Proteins: All You Need To Know               

Proteins are macronutrients that form most soft tissue body structures from cells that make up the brain, muscle tone, digestive track to skin, hair and nails. Proteins are necessary for a healthy diet as they are necessary for growth and the rebuiding necessitated by wear and tear.

Very few diets target protein for elimination from meals and this is good news as removing this essential item from the menu can come with severe health implications. Let’s take a closer look at protein and health why they are so crucial.

Composition of Protein and Health Effects

The building blocks of proteins are amino acids that are mainly made up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen plus some other trace elements in the different types. Amino acids are divided into two major groups which are the essential and non-essential amino acids though a new group called conditional amino acids has emerged.

Non-essential amino acids can be synthesized by the body while essential amino acids are derived from the diet. Conditional amino acids are those needed during cases where deficiency is created through illness or injury. Amino acids are made up of histidine isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine alanine, asparagine and aspartic acid.


Functions of Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids

Proteins play a variety of roles in the body and this includes cell growth and division, rebuilding damaged tissues and muscles, hormone production and regulation, providing substances involved in immune health and essential functions like antibodies and enzymes, maintaining structures and transportation and storage of bodily compounds. In a nutshell, every cell in the body has protein as a building block.

Experts and dieticians have come up with various methods to measure the efficiency of absorption and utilization of the different protein types in the body and these include Biological Value (BV), Protein Efficiency Value (PEV), Bioavailability Score and Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCCA). These markers can guide on which protein types are most necessary depending on an individual’s needs as some might have trouble digesting some types.

Sources of Amino Acids

There are many sources of proteins and these can be broadly categorized as animal-based and plant-based. Animal-based protein can be attained from fish, beef, pork, mutton, wild game, fish and sea life like shellfish and poultry like chicken and turkey and eggs.

Plant-based proteins can be found in legumes and pulses like clover, fresh peas, lupins, mesquite, soy and peanuts peas, edible beans, lentils and chickpeas. It is important to note that animal-based proteins generally contain all the amino acids while plant-based might lack some. The best choices for animal-based should be lean cuts and if possible grass-fed for meat and wild-caught fish to reduce exposure to chemicals and unhealthy fats.

Advice on protein and health

Protein is an irreplaceable part of the diet and should be eaten daily. With so many sources this should not be a problem but vegans and vegetarians are at risk of missing out on some essential amino acids. They can guard against this by mixing the right plant-based sources to ensure they meet minimum requirements.