What is protein?
Protein is one of the three macronutrients (the others are carbohydrate and fat) that provides our bodies with energy and is a building block for healthy muscles, skin, hair, and nails. Protein also plays an important role in enzymes, hormones, regulating fluid balance and your body's pH balance.
When you break down protein into its smallest form it is made up of peptide bonds and amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids. They are categorized into 3 groups: essential, nonessential, and conditionally essential. The effects of the different amino acids are still being studied in varying populations. Some amino acids are rumored to promote healing faster than others, while others might do better job at helping to maintain lean body mass. I'm looking forward to the new research to come!
Why is protein important?
Protein plays several roles in keeping our body in balance including giving our bodies structure- muscle, hair, skin, nails, bones,joints-catalyze chemical reactions, allow for muscle contractions, transport vitamins and minerals into cells, act as signals, protect the body from harm in the skin and in the immune system, regulate fluid balance, regulate pH and provide 4 Calories of energy per gram protein. Not having enough protein can lead to protein-calorie malnutrition. Malnutrition in adults looks like muscle wasting and overall weakness. It's seen most often in those who simply do not eat enough, those with GI malabsorption, cancer, infections, and severe injury (burns).
How much is enough?
A healthy person, generally needs somewhere between 46 g/ day (female) and 56 g/ day (male). Ask your dietitian for a more precise recommendation as this number can change based on age, height, weight, and medical condition.
Too much protein can cause too much strain on the kidneys as it works hard to remove the wastes produced by metabolizing protein. This can lead to irreversible kidney damage.
So where do I find protein in food?
Protein sources include animal sources such as meat, poultry, eggs fish, and shellfish. These are considered complete proteins because they contain all 9 of the essential amino acids. When choosing protein foods, go lean. Plants have protein too: beans, nuts, seeds, soy, and peas. However, plant proteins are generally classified as incomplete proteins because they do not contain all 9 essential amino acids. In order to create a complete protein, combine several plant based sources together. An example of a combined plant protein to be complete is black beans and whole grain rice. The missing amino acids from the black beans can be found in the rice. They complement each other to create a complete protein. These foods do not need to be eaten at the same time to be able to obtain all nine essential amino acids.One ounce of meat, poultry or fish, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds are considered to be 1 serving equivalent from the Protein Foods Group. Aim for approximately 3-4 servings of 2 oz protein portions per day. One cup (8 fl oz) of low-fat or skim milk contains 8 g of protein. As a general rule of thumb, 1 oz of meat contains 7 g of protein. If you were to eat only meat as your protein source, you would need 7-8 oz per day.