The Role of Protein

The body needs many things to survive and to function at peak performance. One of the most important of these is protein. Protein is a macronutrient; this means that our bodies need quite a bit of it, as opposed to micronutrients like vitamins, which are not needed in large quantities.

Protein is a part of every cell in the body, and is used to perform many vital tasks, such as the creation of enzymes and hormones, and the building of tissue. Our bones, muscles, skin, and blood are all created using protein. Proteins are made up of amino acids, some of which our bodies are incapable of producing; we must provide these to our bodies through our diet. Unlike fat or carbohydrates, the body does not retain stores of protein, so we much continually replace it.

How Much Protein Do We Need?

The amount of protein recommended daily ranges from 10-35%, depending on age and gender. While high protein, low carbohydrate diets have been popular in recent years, the truth is that our bodies do not need to be overloaded with protein. A child between 1-3 years old requires on 13 grams of protein a day, while even an adult male needs only 56 grams. This isn’t really a lot, when you consider that one cup of milk contains 8 grams of protein. A child who has several glass of milk a day will easily meet and even exceed protein requirements.

What Foods Provide Protein?

The average person gets more than enough protein through their diet. Foods high in protein include eggs, meat, poultry and fish, dairy products, beans and nuts. As long as your diet contains some of these foods on a regular basis, you are likely getting enough protein.

A vegetarian or vegan diet can present some difficulties in getting enough protein, but it is certainly possible to do so. It simply requires a good understanding of nutrition and what non-animal sources of protein are available. In addition to the options above, tofu, some fruits and vegetables, and many grains contain protein as well.

Are All Proteins Equal?

There are two types of protein sources. They are incomplete, and complete proteins. A complete protein contains all of the amino acids our bodies require to survive. Complete protein sources are generally animal proteins such as meats, eggs, and dairy products.

It is possible to obtain all of the amino acids through a variety of other protein sources by mixing and matching these foods into your diet to ensure you are getting everything you need. Those who do not consume animal products will need to make sure various sources of proteins are incorporated into their diet to ensure the amino acids are all represented.

Some sources, while listed as complete proteins, may not be the best choice because they can be high in fat. A steak is a complete protein, but is also high in saturated fat. Dairy products too can be sources of excess fat. In moderation, these are excellent sources of protein and can be incorporated into a healthy diet. Leaner sources of protein, such as chicken, are a better choice for daily consumption, however.

Although the diet industry has pushed protein supplements in the form of bars and shakes for years, for most people the better choice is a healthy diet incorporating high quality, low fat protein sources. Synthetic sources may contain other ingredients that are neither necessary nor healthy.

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