Why do you need it?

You need protein for growth and repair and it’s especially important for children’s muscles and bones when they are developing. Protein helps you fight off infections and illnesses and you need it for producing enzymes and hormones as well as maintaining healthy skin, hair and nails. Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. You can make some of them in your body but there are nine ‘essential’ amino acids that you must get from food because your body can’t make them. This is another reason why a varied diet is so important. 


Symptoms of deficiency include low energy levels, fatigue, poor concentration and trouble learning. Deficiency can affect skin and hair, it can weaken your immune system leading to increased infections and lead to muscle and bone loss and stunted growth. Kwashiorkor is a disease caused by protein deficiency. Symptoms include a badly swollen abdomen. Kwashiorkor is mostly seen in low-income and middle-income nations and regions because people may not get enough protein in their diet.

How much do you need?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that protein should make up 10 to 15 per cent of your energy intake or total daily calories. For most adults, that means around 45 to 55 grams a day, but if you are bigger or smaller than average, another widely accepted way of working it out is to aim for 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight per day. See the drop-down table below for more details.  Children, teenagers and breastfeeding women need a bit extra, but it’s not difficult, simply make sure you include good protein sources in your daily diet, alongside healthy carbohydrates and fats.

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Safe levels of protein intake for infants, children, adolescents and adults

Age (years)
































Safe level of protein intake for adults
Body weight (kg) (g/day)
Source: FAO/WHO. 2007. Protein and amino acid requirements in human nutrition. World Health Organisation technical report series 935. 1-265. 

Where to find protein

The best sources of plant protein include pulses (peas, beans and lentils), nuts and seeds. Each day, try to include two to three servings of pulses and snack on nuts and seeds. All plant foods contain some protein, so wholegrain foods and vegetables in your daily diet will further boost your protein intake. In Uganda, many vegan foods provide a good source of protein:

  • Pulses: Peas, beans and lentils are a rich source of protein. Popular varieties include yellow, green and split peas, red kidney beans, black beans, mung beans, cowpeas (black-eyed peas) and red ‘masoor’ lentils. They are a versatile staple in Uganda and are used in curries, soups, stews, salads or simply boiled and served as a side dish. A cup (200 grams) of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein. 
  • Soya products: While not yet widely available in Uganda, soya beans and soya products, like tofu, tempeh and soya milk, are a rich source of protein and are available in some markets and health food stores.
  • Nuts and seeds: Widely grown in Uganda, peanuts are a great source of protein. They can be roasted and eaten as a snack or used in sauces and spreads. A handful (28 grams) of peanuts contains 7.3 grams of protein. Almonds, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame (simsim) seeds are also excellent sources of protein and can be eaten as snacks or used savoury and sweet dishes.
  • Wholegrains: Many people are surprised to learn that wholegrains can be a significant source of protein. They not only have more fibre than refined grains (like white bread and white rice), but they also contain more protein. 
    • Amaranth: technically a seed but often used as a grain, amaranth is a great source of protein compared to traditional cereals. One cup (246 grams) of cooked grains contains 9.4 grams of protein.
    • Maize is a Ugandan staple and can be boiled or roasted or used to make a type of stiff porridge called posho or ugali.
    • Millet is also used to make a thick porridge known as kalo or bushera. 
    • Sorghum (similar to millet) is used in porridge and fermented beverages like Malwa. 
    • Rice is widely consumed in Uganda and is often served as a side dish with stews and sauces or used to make pilau rice or biryani. Choose brown rice over white. One cup (195 grams) of cooked brown rice contains 5.3 grams of protein.
    • Wheat is not traditionally grown in Uganda, but wheat-based products like bread and chapati (unleavened flatbread) are increasingly eaten in urban areas. 
    • Quinoa is not native to Uganda but is becoming more available in larger supermarkets and health food stores. It contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a valuable addition to a vegan diet. One cup (185 grams) of cooked grains contains 8.1 grams of protein.