5 Signs You Are Not Eating Enough Protein

How much protein do we really need?

The recommended daily intake for adult women and men is 46 grams and 56 grams respectively. The good news is protein deficiencies are generally not considered to be common in the United States, especially among people who eat meat.

But it is possible for vegetarians, vegans, or people under other restrictive diets to experience a mild or severe deficiency without realizing it. Here are a few signs to watch out for:

1. You feel hungry all the time

Find yourself overeating throughout the day? Your increased appetite may be a sign of inadequate protein in your diet, as noted by a 2013 study from the University of Sydney, Australia.

"We found that regardless of your age or BMI, your appetite for protein is so strong that you will keep eating until you get enough protein, which could mean you're eating much more than you should," said lead author Dr. Alison Gosby.

2. You are losing muscle mass

The process of maintaining muscle strength and supporting its repair can take a hit without enough amino acids i.e. the building blocks of protein. 

"If your diet lacks these amino acids, your body begins to break down muscle to get these necessary amino acids from your muscle fibers," said registered dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade. "This results in a loss of muscle, a loss of strength and a decline in metabolism."

3. You are regularly getting sick

Calling in sick more often than you should be? Your immune system has a pretty hard time dealing with insufficient protein intake, studies show.

This is because the deficiency can lead to the loss of germ-fighting T cells in the body, which are necessary for protection against bacteria or viruses. In turn, you will become more susceptible to infections and will also experience them at heightened severity.

4. You are losing your hair (literally)

"Hair is made of protein, making adequate daily intake of protein-rich foods essential. Include at least a palm-sized portion of protein at breakfast and lunch," said Anabel Kingsley, a leading Trichologist at the Philip Kingsley Clinic in London.

The protein in our hair is made from is known as keratin. If the body does not receive adequate protein, it can disrupt the production of non-essential protein, which can lead to temporary hair thinning and hair loss.

5. Your legs and feet are swelling up

Edema is a medical term referring to excess fluid accumulating in the body tissues, leading to a noticeably swollen appearance. According to Harvard Health, protein is needed to hold salt and water inside the blood vessels so that the fluid does not leak out into the tissues.  

But if the levels of a blood protein (known as albumin) fall too low, fluid is retained. Edema induced in such a way typically occurs in the feet, ankles and lower legs.