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What Happens if You Don't Get Enough Protein? 12 Signs That You Are Protein Deficient

What happens if you don't get enough protein? Protein is essential for a healthy, happy body. Nutritionist Karen B. from Tru Foods Nutrition covers all things protein in the post below, explaining its importance, detailing signs of deficiency, and giving us tips for adequate intake. Also, be sure to read to the end for a special offer from Tru Foods Nutrition exclusively for Wild Planet’s customers.
Protein Powerhouse
While society would have us think we get more than enough protein in our diet, what I see as a nutrition professional is quite the opposite. Too many are still on the low-fat bandwagon and eating a high-carb diet. Many start the day with zero grams of protein!
What would happen if we did not consume protein?
The simple answer is that the body would not function normally without protein and its essential amino acids. While we can survive just fine by consuming a low-carb diet, the same cannot be said for a low protein diet. Yet, many are doing this without realizing it! sardine rice 2039 A long term protein deficiency can produce some significant symptoms, but it can take up to a year of protein deficiency before these symptoms start to really unveil themselves. By then, many have difficulty connecting the dots of their symptoms to an unintentional low protein diet.
Here’s why protein is important and what can happen if you’re deficient:
  • A compromised immune system. Are you picking up every germ that floats by? Is it taking you longer to recover?
  • Weakness. A protein deprived body will have trouble building muscle mass, and can grow weaker over time.
  • Slower recovery from injuries. Protein is part of your nails, hair, skin, muscles and joints. Your body needs protein to rebuild and heal.
  • Mood swings. Your hormones, neurotransmitters, hemoglobin and antibodies all need protein to function properly.
  • Low energy and fatigue. Protein helps transport nutrients throughout the body, and helps regulate the pH of your body tissues and fluid. It’s also important for sustaining energy levels, and can be used for energy if necessary.
Bottom Line: protein is more important than we think!
  • Nails: rub your finger across your nails. Do you feel ridges? This can indicate a protein deficiency. The more ridges you feel and the deeper you feel them, the more deficient you may be. Also, look at the moon shape of the new incoming nail. Can you see it on all nails? If so, this indicates adequate protein intake. What if you can see it on some, but not all? This indicates some protein deficiency.
  • Food cravings: your diet may be high carb and low protein, which can cause blood sugar spikes and drops—leading you to crave even more carbs. Add in protein at each meal to help balance out your blood sugar.
  • Swelling of the feet and ankles: protein plays a key role in keeping fluid from accumulating in the tissues, especially the feet and ankles.
  • Brain fog: while there can be many root causes for brain fog, it can also be caused by blood sugar dysregulation, which is triggered by too many carbs and sugar and too little protein to balance it out.
  • Loss of muscle tone: are you working out but not seeing results? A low protein diet can result in muscle wasting (or muscle atrophy), fatigue and even fat gain.
  • Irritability, depression, stress: are you getting the amino acids your neurotransmitters need to function properly? Proteins help the brain produce hormones like dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for positive feelings like calmness and positivity.
  • Can’t lose weight no matter how hard you try: protein speeds up your metabolism. Plus, you feel more satisfied after consuming a meal with moderate amounts of protein, which helps prevent over eating.
How much protein do you need?
That depends on a lot of factors, such as your age, weight, activity level, and current overall health. But here are some general guidelines:
  • 0.8 g/kg of body weight for a non-athletic adult
  • Up to 1.7 g./kg. for performance athletes
  • OR take your ideal weight (not your actual weight as you don’t need protein to fuel excess fat) and multiply that by .5 for a moderate active person, by .8 for an athlete and by .3 if you sit behind a desk all day (sedentary)
  • OR another general guideline is to consume 15 grams of protein at each meal, and half that amount at each snack for a total of 60 grams of protein per day for the average person
Which groups of people are at greater risk of protein deficiency?
That depends on a lot of factors, such as your age, weight, activity level, and current overall health. But here are some general guidelines: pregnant person
  • Those on chemotherapy or recovering from chemotherapy
  • Infants and children (For example, a baby up to 6 months of age needs 2.2g/kg of body weight, and at 1-3 years of age the toddler would need 1.8g/kg of body weight.)
  • Athletes (You need protein to repair, rebuild and maintain your muscle mass)
  • Anyone recovering from illness, injury or surgery (Your protein needs will increase during the healing process.)
  • The elderly (Digestion may be compromised due to lower amounts of stomach acid as we age. High protein amounts can assist with this and with physical and mental alertness.)
  • Pregnant and nursing mothers (Protein is crucial for the baby’s growth, especially during the second and third trimester. It’s also an important component of breast milk, which will optimize the growth and development of the baby. A pregnant or breastfeeding mom needs 50% more protein than a woman who is not pregnant or breast feeding!)
Protein Rich Foods
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Shellfish
  • Whey protein powders (Undenatured, grass fed)
  • Plant-based protein powders
  • Nuts, seeds (raw)
  • Beans
  • Whole grains (i.e. quinoa, not processed flour products)
  • Dairy (raw, organic, grass fed)
  • Bee pollen
  • Bone broth (organic)
  • Beef jerky or beef sticks (avoid the processed ones)
  • Wild Planet tuna or sardines
tunafetawheatberrysalad_img_9939_618x412Looking for a protein-rich recipe to get you started? Check out Wild Planet’s tuna, wheat berry and feta salad recipe for a triple-hit of protein! What are your favorite protein-filled recipes? Share them in the comment section below.
Special Offer for Wild Planet Customers:
If you are sick and tired of feeling sick, tired, fatigued, depressed, anxious and more and have given up hope then Karen’s simple, effective, individualized and sustainable approach may be what you need. Karen is offering Wild Planet customers 30% off any Tru Foods Nutrition services. Must call for the discount to 303-522-0381 and mention where you saw this offer. Services can be viewed at under the services tab. Get Karen’s Food Swap Guide here to get started on your health journey today! Want more information, then like her FB page here.
Bauman, E. & Friedlander, J. (2014) Foundations in Nutrition.
CA: Bauman College Gaby, A. (2006) A-Z guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions.
NY: Three Rivers Press. Markham, H. (6/22/16) You Asked: What happens if I don’t eat Enough Protein? Smith, M. (6/16)
No-fuss Animal Protein. As a nutrition professional, Karen Brennan does not treat, cure nor diagnose. This information is for educational purposes only.
Disclosure: The views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author and are not necessarily a reflection of the opinions and views of Wild Planet Foods. The content provided (and any linked or referenced materials) should not be construed as medical advice. Should you have any health or nutrition-related questions, please consult a doctor or healthcare practitioner. The author received products from Wild Planet for editorial purposes only. The opinions and recommendations are solely those of the author and were not influenced by Wild Planet Foods in any way.
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