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Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Why some people find it difficult to digest Protein?

Proteins are fundamental to the structure and function of living organisms, playing crucial roles in virtually every biological process.

Proteins are large, complex molecules that are essential for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs. They are made up of long chains of smaller molecules called amino acids, which are linked together in a specific sequence. There are 20 different amino acids that can be combined to form a vast array of proteins with various functions.

Proteins play multifaceted roles in biological systems, serving as the building blocks and machinery of life itself. One of their primary functions lies in providing structural support to cells, tissues, and organs. Beyond structural support, proteins also serve as dynamic catalysts, orchestrating the myriad biochemical reactions essential for cellular function. Enzymes, the biochemical workhorses of the cell, accelerate chemical transformations by lowering the activation energy required for reactions to occur. Through precise molecular interactions, enzymes enable processes such as metabolism, DNA replication, and cellular respiration to proceed at biologically relevant rates, sustaining life at the molecular level.

Furthermore, proteins exhibit remarkable versatility in their roles as signalling molecules, regulators, and carriers within biological systems. Additionally, proteins play pivotal roles in immune defence, with antibodies recognizing and neutralizing foreign invaders such as pathogens and toxins. Through their diverse functions, proteins integrate and coordinate the myriad processes necessary for life, underscoring their indispensable role in biological systems.

Protein deficiency can lead to various health issues and diseases due to the essential roles that proteins play in the body.

Some of the diseases and conditions associated with protein deficiency include:

  1. Kwashiorkor: This is a severe form of malnutrition caused by inadequate protein intake. It often affects children in developing countries where diets lack sufficient protein-rich foods. Symptoms include swelling (oedema), failure to thrive, skin lesions, and impaired growth and development.
  2. Marasmus: Another form of severe malnutrition, marasmus results from overall calorie deficiency, including inadequate protein intake. It typically affects infants and young children and is characterized by extreme wasting of muscle and subcutaneous fat, leading to a skeletal appearance.
  3. Muscle Wasting: Protein deficiency can lead to muscle wasting or atrophy, where muscle tissue is broken down to provide amino acids for essential bodily functions. Chronic protein deficiency can result in weakness, fatigue, and impaired physical performance.
  4. Oedema: Protein is essential for maintaining fluid balance in the body. Inadequate protein intake can disrupt this balance, leading to oedema, a condition characterized by swelling due to excess fluid retention in the tissues.
  5. Impaired Immune Function: Proteins are vital for the immune system, as antibodies and other immune molecules are composed of proteins. Protein deficiency can weaken the immune response, making individuals more susceptible to infections and illnesses.
  6. Hair, Skin, and Nail Problems: Proteins such as keratin are crucial for the health and integrity of hair, skin, and nails. Protein deficiency may lead to brittle hair, dry and flaky skin, and fragile nails, among other dermatological issues.
  7. Delayed Wound Healing: Proteins are involved in the repair and regeneration of tissues, including the formation of new blood vessels and collagen synthesis. Inadequate protein intake can impair wound healing, leading to slower recovery times and increased risk of complications.
  8. Stunted Growth and Development: Protein is essential for growth and development, especially during childhood and adolescence. Insufficient protein intake can result in stunted growth, delayed puberty, and developmental delays.

Protein rich foods

Protein-rich foods are essential for maintaining overall health and providing the body with the necessary building blocks for growth, repair, and various physiological functions.

Here’s a list of some common foods that are high in protein:

  1. Meat:
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Venison
  1. Fish and Seafood:
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Trout
  • Cod
  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Mussels
  1. Eggs and Dairy:
  • Eggs
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Milk
  • Cheese (such as cheddar, mozzarella, and Swiss)
  1. Plant-Based Proteins:
  • Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas)
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Edamame
  • Quinoa
  • Seitan
  • Hemp seeds
  • Chia seeds
  1. Nuts and Seeds:
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts
  • Walnuts
  • Pistachios
  • Cashews
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Flaxseeds
  1. Grains:
  • Oats
  • Brown rice
  • Barley
  • Farro
  • Bulgur
  • Whole wheat products (bread, pasta)
  1. Soy Products:
  • Soybeans
  • Soy milk
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu
  1. Processed Protein Sources:
  • Protein powders (whey, casein, pea protein, hemp protein)
  • Protein bars
  • Protein-rich snacks (jerky, roasted chickpeas)
  1. Vegetables (while not as high in protein as animal sources, some vegetables still provide notable amounts):
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Peas
  • Asparagus

Incorporating a variety of these protein-rich foods into your diet can help ensure that you meet your daily protein needs and support overall health and wellness. It’s also essential to consider factors such as dietary preferences, allergies, and nutritional requirements when selecting protein sources for your meals and snacks.

