Protein is an essential part of everyone’s diet. Most of us are raised with parents who tell us to eat meat and drink lots of milk, because we’ll grow up big and strong.
But what exactly is a protein?
Let’s break it down. The digestive acids in our stomach “break down” (no pun intended) the protein consumed when we eat into units called amino acids. These are restructured in unique sequences throughout the body to make the proteins necessary to keep you going. Protein is a “macronutrient.” This means the human body needs plenty of it; protein keeps your immune system healthy, repairs tissue, and grows nails and hair.
There are 22 amino acids that scientists agree are essential to human health. Out of these 22, the human body produces 13 of them without additional intake. We receive the other 9 essential amino acids by ingesting protein-rich foods.
Types of Proteins
Different foods provide different types of protein – such as animal, dairy, and plant.
Here’s a brief list of the proteins provided by various foods:
Meat, fish, and poultry: Collagen and myosin
Beans: Proteins and legumins
Eggs: ovalbumin and avidin
Animal-derived proteins are considered complete because they contain all of the essential amino acids, while plant-based proteins are missing a few. Vegetarians can still find the remaining amino acids by eating a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods.
Are you getting enough protein?
The amount of protein you should eat depends on age, sex, and exercise levels. Most healthy adults consume enough protein without calculating it, but vegetarians and vegans need to be aware that they eat enough protein.
Don’t be fooled: extra protein doesn’t give you extra strength.
Be aware of sodium levels in packaged meats. Plus, additional fats will count against healthy eating if you eat too much protein.
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