By Kavita Devgan, Nutritionist, Dietician
We all know that protein is essential because everything in our body - from haemoglobin to enzymes, hormones, antibodies to our bones is made up of proteins. In fact, every cell where the metabolism occurs, contains proteins. Which is why eating enough protein every day is mandatory for every normal healthy adult. The need of this nutrient goes up substantially during pregnancy and lactation because it helps to form new cells and build the body of the fetus and produce milk to feed the infant after birth.
The average daily requirement of proteinis1 gram per kilogram of body weight. Which means that an average man weighing 70 kg will need 70 g protein per day and a woman weighing 60 kg will need about 60 g of protein per day. According to Nutrition Foundation of India, during pregnancy, this requirement goes up by 23 g per day and during lactation 19 g /day (for 0-6 months) and 13 g / day (6-12 months). And a deficiency at this life stage can have a drastic negative effect on the health of both the mother and the fetus / baby.
Hence, it is important to take adequate protein during these stages of a woman’s life. Women should look closely at their plate to check if there is enough high-quality protein in there, and must ensure proactively that their diet is rich in optimal amount and quality of protein.
These 4 pointers can help in deciding if they are consuming the right quantity and quality of protein
- Focus on both right quantity (required number of grams) as well as high quality protein that meets your protein needs completely. You can obtain protein from animal products like meats, milk and eggs or vegetarian sources like nuts and seeds, milk and other dairy products, pulses and soya products.
- While there is no doubt that the protein we get from animals and animal products (meat, fish, eggs, dairy) scores high on the quality of protein index (as they supply all the essential amino acids, whereas vegetarian sources tend to have some missing elements of protein), women who eat a vegetarian diet can still get all their essential amino acids by eating a wide variety of foods and making smart pairs by combining grains with legumes or seeds or also milk products.
- Try to include grains with higher amount of proteins like quinoa, oats, buckwheat and amaranth. All of these deliver much more protein than the regular staples like rice and wheat.
- Often, it gets difficult to meet protein needs through food. In such cases, supplementation with a high-quality protein source might become necessary to help bridge the dietary gap specially for pregnant and lactating women as they fall in the high requirement groups. When choosing a supplement, it may be a better option to select hydrolyzed protein, as these deliver the already half-digested (predigested) proteins. These are created by breaking down intact proteins into a mixture of amino acids and smaller proteins, which are far easier for the body to digest and absorb. This leads to better and faster delivery of amino acids from the blood to muscles. Additionally, hydrolyzed proteins are less allergenic (or immune-response-inducing) and they are good for babies who are at risk for food allergies. Therefore, read the labels carefully before selecting the protein supplement.
Being a mother comes with a lot of responsibility and this begins during pregnancy itself. Hence, protein intake of pregnant and lactating mothers determines the child's health, and must not be taken light.
Kavita Devgan is a nutritionist, health columnist and weight management consultant. She is author of a book Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People that establishes that the only process that delivers lasting weight loss results is changing the way-you-eat.