Proteins are so important to our body because they are involved in nearly every body process and provide the structure for all living things. Proteins are composed of amino acids, often referred to as the "buliding blocks" of protein. Although there are many amino acids that our body uses, our liver actually is able to construct most of them from the essential amino acids, or the ones that our bodies cannot produce, and therefore must be obtained from food. These essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Protein foods that contain all of the essential amino acids are called complete proteins and include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, cheese, and soy. Incomplete proteins, or proteins that do not include all of the essential amino acids, can be combined to offer complete protein. An example of this would be eating a legume and a whole grain, such as beans with brown rice.
Once the body has the amino acids it needs, it constructs about 50,000 different protein molecules and around 20,000 enzymes. These proteins are required to form muscle, ligaments, tendons, organs, glands, hair, skin, nails, and most body fluids. Proteins are essential for bone growth. In addition to enzymes, which are catalysts for many body processes, proteins also compose hormones and genes. Antibodies, which are vital to immune function, are also formed from proteins. The brain's processes of sending and recieving messages require protein. Proteins act as transporters for lipids, vitamins, minerals, and even oxygen, since hemoglobin is a protein. Protein also helps to regulate your body's acid/alkaline balance. It provides the only food source of nitrogen, which our bodies use to assimilate various protein compounds.
Not only are proteins required for construction of body tissues, they are also necessary for tissue maintenance. Our bodies are constantly replacing old cells and building up existing ones. For instance, every day we all make micro tears in our muscle as we move about and/or participate in fitness training. This is normal and good, as our bodies then use proteins to build those tissues stronger for the next time we call upon their use.
You may have heard that most people get more protein from their diet than they really need. This may or may not be true for you, as an individual. The key, however, is to getting the right kinds of protein in the right amount. We must obtain from food the essential amino acids, each in sufficient amounts, for our body to utilize them. If our diet is low in one, we may be inhibited from making several protein compounds, or our body may be forced to take protein from one tissue to meet a need somewhere else. However, on the other extreme, too much protein in the diet can also be unhealthy.
So, how much protein do you really need per day? There is no hard and fast rule, because protein requirements vary from person to person depending on factors such as level of activity, age, gender, special health needs, etc. According to the Harvard School of Public Health's website, the Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day. They go on to say that "In healthy people, increasing protein intake to 20 to 25 percent of calories can reduce the risk of heart disease, if the extra protein replaces refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, or sugary drinks. If you are trying to lose weight, it is important as you cut calories to make sure you have sufficient protein. Since I am not a nutritionist, and each person's protein requirements vary, it would be advisable to consult your health care provider regarding your specific needs.
If you are seeking to add more protein to your diet, stop in and ask us about our many protein supplements, including Spiru-tein, whey protein, egg white protein, pea protein, soy protein, and several others, as well as our new delicious Organic Valley protein shakes!
Special thanks to the Meadowbrook team for the help in writing this article!
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