Some nutrients are structural elements in the body, while some are functional elements. Proteins are both structural and functional elements. There is no single cell in your body where you will not find proteins. Aside from being a major part of the cell structure, it participates in a vast array of metabolic processes. Since all the tissues and cells of your body contain protein, it is clear that protein is a very essential nutrient. It is a nutrient made up of amino acids. These amino acids are largely responsible for the growth, development, repair, and maintenance of these cells. Without them, there is no way you will remain in good health.
Protein supplies an average of ten to 15 percent of your dietary energy. It is the most abundant of all the compounds in your body, second only to water. Let’s give you a brief overview of how vital proteins are and how abundant they are in your body. Proteins account for about 43 percent of your muscle tissue, as well as about 15 percent of your skin. Even your blood is about 16 percent protein. These proteins are made of diverse amino acids. The unique structure and function of each protein are due to the amino acids in it and the arrangement of the aminos. There are 20 aminos in total that make human proteins. We will list them out for you later in their different groupings.
Protein: A Nutrient Made Up of Amino Acids
Proteins are nothing but a diverse combination of amino acids. What your body does when you eat protein is extract all the amino acids in it. The aminos give proteins their true nutritional value.
However, aminos acids are in 2 main groups. Some are essential while others are non-essential. The essential aminos are 9 in total. They are:
These essential aminos are the ones you must obtain in foods. You cannot make them by yourself. But then, the eleven others are non-essential because your body has internal mechanisms of making them. They include:
- Aspartic acid
- Glutamic acid
However, some non-essential aminos are conditionally essential. While they are non-essential on a normal day, they may become essential when you are ill or extremely stressed.
The measure of a protein food’s quality depends on what kinds of amino acids are present. Experts tell us that animal proteins have more biological values than plant proteins. The reason for this is that you are likely to find the same pattern of aminos in animals as you have in your human cells.
Plant foods, on the other hand, may contain different amino patterns from your human proteins. This is why experts call animal proteins first-class proteins, while they call plant proteins second-class proteins. As such, we know that all protein foods are not the same.
Different Types of Dietary Proteins
The uniqueness of proteins is seen in the different amino acid combinations in them. Their classifications vary by the essential aminos they provide. They are as follows:
1. Complete proteins
Complete proteins are those that contain enough of all 9 essential aminos. Lots of animal foods are complete proteins. They include meats, eggs, dairy products, seafood, and poultry. Soy is also a complete protein.
2. Incomplete proteins
These are protein foods that have either inadequate amounts of certain aminos or where certain aminos are missing. As such, the protein is not balanced. This is where most plant proteins belong. Examples include nuts, seeds, beans, peas, veggies, and grains.
3. Complementary proteins
This is when you combine more than one incomplete protein in your meal. You may either eat them in a single meal or the same day from different meals. These different foods will then compensate for one another’s lacking aminos.
For instance, grains are incomplete proteins because they don’t contain enough lysine. But legumes (nuts and beans) have enough lysine but lack enough methionine. So when you eat legumes and grains together (for instance, beans and rice or bread (whole wheat) and peanut butter), they become complete proteins.
In most of our diets, we combine different proteins so that they can complement one another. The aminos in one protein can compensate for any limitations in the other. The resulting mix gives us more biological value.
The amount of protein you should eat will often depend on the estimates of your dietary needs. An average adult will need about 0.6 to 0.75 grams of protein for each kg of body weight each day. This means that an average adult will need about 45 to 56g of protein daily.
Infants need more proteins for each kg of their body weight because they need lots of them for proper growth. Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers also need more protein.
Benefits of Proteins
1. Proteins supply calories (that is energy) for your body. One gram of protein will supply 4 calories to your body.
2. You can find protein in every cell of your body. Your body needs it for proper development and growth. Children need it more than adults. And among adults, pregnant women and adolescents need more protein.
3. Protein aids the building and repair of your cells and all body tissue.
4. This amazing nutrient is a very major component of your nails, skin, hair, bone, and muscles. It is also a vital component of your internal organs.
5. Your body fluids also contain vital proteins.
6. Lots of your body processes require proteins to proceed as they should. Examples of such processes include fluid balance, blood clotting, vision, hormone production, immune response, and enzyme production.
7. Many protein foods contain more than just protein. They also contain minerals and vitamins. You will find an abundance of B vitamins in those foods, as well as copper, choline, iron, vitamin D, selenium, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamin E.
Protein is an essential nutrient made up of amino acids. You may not get all aminos in single protein foods. But you must know how to combine complementary proteins in your daily meals.