Proteins are organic compounds made up of building blocks called “amino acids.” There are about 20 common amino acids. Nine of them are considered “essential” because the body cannot make them, and therefore, they must be supplied by the food we eat.
Complete and Incomplete
Foods that contain all of the essential amino acids are called “complete proteins.” These complete protein foods are generally animal foods. Plant foods do not, as a rule, have complete proteins, but by eating combinations of plant foods, called “complementary proteins, ” you can obtain a complete protein.
Another way to describe protein is to say that you are mostly protein! If you take away the fat in your body and the water in your body, what is left--your bones and muscles and tissues and hair and skin and fingernails and toenails and hormones and enzymes are mostly protein. Wow! When you think of it like that, you can see how important it is to eat healthy protein.
It's usually the main course
When we talk about protein in our diets, we are mostly talking about meat, eggs and dairy products. Another way of saying this is, generally, most of the protein in our meals comes from the main course.
Steak… Hamburger… Roast Beef… Pork chops… Ham… Bacon… Sausage… Hot dogs… Lamb chops… Chicken… Turkey… Duck… Capon… Fish… Shrimp… Lobster… Crab… Scallops… Venison… Omelets… Egg Salad…
Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt are also excellent sources of healthy protein.
In addition, there are some plant foods that are good sources of healthy protein. These are the legumes, grains, some vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Lentils… Split peas… Kidney beans… Pinto beans… Black beans… Soybeans… Garbanzo beans… Navy beans… Peanuts… Peanut Butter… Rice… Wheat…. Barley… Oats… Peas… Kale… Okra… Walnuts… Brazil Nuts… Almonds… Pumpkin Seeds… Sesame Seeds….
While most foods have some protein, those listed above are significant sources.
Why you need this nutrient
Protein has a number of functions in the body. The one that most people know about is thatprotein is the building material for our skin, bones, muscles and other tissues in the body. Whenever there is any damage to any of our tissues, either due to normal wear and tear, or to injury, protein is necessary to rebuild that tissue. To be healthy, eating protein is also necessary to build brand new tissue, which makes it very important to children and pregnant women.
In addition, protein is a major component of enzymes, antibodies, and hormones.These are chemicals that play a major role in many processes in the body that, among other things, digest your food, fight disease and allow you to enjoy a healthy sex life.
Proteins also function as regulators of fluid balance and acid-base balance, which help keep you from swelling up, drying up, and/or becoming toxic, any of which could be life-threatening. Protein is also involved in the clotting of blood, which keeps all your blood from leaking out when you cut yourself.
Proteins also act as transporters in the body, carrying important nutrients. These nutrients can get on the protein “bus” and travel to places in the body where they are needed. For example, hemoglobin, a protein in the blood, carries the oxygen from your lungs to your cells.
Finally, protein can be used by your body for energy. Needless to say, this is not the best use of protein, since it has so many uniquely important functions, as listed above, but absent another source, your body can convert protein to energy.