When you were young, you never had any trouble getting enough protein in your diet. In fact, I’m willing to bet unless you were a bodybuilder you didn’t even have to give it a second thought.
But as we age our risk for not getting quite enough protein, rises. And while actual protein deficiencies are thought to be relatively rare, it’s easy to accidentally fall short.
Changes in appetite, tastes and even lifestyle as you get older can flip your old diet routine on its head. Plus some experts now believe seniors need even more protein than is currently recommended.
And that’s a real problem because not getting enough protein in your diet can send your risk for muscle loss, fractures and even osteoporosis climbing.
Five red flags your not eating enough protein
Following are five telltale signs you’re not eating enough protein.
1. You’re hungry:
If you’re battling the hungries all the time, you might not be getting enough protein. When your blood sugar spikes and crashes, your body sends out S.O.S. signals in the form of hunger pangs. Its goal is to get you to eat something to help bring your glucose levels back into the normal range.
Protein helps stabilize your blood sugar throughout the day. So when you’re getting enough of it you’re less likely to experience those blood sugar roller coasters. And less likely to be hungry all the time.
2. You’re moody:
Proteins are essential for your brain to produce the “feel-good” hormones, dopamine and serotonin. When their levels drop too low or fluctuate drastically, your mood can end up bouncing all over the place too. And your anxiety levels can shoot through the roof.
3. You’re sluggish:
When protein levels drop too low, it’s common to feel sluggish or fatigued. Protein is a basic building block of your muscles. So not having enough means you begin to lose muscle mass, strength and ultimately energy.
Plus protein is an important source of certain nutrients, including iron, vitamin B-12 and folate, which are critical to the production of red blood cells. And since your red blood cells are responsible for distributing oxygen throughout your body when you aren’t producing enough of them, you can begin to feel weak, sluggish and sleepy.
4. You’re sick:
A healthy immune system produces plenty of antibodies. They’re the warriors that help fight off the bacteria and viruses that can make you sick. Antibodies attach themselves to invading bugs allowing your immune cells to step in and destroy them.
But your immune system requires plenty of protein to produce antibodies because they’re actually a protein themselves. And without enough of the raw material to build them, your antibody numbers can drop making you more prone to infections and diseases.
5. You have brain fog:
When your body is getting enough protein, it’s able to release a steady stream of carbohydrates to fuel your brain. But when your protein levels drop too low, you get those unstable blood sugars I mentioned earlier. Spiking and crashing blood sugar levels can lead to brain fog and an inability to concentrate.
If you’re experiencing several or more of these telltale signs there’s a good chance your protein stores are coming up short. But the good news is you can easily bump up the protein in your diet with very little effort.
Raise your protein levels with these easy tricks
Following are five of my favorite protein-loading tricks to try.
- Add nuts or nut butter to a morning smoothie (bonus points for making it with whey protein)
- Replace one higher-carb snack, such as popcorn, with a high-protein one, like Greek yogurt or cheese chunks
- Add a splash of half-and-half or milk to your coffee or tea
- Toss chickpeas or black beans into your salads
- Swap out brown rice for quinoa
Just because deficiency is rare doesn’t mean you’re getting enough protein to be at your healthiest. Be on the lookout for these telltale signs you aren’t getting enough protein and listen to what your body is telling you.