Protein is an important nutrient for everyone, not just athletes and body builders. That doesn’t mean you need to start drinking protein shakes every day. Most people can get the protein that they need from a healthy and balanced diet. Here’s why protein is important, how much protein you need each day, and some great protein-rich foods.
What is protein?
Protein is one of three primary macronutrients (the others being carbohydrate and fat). Macronutrients are the chemical compounds that humans ingest the most of, and which provide us with most of our energy. Proteins consist of amino acids, and are the most commonly found molecules in cells.
Our bodies can produce most of the amino acids we need to stay healthy, but there are nine amino acids that we cannot produce, and must consume through diet. The nine amino acids that our body cannot produce are called essential amino acids.
Why is protein important?
Humans can’t survive without all nine essential amino acids. Protein is essential to building bones,and body tissues, such as muscles, but protein does much more than that. Protein participates in practically every process of a cell. It plays a part in metabolic reactions, immune response, protein provides a source of energy, assists in cellular repair, form blood cells, and more.
How much protein do you need?
Protein provides the same energy density as carbohydrates. However, the body does not store proteins in the same way it stores carbohydrates and fats. This means that you need to consume protein everyday. There are differing opinions about just how much protein you need each day, however. This is due in part to the number of things that affect how much protein your body needs.
The amount of energy your body uses, your age, sex, body weight, activity levels, health conditions, and a number of other factors influence how much protein you need. This makes it difficult to try and establish an exact number for how much protein someone should consume on a daily basis.
You can calculate how much protein you need each day with this interactive Dietary Reference Intakes calculator from the USDA.
If you’re an athlete, or you do strengthening exercise every day, you may need more protein than the average recommendation.
What are the best sources of protein?
Many people look to supplements to increase the amount of protein they consume, but most people can get the protein they need each day from foods. The foods you eat also provide other essential nutrients.
Both plants and animals provide good sources of protein. It’s important to be aware, however, that while many plants provide protein, most do not provide all of the essential amino acids. According to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, quinoa, and soybeans are all source of complete protein – which means they provide all nine essential amino acids.
Many different foods that come from plants – including fruits, legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains, cereals – provide protein. However, since plant proteins are not complete proteins, it’s important to know which amino acids these foods provide, especially if you do not eat meat or dairy. You must make a point to eat a variety of plant protein to ensure that you get all of the essential amino acids.
As a rule of thumb, if you get half your protein from animal sources, those complete proteins mean you can get the rest of your protein from plant sources without worrying about how complete those plant proteins are. Plant protein is lower in saturated fats than animal protein, so there’s a health advantage to increasing the proportion of plant sources.
It’s necessary to eat a variety of foods even if you eat foods delivering complete protein. While protein is an important nutrient, there are many nutrients that are equally important to maintaining good health. A healthy diet is crucial to maintaining good health, and so is regular communication with your primary care physician. Schedule an appointment with a MANA physician today!