We are all familiar with the term “protein.” Most people know that adequate protein intake is important for building muscle, but did you know that proteins are found in most every body tissue? They are responsible for most of the work in cells and they are necessary for the structure, function and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs. Our protein needs go far beyond making up muscle (although that is very important too!). The structure of your bones, organs, tendons, ligaments, skin, and nails are all made from proteins. Hormones are made from amino acids and transported on proteins. Antibodies that help us fight off illness are made from proteins. The enzymes that control our metabolism and the neurotransmitters that are responsible for thought, movement, mood, and sleep, are all made from proteins/amino acids. In other words, protein is a big deal.
Proteins are bigger molecules made from smaller building blocks called amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that can be combined to make proteins. Nine of these amino acids are what are referred to as essential, meaning that the body cannot make them on its own, but needs to get them from the diet. The nine essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
Not to further complicate things, but some of the non-essential amino acids that our body can usually make can be what are considered conditionally essential. This means that these amino acids can become essential only under specific circumstances such as illness or stress. For example, although arginine is considered non-essential, your body can’t make enough to meet demands when fighting certain diseases so during that time, you would need to get it through your diet to keep up with the high demand.
Foods rich in protein include animal products like meats, fish, collagen, eggs, yogurt, cheeses as well as plant based products like tofu/soy, algae, lentils, peas, beans, nuts and seeds.
What are your favorite ways to get your protein?