Are You Getting Enough Protein?

PROTEIN: Greek meaning primary or first.

Proteins are found in every living thing on earth. In the human body, protein is an essential component of muscles, skin, hair, and bones; it is found in nearly every tissue and body part. Protein is essential for proper muscle development and function, bone health, connective tissue strength, tissue repair and growth, blood oxygenation, and basic cell activity. All proteins are made up of amino acids, which are considered to be the building blocks of life.

Our RNA, DNA, neurotransmitters, hormones, and a majority of our muscles are made almost entirely from amino acids. Our bodies do not store protein, nor do they make all of the amino acids needed for the body to function properly. This means that we must take in protein from our food on a daily basis. The good news is that protein is found in many different foods.

Animal proteins

Proteins from animal sources are considered to be “complete” proteins, because they contain all of the amino acids your body needs (known collectively as essential amino acids). Animal proteins include meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and shellfish.

Plant proteins

Most plant proteins are considered to be “incomplete” because they do not contain all of the essential amino acids. Plant proteins are not as bioavailable to the body as animal proteins. High-protein vegetables include dark leafy greens (collard greens, spinach, mustard greens, etc.), asparagus, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Foods like tofu, tempeh, and spirulina are also plant proteins.

Protein powders

Protein powders are usually added to smoothies and other blended foods for an extra protein boost. These can be an inexpensive and convenient addition to a balanced diet, especially for athletes, the elderly, or people with digestive issues. Protein powders are made from either animal protein (whey, casein, beef, or eggs) or plant protein (soy, rice, pea, hemp, or sprouted grains).

Beans and legumes

Beans and legumes are good sources of both protein and carbohydrates. They also contain other vitamins and minerals like folate (vitamin B9), potassium, iron, and magnesium.

Dairy products

Milk and yogurt also provide both protein and carbohydrates. Cheese is also a good protein source, but is low in carbohydrates. Note that not everyone can digest dairy properly and dairy is not necessary to include in a balanced diet. For those who choose to consume dairy, full-fat and organic sources are preferred.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds contain both protein and fat. They also contain many other vitamins and minerals like magnesium, zinc, selenium, and copper.

Why do we need protein?

Proteins are one of the primary macronutrients providing energy to the human body. Proteins are necessary for proper structure and function of tissues and organs; they also act to regulate them. Proteins are responsible for a large portion of the work that is done in cells.

Proteins are comprised of a number of amino acids that are essential to proper body function. They serve as the building blocks of body tissue. There are 20 different amino acids in total. The sequence of amino acids determines a protein’s structure and function. Some amino acids can be made in the body but there are nine amino acids that humans can only get from dietary sources – these are called essential amino acids. 

Adequate protein is required for proper synthesis of immunoglobulins (since they are proteins). In my work, I find most people don’t eat nearly enough protein each day. For most people, a minimum of .8g/kg of ideal body weight of protein/day should be eaten. More is required if someone is an athlete or has protein malnutrition – between 1.0 and 1.2g/kg per day, minimum. This is about 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight.

Below are some examples of how proteins act in your body:
* Antibody—a protein that protects the body from foreign particles, such as viruses and bacteria, by binding to them.
* Enzyme—a protein that helps form new molecules as well as perform the many chemical reactions that occur throughout the body
* Messenger—a protein that transmits signals throughout the body to maintain body processes
* Structural component—a protein that acts as a building block for cells that ultimately allow the body to move, like collagen
* Transport/storage—a protein that moves molecules throughout the body

As you can see, proteins have many important roles. It is vital that you are eating (and absorbing) enough to maintain healthy protein levels in your body.

Are you getting enough protein? Contact Chris to schedule an assessment

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Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Doctor of Clinical Nutrition | Certified Nutrition Specialist