Hello everyone! Nowadays there seems to be so much discussion and debate about carbohydrates that many people forget about other nutrients. One of them is protein and today I’m going to discuss the general functions of protein.
Why Is Protein So Important?
Protein is part of every cell and helps keep the body together structurally. It’s critical for good health and helps keep skin, hair, and nails healthy. It also aids in providing antibodies to fight infection, maintaining water balance, transporting nutrients, and muscle repair.
Building Blocks of Protein
Amino acids are the basic building blocks of protein and proteins are amino acids linked together. There are 20 different amino acids available in the body. Nine of them are called essential amino acids because your body doesn’t produce them. These must be obtained from your diet. Your body can produce the remaining 11 and these are called nonessential amino acids.
Functions of Body Proteins
Your body contains thousands of different proteins and they function as either structural or motor proteins. The purposes of both these types of proteins vary and include acting as enzymes, hormones, antibodies and maintaining fluid balance. Structural proteins provide structure to all cells including hair, skin, and nails. Motor proteins turn energy into work. For example, if you ride a bike you’re using stored food energy to power muscles in your body.
Enzymes are proteins that initiate chemical reactions and aren’t destroyed in the process. All cells contain thousands of enzymes and each has a unique purpose.
Many hormones are proteins that have regulatory functions within the body. For example, insulin is a protein hormone that plays a key role in managing the amount of glucose in the blood.
Proteins play an important role in the immune system which is responsible for fighting infection. Antibodies are blood proteins that attack and destroy bacteria and viruses. If your diet doesn’t contain enough protein your body can’t produce the necessary antibodies it needs. This in turn will lead to your immune system being weakened.
Proteins in the blood help maintain proper fluid levels in your circulatory system. When your heart beats it pushes fluid and nutrients from the capillaries into surrounding cells. However, proteins such as albumin and globulin are too large to leave capillaries. These proteins attract fluid into the capillaries and provide balance by keeping fluid in your blood stream.
Source of Energy
When completely metabolized in the body, protein provides 4 kilocalories of energy per gram. Your body prefers to burn carbohydrates and fats for energy. However, if necessary it can use protein for energy to make glucose. If your diet doesn’t provide enough energy to sustain vital functions, your body will sacrifice protein for energy to survive.
Physical stress can increase the body’s need for protein. Infections, burns, and surgery all induce protein loss. A severe infection can increase protein demand by up to 1/3. Severe burns can increase protein requirements by 2-3 times or possibly more. Intense weight training increases protein need much less than most people think. The typical American diet supplies adequate protein for most people, even bodybuilders.
Animal foods usually provide complete protein. Another words, they provide all the essential amino acids in about the right proportions. Some examples would be red meats, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, and milk products. Most Americans on average get about 63% of their protein from animal foods. Although, in other parts of the world animal protein plays a smaller role.
Incomplete And Complementary Proteins
Except for soy protein, the protein in plant foods is incomplete. What I mean by that is, it lacks one or more essential amino acids. It also doesn’t match your body’s amino acid needs as closely as animal foods.
Even though the protein in one plant food might lack some amino acids, the protein in another plant food might be what we call a complementary protein. This means it completes the amino acid chain from the first protein. Some examples of plant proteins are grains, grain products, legumes, lentils, dried beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, starchy vegetables, and nuts.
How Much Protein Should I Eat?
The average daily intake of protein for adults ages 19-30 ranges from about 70-110 grams. For older adults it decreases to about 50-85 grams. The consumption of protein as a percentage of calories ranges from about 13% in children to about 16% in adults. Based on average intake data, Americans are usually eating within the recommended range which is 10%-35% of calories from protein.
Whether you eat 10%, 35%, or somewhere in the middle is dependent on your dietary goals. However, 10% is the minimum you should consume to maintain good health. Unfortunately, I don’t have data on countries outside the United States. You also don’t want to exceed the recommended range because excess protein can cause kidney and other health problems.
There is no major nutrient more important than another when it comes to your diet. Whether it’s protein, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals, or water they all have a purpose and fit together like a puzzle. Thus, protein is an important piece of the puzzle and shouldn’t be overlooked. If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them as I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day!