Proteins are in many ways the nutritional backbones of our body. They help to construct our muscles and organs, after all. Furthermore, proteins are necessary for effective immune systems, healthy brains, hormone development, and other processes, too. You may already know that you can get protein from meats, dairy products, eggs, grains, and nuts, so a balanced diet often provides plenty of protein.
What are proteins made of? Amino acids. Amino acids are molecules that come in twenty-plus different varieties that combine to make different types of proteins. Amino acids are different from one another according to how the molecules within are configured, and help to determine the specific benefits given.
There are many different varieties of proteins…thousands, to be more precise. These different proteins have specific jobs that they perform within our bodies. Thankfully, our bodies do all of the hard work of selecting what proteins are needed and making them; we simply have to consume the right foods and substances to make that process possible. Even then, your body makes over half of the amino acids that you need, leaving you with only a handful to take in via your diet.
The Essential Amino Acids
The amino acids that we need to get through nutrition are called “essential” amino acids, since we have to consume them and can’t make them on our own. These amino acids include isoleucine, lysine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, histidine, leucine, methionine, threonine, and valine.
Wait a minute! How do we make sure that we get enough lysine, valine, or any of the other specific amino acids? Where is that information listed on food packaging?
Fortunately, you may not have to worry so much about the specifics, after all. Most protein sources, such as meat, eggs, or milk (and other dairy items) are known as complete sources of protein, because they carry all nine of the essential amino acids. However, plant proteins are not complete proteins, so vegetarians and vegans have to do a bit more work. While you can find any of the nine amino acids in some plant or another, you won’t find all nine in any one plant, so some planning is involved when you have a vegetarian or vegan diet.
How Does Protein Work?
Let’s talk a bit about what specific functions protein helps with in our bodies. Some of these functions are assisting with chemical reactions, transporting necessary substances, maintaining fluid balances, hormone production, helping with providing bodily structure and antibodies that give us immunity boosts.
Of course, protein has to get started by entering our mouths. While we often think of an activity like chewing as something we do to avoid choking on our food, it also is very important for promoting proper digestion. During the digestion process, hydrochloric acid and pepsinogen are released to help break down food.
Then, your pancreas releases trypsin, an enzyme that helps break down amino acids. This helps the amino acids to enter your blood stream and travel to where they are needed. They go to the appropriate areas of your body and are then used for some of the functions we talked about earlier.
Of course, proteins are also a source of energy. Along with carbohydrates and fat, they are responsible for the calories you consume. Protein in particular contributes four calories per gram consumed, and the USDA has said that people should get about 1/5, or 20% of their calories from protein specifically.
As much as 100 grams of protein may seem like a lot to get through your diet each day, but you would be surprised at how easy it can be. A serving of something like chicken or beef can have as much as thirty grams of protein in it, and a glass of milk can contribute about half of that amount, too. Protein tends to be something that many people get enough of without even thinking about it.
However, this isn’t always the case in underdeveloped countries, where protein sources can be hard to come by. When children and adults alike suffer from a lack of protein, they may look strange because they have very skinny limbs but disproportionately large stomachs. Not getting enough protein is a serious thing though, as it can lead to stunted growth, loss of muscle, weakened immune systems, lung and heart failures, or even death. Therefore, it’s worth saying that you should make sure you are getting the recommended amount of protein in your diet each day, especially if you are a vegetarian or vegan and have to make a special effort to do so.
|The information presented is not intended to, and does not in anyway, constitute or replace a medical advice, and it should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem. The information is provided for educational purposes only, and is based upon the authors’ personal experiences or point of view. If you think you have a health problem, please consult a qualified medical professional..|