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You may have heard that stress, lack of sun exposure and insufficient vitamin D can cause low mood. But did you know that inadequate protein in your diet can also pose a risk for developing depressive symptoms?

While people often associate protein with muscle building and repair, it also directly influences cognitive functioning and a healthy mood. Protein is made up of amino acids, which have many important roles in our body, says Marilia Pereira, a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Culinary Nutrition Expert.  A deficiency in amino acids can adversely affect the immune system and mental health, potentially leading to low mood and aggression.

Protein deficiency signs to look out for

The most obvious sign of protein deficiency is lack of energy. If you are experiencing chronic fatigue, weakness, and difficulty making it through the day, that could be the first indication of a lack of protein in the diet, says Pereira.

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Other major signs include consistent low mood, feelings of depression, lack of motivation, not feeling socially engaged, or loss of interest in participating in activities. Some people may also notice physical signs like muscle atrophy, especially if they work out frequently but don’t see a difference in their muscle mass, she adds.

Important considerations on protein intake

Sufficient protein intake is highly individualized based on lifestyle, health, age, height, and weight, says Pereira. And while you might consume a high-protein diet, your body’s ability to absorb and utilize nutrition varies. Pereira calls this ‘digestive power.’

To increase your digestive power, prioritize quality foods for optimal protein intake. Highly processed protein sources lack nutrition. Second, consider your gut health. You need to have a healthy microbiome – good gut health – for the nutrition to be utilized and thrive, says Pereira.

“If there’s lots of inflammation, if there’s lots of toxins, if there’s lots of bad bacteria in our gut, that can all impair digestion of protein foods and overall nutrition,” she says. Some symptoms of digestive imbalances include constant gas or bloating, burping and heartburn, and discomfort after eating protein-rich foods. Working with a holistic nutritionist can help restore an unhappy.

Simple ways to get more protein in your diet

If you have balanced gut health but suspect you may need to add more protein into your diet, prioritize foods rich in amino acids. These include beef, poultry, fish, and pasture-raised eggs. Vegan sources of protein encompass legumes, pseudo-grains like quinoa, organic non-GMO tempeh, nuts, and seeds.

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For those following a strict plant-based diet, vegetables combined with legumes are essential for adequate protein intake, says Pereira. Vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and peas contain higher amounts of vegetable protein. “Because plant-based foods have incomplete protein profiles in terms of their amino acids, whereas animal-based foods have a complete amino acid profile,” folks on a plant-based diet need a lot more food intake in general to get to those protein amounts, she says. Quinoa is the only exception because it has the full eight amino essential nutrients in it.

For the person who has a busy lifestyle, protein smoothies, bone broths to sip on, and collagen-infused coffees and elixirs are easy ways to sneak in 30 to 40 grams of protein, along with snacks like nuts and seeds and your main meals, she says.

 

With just one-third cup of these sea-salted, dry-roasted pumpkin seeds, you’ll easily add an extra 13 grams of protein to your day. Low in sodium, rich in fiber, and a good source of iron and zinc, keep a pack in your bag for convenient on-the-go protein.

 

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Like a little bit of kick? There’s a spicy tamari flavour, too.

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If you’re going to reach for a bag of chips anyway, why not make it a high-protein snack? These incredible chips offer a whopping 20 grams of protein per bag. Plus they come in four finger-lickin’ flavours: chili-lime, ranch, spicy sweet chili and nacho.

 

The beauty of this premium collagen powder, sustainably sourced from wild-caught cod, pollock and haddock in the North Atlantic, is that it’s tasteless – so you can easily add it to your favourite smoothies, coffee, tea and your cooking! Offering 9 grams of protein for every 10 grams serving.

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Choosing a quality bone broth is essential to reap the most nutritional benefits, while decreasing the consumption of toxins. This premium bone broth made with the finest grass-fed New Zealand beef bones is hormone-free, antibiotic-free and preservative-free. Simply stir 1 teaspoon of the concentrate into 100ml of hot water for a warm nourishing beverage or incorporate it into your favourite dishes as a flavour enhancer.

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