unfortunately, though, with time, as we age be-cause of environmental assaults and our less than perfect lifestyles- the everyday stresses and terrible eat-ing habits, our immunity first becomes rusty and then slowly gets depleted. That is why we must keep opti-mising our immunity on a regular basis. We anyway are an immunosuppressed generation because our life-styles have undergone a sea change. Slowly over the years we have all moved from a more exercise and healthy diet pattern to a more sedentary and fast food life. This has lead to not just a more obese popula-tion but also impaired immunity and thus increased predisposal to infections and pandemics. It is im-portant not to take the immune system for granted and to proactively take care of the immune system, as it takes care of us.

A balanced diet with protein, healthy carbohydrates and fats, good amount of micronutrients is essential to build good immunity. Protein supplies amino acids, and these are utilised by the body to manufacture anti-bodies that protect us against a wide range of infections. In fact, protein makes up the framework of body defence systems, antibodies, enzymes and hormones, and two essential amino acids that play a key role in immunity are arginine and glutamine. Immune cells that are supported by protein include leucocytes, cyto-kines, phagocytes all of which are involved in keeping the immune system healthy by keeping away infec-tions. Several studies have shown that deficiency of protein impairs immunity and increases susceptibility to infections. Thus, eating a protein rich diet is an absolute necessity these days.

Choose right

Eating a balanced diet is the way to ensure enough protein in our diet. All you need to do is to look closely at your plate to check whether you are eating enough high-quality complete protein or not. Meats, eggs, dairy, seafood, nuts and seeds, and legumes and beans deliver good amount of protein. Some grains like quinoa, bajra, buckwheat and amaranth also deliver good amount of protein, as do some vegetables like beetroot, peas, French beans.

But that said it is also important to ensure good quality of complete protein. Not all food sources of protein contain all the 9 essential amino acids our body requires. And as majority of the protein in Indian diets comes from vegetarian sources, our diets tend to be low in good quality protein. In cases like these where the protein need is not being met or the needs are high (like in the elderly, the teenagers, the pregnant and lactation women or those recovering from an illness) nutritional supplement with a high-quality protein can help bridge the dietary gap of protein and other immunity supporting micronutrients.

It’s time to look closely at our diet and consume enough protein every day!

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