from the Greek protas meaning “ of primary importance”
Protein is an essential component of a healthy diet, a very important macronutrient needed in order for the body to function properly. Proteins are essential to the structure and function of all living cells. In the United States, protein deficiency is not common but does happen under certain circumstances; people who are dieting to lose weight, people with poor nutrition, and people recovering from surgery, trauma or illness. It is important for everyone to eat a diet that provides all the essential amino acids.
Protein’s Many Functions in the body:
Protein is involved whenever the body is growing, repairing or replacing. Protein may either facilitate or regulate functions in the body; or it may actually become part of the structure itself. The roles that protein plays are very versatile.
Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein. There are about 20 amino acids but the liver cannot synthesize all 20. Protein in the diet is necessary to provide those that cannot be synthesized. These particular amino acids are known as essential, of which there are 9 in humans (tryptophan, lysine, methionine, valine, leucine, isoleucine, phenylalanine, threonine, and histidine). A protein containing all of the essential amino acids in proportions similar to what the body needs is called a Complete Protein. An Incomplete Protein is missing or low in one or more of the essential amino acids. The liver synthesizes the nonessential amino acids.
Proteins are found in both animal and vegetable sources of foods. Most plant-based foods contain protein but these are usually incomplete, that is, they do not contain all of the essential amino acids. People on a vegetarian diet can make up for this by eating a variety of vegetable groups that complement each other in their basic amino acid profiles, providing the body with an adequate amount of all the essential amino acids. Vegetarians can receive all the amino acids they need over the course of a day if they eat a variety of vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. A deficiency will occur when fruits and certain vegetables make up the core of the diet, severely limiting the quantity and quality of protein. Generally, proteins acquired from animals (meat, eggs, fish, poultry, cheese, and milk) are complete proteins. Proteins from plants - (vegetables, legumes, and grains have different forms and can be limiting in one or more essential amino acids. Soy and quinoa are among the few vegetarian foods that are considered sources of complete proteins.
To ensure you are getting a good variety of amino acids in your diet, add protein-rich foods to meals and snacks as often as possible. Add nut butters; add nuts or seeds to salads or vegetable dishes. Any combination of grains and legumes is a great example of creating a complete protein.
The body is unable to store excess protein, so excess amounts are broken down and converted to sugars or fatty acids and stored as fat. High-protein intake can also stress the kidneys as the body works to break down the extra protein and remove the byproducts. Foods that are high in protein (such as red meat) often are high in saturated fat, so excess protein may also contribute to increased saturated fat intake.
How much protein you actually need in your daily diet is mainly determined by your ideal body size, .8g protein per kg of body weight, as well as by your body’s need for nitrogen and essential amino acids. How active you are and an enhanced muscular mass may increase your need for protein. The times in your life that requirements are greater include: childhood for growth and development; pregnancy; and when your body needs to recover from trauma, such as an operation.
Protein Sources and examples:
High sources of vegetable protein:
• Legumes – lentils, aduki, soybeans
• Nuts and Seeds – almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds (eat in moderation)
• Kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, parsley, carrots, cabbages
High sources of protein (Micro-algae, Seaweeds)
• Seaweeds – kelp, dulse, kombu, nori, wakame
• Micro-algae – spirulina, chlorella, Wild blue-green
High sources of protein (grains)
• Rice, millet, buckwheat, oats, spelt, amaranth, quinoa
High sources of protein (animal products)
• Dairy – milk, yogurt, cheese (cottage cheese)
• Meat and poultry
High sources of protein (fermented)
• Miso, tempeh, tofu, nut or seed yogurt
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Janeen Goldsmith is a Certified Nutrition Therapist who specializes in working with people who have MS or other autoimmune conditions and who are seeking additional health support along with traditional therapies. Her practice is based on the principle that because everyone is different, each person’s nutrition program should specifically fit his or her lifestyle and preferences. Janeen’s goal is to help people eat better to feel better. She meets with individual clients in person, email and/or by phone. She also shares her knowledge through public speaking and teaching cooking skills to local Colorado residents.
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