As a health-conscious person, you’ve probably seen it all when it comes to dietary recommendations. Fat is bad. No, wait, it’s actually sugar that makes you fat. Bring on the omega 3’s!
Protein has become pretty trendy, too. With so many low carb diets out there, protein is filling the gap. “We aren’t known as a country that’s low in protein,” Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., author of The Flexitarian Diet, told Women’s Health. “These days, most of the hot fad diets are very pro-protein.”
Even though we’re so focused on it, many of us still fall short when it comes to protein intake. Not sure if you’re missing out? Read on to see if any of these symptoms sound familiar.
You crave it
Cookbook author Terry Hope Romero told Reader’s Digest that she knew she needed to incorporate more protein into her diet when she noticed that she never quite felt satisfied after a meal. “When you work full time and have a long commute, and you regularly work out or you have a lot of errands to run, it can be easy to fill up on processed carbs,” says Romero. “To feel full every day, especially when you’re working out to build muscle, it’s not really the best approach.”
Our bodies are smart. If you’re not getting enough protein, one of the first ways your body lets you know is by craving protein-rich foods. If you’ve been craving a big omelet at breakfast and chili for lunch, follow your gut and load up on the protein. You can always stick to vegan options like oatmeal with nut butter and seeds or three bean chili if you prefer.
You just called in sick again
If you can’t help but catch every cold and flu going around your daughter’s classroom, make sure you’ve been getting enough protein. Protein helps keep our immune system cells healthy and working. Our immune cells need enough protein to repair themselves and to multiply. Without enough protein, we’re at a much higher risk for coming down with any germs we’re exposed to.
“Protein is needed to build the components of our immune system,” Alissa Rumsey, M.S., R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told SELF. “If you are under-eating protein, over time your immune system may weaken.”
That cut still hasn’t healed
Our bodies need protein for recovery and repair. That’s why athletes look for a protein snack after a long run or intense workout. Our bodies are craving it to repair our muscles. We use protein to grow new cells, tissue and skin. So if you nicked yourself shaving last week, and that cut isn’t going anywhere, take a look at how your diet has been.
You have a new sweet tooth
If you have a serious caramel brownie craving and it’s only 9am, take a look at your breakfast. When we don’t give our bodies a healthy supply of proteins, our blood sugar levels can spike and then rapidly fall, leaving us craving anything that will quickly bring it back up (i.e. white flour and sugar). “If all you ate in the morning was a handful of cereal, you’re going to get energy right away, then your energy is going to wane,” Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D. told Women’s Health. “That up-and-down is where cravings come in.”
Protein helps to stabilize our blood sugar levels. When you eat a meal of chicken breast over salad, your blood sugar really isn’t affected much. “Protein (along with fat) digests slower than carbohydrates,” Dana Hunnes, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D. told SELF. “If you eat a meal that is mostly carbohydrates, with not enough protein, it will digest more quickly and will cause your blood sugar to rise.”
Make sure to eat some protein with your carbs at each meal or snack to prevent this blood sugar spike. Even healthy carbs by themselves can send our blood sugars skyrocketing. So instead of having an apple by itself, pair your apple slices with string cheese or dip them in peanut butter. Rather than having a slice of whole wheat bread with jelly, smear on some butter or hummus instead.
Your ankles are puffy
Protein has a lot of jobs. In addition to healing our bodies, it also keeps things running smoothly. Protein is key for pulling fluid back into our blood vessels and not letting it escape into other tissues. Protein helps bring salt back into the blood vessels, which then attracts fluid back in. When fluid leaks out of these blood vessels and sits in our tissues, it leads to edema (the medical term for swelling).
Maybe after a long flight you’ve noticed that your shoes feel a little tight. That’s because fluid has pooled around our feet and ankles, causing swelling and tight, shiny skin. Swelling in our feet and ankles could signal that you’re not getting enough protein. If you’ve been noticing this edema, take a look at your diet. If you know you’re getting enough protein, check with your doctor to make sure nothing else is going on.