Protein Intolerance

Protein intolerance refers to the body’s inability to properly digest or metabolize certain types of proteins, leading to adverse reactions or symptoms. While most people can digest and tolerate proteins without any issues, some individuals may experience intolerance or sensitivity to specific proteins or protein-containing foods. Here are a few examples of protein intolerances:

  1. Lactose Intolerance: Lactose intolerance is a common example of protein intolerance. It occurs due to the deficiency of lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy products. Without enough lactase, lactose remains undigested in the digestive tract, leading to symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhea after consuming dairy products.
  2. Gluten Intolerance (Celiac Disease): Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder characterized by an intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. In individuals with celiac disease, consumption of gluten triggers an immune response that damages the lining of the small intestine, leading to various gastrointestinal symptoms (such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating), as well as systemic symptoms like fatigue, skin rashes, and nutrient deficiencies.
  3. Soy Intolerance: Some people may have an intolerance or sensitivity to soy proteins, which are found in foods such as soybeans, tofu, tempeh, soy milk, and soy sauce. Soy intolerance can manifest as digestive symptoms (such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea), skin reactions (such as hives or eczema), respiratory symptoms (such as wheezing or nasal congestion), or other allergic-like reactions.
  4. Egg White Intolerance: While rare, some individuals may experience intolerance to proteins found in egg whites. Symptoms of egg white intolerance may include digestive discomfort, skin reactions (such as hives or eczema), respiratory symptoms (such as wheezing or nasal congestion), or even anaphylaxis in severe cases.
  5. Other Protein Sensitivities: Some individuals may experience intolerance or sensitivity to other proteins, such as those found in certain meats (like beef, pork, or poultry), seafood (like shellfish), or nuts and seeds. Symptoms can vary widely and may include digestive issues, skin reactions, respiratory symptoms, or systemic allergic-like reactions.

How to digest proteins

These are some of the ways to digest proteins:

  1. Incorporate Enzyme-Rich and Fermented Foods: Opt for raw and fermented foods, which contain live enzymes that assist in breaking down proteins. Consider adding a fresh green salad with a dressing made from raw apple cider vinegar or including fermented foods like sauerkraut alongside your protein and roasted vegetables to enhance digestion.
  2. Consume Animal Proteins Earlier in the Day: As protein digestion requires an acidic stomach environment, it’s beneficial to consume animal-based proteins earlier in the day when stomach acid levels are naturally higher. This timing supports the activation of pepsin, an enzyme responsible for breaking down large protein molecules into smaller peptides. If you experience acid reflux and rely on medications that reduce stomach acid, it’s important to address these issues to ensure efficient protein digestion.
  3. Manage Portions: If you struggle with digesting larger portions of protein, consider consuming smaller quantities more frequently throughout the day. Aim for approximately 25-30 grams of protein per meal and 10-15 grams per snack to support optimal digestion and absorption.
  4. Consider Digestive Bitters and Enzymes: Incorporating digestive bitters before meals can stimulate digestive secretions and enhance nutrient absorption. Additionally, supplementing with digestive enzymes can aid in breaking down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, particularly for individuals with compromised digestion due to aging or gut issues.
  5. Prioritize Rest and Digest: Create a conducive environment for digestion by minimizing distractions and stress during meal times. Engage in mindful eating practices and allow your body to enter the “rest and digest” state, where digestive processes are optimized for nutrient absorption and reduced post-meal discomfort. Avoid multitasking or rushing through meals to support effective digestion and overall well-being.

Managing protein intolerance typically involves avoiding or minimizing exposure to the offending protein(s) and ensuring adequate nutrition through alternative protein sources.

In cases of severe or potentially life-threatening reactions (such as anaphylaxis), medical intervention and avoidance of the allergen are critical.

Take away

Overcoming protein intolerance typically involves identifying the specific protein(s) or food(s) causing the intolerance and taking steps to avoid or minimize exposure to them.

Firstly, it’s essential to accurately identify the source of protein intolerance through proper diagnosis. This often involves consulting with a healthcare professional, such as an allergist or gastroenterologist, who can perform diagnostic tests to pinpoint the offending protein(s) or food(s). Secondly, individuals with protein intolerance may need to find alternative sources of protein to ensure adequate nutrition while avoiding triggering foods.

Additionally, individuals can explore a variety of plant-based protein sources such as legumes, tofu, tempeh, nuts, and seeds. It’s crucial to maintain a balanced diet that provides all essential nutrients while accommodating dietary restrictions due to protein intolerance. In some cases, consultation with a registered dietitian or nutritionist may be helpful to ensure nutritional adequacy and to develop a personalized meal plan that meets individual dietary needs and preferences.

By Parvathy Sukumaran

Parvathy Sukumaran is a Content Creator and Editor at JustCare Health. She is an Educator and a Language Lecturer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Education and an M.A in English Literature. She is passionate about writing, archaeology, music and cooking.

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