5 warning signs you’re not getting enough protein

Sources of protein 2

Confession time. For the past month my body has basically been a walking wreck. Actually, it hasn’t really even been capable of walking me anywhere.

There I was having the time of my life flitting about Central and Eastern Europe, living it up before moving to Spain for a year, when something went dreadfully wrong. Overnight I was robbed of my freedom and confined to bed as I battled the unrelenting agony of a serious back injury.

It seemed so unfair. I mean sure, I hadn’t been eating too well. I hadn’t been resting that much. I’d been shunning water in favour of lunchtime wines. But I’m still young! Surely my body could cope with a few months of mild abuse. Apparently not.

Then came a strange coincidence. From my sickbed, I came up with the idea of writing about protein deficiency, deciding it was an important topic for vegetarians such as myself. I turned to a new-found friend here in Slovakia, the talented nutritional therapist Petra Dusova, for some expert advice. The information she sent back had me almost falling out of bed. Tick, tick, tick – and slowly the realisation set in. I most likely had a protein issue myself! Isn’t it funny how the universe finds ways to show us just what we need?

So what are the warning signs?

  1. Your muscles feel weak, your fingernails start to break or split, your hair falls out (gross, but trust me, this one’s true!) and wounds or injuries heal slowly as your body tissue deteriorates.
  2. You are tired and generally lack energy and strength.
  3. Your concentration is shot and you feel emotionally volatile.
  4. You start to develop allergies and infections because of impaired immune system responses.
  5. Those with severe protein deficiencies may experience swelling and fluid retention (oedema).

The good news is this one is relatively easy to rectify with a few dietary adjustments, most of which involve downright delicious foods. Stuff yourself with green, orange and yellow veggies high in provitamin A, such as spirulina, parsley and watercress, to help your body absorb protein. Eating loads of greens will also benefit your liver, where protein metabolic processes take place.

Chew everything up properly and eat smaller portions more often, rather than trying to get a protein hit in one huge meal. Cut back on refined foods and sugars and even limit your coffee intake – if you can bear it.

And, of course, munch on foods that are high in protein.

Sources of protein 2

  • Legumes such as beans are rich source of vegetable protein but can be a little hard to digest, so prepare them with vegetables and make sure you chew them well.
  • Nuts and seeds contain valuable concentrated protein and fats – but only eat about a handful each day to avoid liver problems.
  • Grains contain more protein than most people realise, especially quinoa and amaranth, and when combined with another grain can deliver more protein than a serving of meat.
  • Seaweeds or micro-algae like spirulina, chlorella and blue-green algae are considered to be the richest source of protein and combine well with other vegetables, grains, and legumes.
  • Fermented foods such as tempeh can supply protein in a more easily digestible form as a result of pre-digestion by bacteria.
  • Dairy, for non-vegans, provides good-quality protein, vitamin B12 and other nutrients that are important for those who lack protein, but avoid pasteurised and homogenised versions if possible as they’re harder to digest.
  • Eggs, again for non-vegans, contain some protein but more importantly all eight essential amino acids, which helps address deficiencies.

I found small changes made a huge difference. I added walnuts to my morning porridge, threw some chickpeas into salads, snacked on pepitas in the afternoon – things I would usually do but had become slack with while travelling. Dealing with my protein paucity hasn’t been a cure-all for my poor old back, which unfortunately is still taking its sweet time mending. But I have noticed I’ve felt more emotionally stable since upping my protein intake, and it’s helping to strengthen my muscles too. I’ll be back on my feet in no time!

~ Koren, with expert nutritional advice from Petra



* About Petra: she lived in Dublin, Ireland for five years while studying a diploma of naturopathic nutrition at the College of Naturopathic Medicine and working at a local health food shop. She’s now returned home to the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava, and has grand plans to one day open the country’s first naturopathic centre. Go Petra!


5 Responses to 5 warning signs you’re not getting enough protein

  1. Sophie33 May 31, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

    This is all so true!

    • Koren June 1, 2013 at 12:08 am #

      I know! Or at least I know now … I may have temporarily forgotten/gotten lazy for awhile there. 🙂

  2. Cathy Kuckuk October 2, 2013 at 9:28 am #

    My 11 year old son has developed a sudden aversion to all meat products. He has not eaten any dairy products for 3 years because his sister was lactose intolerant (not him but he refuses all of it and nothing we can do will make him change his mind). As a parent I try to give him other sources of calcium and dairy vits and things he is missing like lactose free cheese products, peanuts etc.,and some of the greener items food processed into his spaghetti. But now he hasn’t eaten meat in months, either. He says meat grosses him out lately. He is experiencing a slight depression because of issues with his father, and is being seen by a pediatrician and a counselor and a psychiatrist. However, no one has addressed diet yet and I’m beginning to wonder if a lot of his physical issues have to do with his diet. He has leg pains and bone pains and stomach issues like stress induced GERD…and is very very sensitive. If I can’t hide it in his food-he won;t eat it. Threats and all! Now he is even suspicious of what i cook because he has busted me processing fresh spinach into his sauce. He has bad bone and leg pains, which I am wondering if this is due to his diet. Any ideas for simple vegetarian kid food?

    • Koren October 3, 2013 at 5:01 am #

      Hi Cathy, thanks for reaching out to us. Sounds like you’re having a tough time of it there.

      Perhaps you could check out Stacey’s blog Veggie Mama, which has lots of good kid-friendly recipes. If you’re open to alternative medicines, you could also try speaking to a naturopath or kinesiologist to see if there’s something else going on there. Our Mum had a lot of success taking Alana to a naturopath when she was sick as a little girl. Alana wrote a little about it over here if you’re interested.

      The other thing that might be worth a try (if you haven’t already), is to sit down and have a talk with him about his aversion to meat. Tell him that it’s okay but explain that the body needs fuel just like a car and if we’re not giving it meat, we have to give it other things like cheese, nuts, legumes etc. Maybe see if you can set up a game where he tries a new thing each week or something like that?

      Good luck, Cathy. Good on you for being such a good Mum and for exploring all options! xx


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