Why are proteins important? Proteins play an essential role in the body. They help grow and repair tissues, produce hormones and enzymes, and help sustain healthy bones and muscles. Your body also needs protein for healthy nails, hair, skin and blood. Protein has been labeled a “macronutrient” due to its extensive use in the body. At the same time, this nutrient isn’t stored in the body like carbohydrates and fats. Food is one of the most important sources of protein for your body. Healthy foods that are rich in protein can help sustain your health and well-being.
Proteins are comprised of amino acids, small molecules that are linked to one another in the body. These amino acids make up protein chains through the process of protein synthesis. These protein chains eventually fold into 3-dimensional shapes which prepares them for the job they’re supposed to do in the body. Protein folding describes the process wherein a protein chain assumes its designated shape to perform its designated function.
Why is protein synthesis important? The proteins manufactured during the protein synthesis process are used to control cell activity throughout the body. Insufficient protein production could result in the malfunction or failure of certain body processes. Proteins help to regulate body metabolism, replicate DNA, transport oxygen throughout the body, break down food for absorption and more. Because proteins have a limited lifespan, they must be constantly replenished within the body or absorbed from foods in your diet. A protein deficiency could have an adverse effect on body growth, healing and reproduction.
Role of Amino Acids
Some amino acids are produced within your body; others come from the food that you eat. Essential amino acids are those that come from your diet. Quality protein, much of which comes from animal sources, provides the body with the proper ratio of essential amino acids required for normal body functions.
Protein that comes from food is broken down into smaller chains of amino acids to form a peptide or amide bond. These peptides are circulated by the blood to various parts of the body where they will produce more proteins or be used for fuel. The average body contains anywhere between 30,000 to 50,000 proteins, each with its own distinct gene within a person’s DNA.
“How much protein do I need?” you may ask. That’s the million dollar question. Many people believe that eating extra protein will give them stronger, bulkier muscles. The truth is that protein in itself doesn’t build strong muscles or increase strength. Protein rich foods combined with regular exercise produces a stronger, more robust physique. However, protein is an important nutrient that shouldn’t be underestimated in your diet. People who misjudge protein importance in their diet may find themselves suffering from any number of health problems, as protein literally controls just about every function of your body.
In the U.S., adults are encouraged to obtain between 10-35% of daily calorie intake from foods rich in protein. For the average woman, that would mean getting approximately 46 grams of protein daily while men could get by on 56 grams of daily protein intake. People vary, however, in the amounts of protein they need, depending on their age, physical condition and lifestyle. The following groups may require more protein due to having unique protein needs.
Pregnant or nursing women: Lauren Antonucci, Director of Nutrition Energy, New York City, believes that pregnant women should up their level of protein by 10 grams due to their condition. For nursing women, she advocates, “20 grams more protein a day than they did before pregnancy to support milk production.” By getting protein from low-fat dairy products, pregnant women and their babies can also benefit from the calcium and Vitamin D input these foods provide.
Dieters: Why is protein important for dieters? A high protein diet can help you shed fat faster to lose those extra pounds. Protein foods help curb hunger which helps you cut back on large portions and fattening snacks. By keeping a record on calorie intake and serving reasonable food portion sizes, you stand a greater chance of reaching your weight loss goals.
Athletes: People who partake of sports, body building or other activities involving muscle breakdown and repair require more protein to help compensate the body. Protein needs can be influenced by the intensity, frequency and length of an athlete’s physical activities. In some cases, endurance athletes and body builders may require double the amount of protein as their sedentary counterpart.
Vegetarians and vegans: Vegetarians and vegans may find it a challenge to get sufficient protein in their diet due to their abstention from meats. This requires that they obtain protein from vegetables, dairy products, legumes and whole grains. Vegans who adhere to a very strict diet may need protein supplements to reach their protein requirements.
Although proteins can be obtained through various sources, people should focus on quality proteins to maximize their health. When it comes to dieting, the quality of your proteins can help determine the success of your weight loss program. Processed meats to include sausages, hot dogs and some deli meats should be avoided as much as possible due to unhealthy properties that counter their usefulness as a protein provider. In contrast, the following foods are excellent sources for quality proteins that promote weight loss and a healthy body.
- Fish: Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are good for your heart and overall health. Fish also contains less fat, making it more conducive for people trying to lose weight.
- Poultry: To get rid of saturated fat in poultry, it’s best to remove the skin before cooking. Grilled poultry is also less fattening than that which is fried.
- Legumes: Legumes, which include red and black beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas and garbanzo beans, are loaded with protein, fiber and many other vitamins that can improve your health and fitness.
- Nuts: Nuts are an extremely healthy food rich in protein and antioxidants. In fact, an ounce of almonds contains roughly 6 gr of protein, almost the equivalent of the amount of protein found in a grilled rib-eye steak.
- Whole grains: Whole grains contain both protein and fiber; one whole wheat bread slice can provide you with as much as 3 gr of protein along with healthy fiber.
By being selective in the protein foods you choose, you can fully benefit from their nutritional value. People who recognize the importance of protein will make protein rich foods an integral part of their diet.