For those who want to gain muscle, protein is an absolute in the diet that aids in building muscle tissue. For those who are recovering from a burn, extra protein is needed to repair skin tissue. For those who are on a diet, protein may be your best friend, while you perceive carbohydrates as your enemy. Protein is important for many functions in the body, and without it, your life would not exist.
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What Is Protein?
Protein is a molecule that is made up of amino acids. Twenty different types of amino acids exist to make up many different structures of protein in the form of chains. Since some of these amino acids cannot be made by your body, they are considered to be essential amino acids. Protein from animal foods is considered complete proteins because they contain all of the essential amino acids needed by your body. Protein from plant sources is incomplete, meaning that these foods only contain some of the essential amino acids that your body needs.
Why Is Protein Important?
Protein is part of every cell in your body. Protein is a major component of your skin, muscles, organs and glands. Protein is also found in many of your bodily fluids. Protein in your body helps repair your existing cells and construct new ones and is an important component of growth. Different proteins perform different jobs in the body. For instance, your body uses protein to create hemoglobin, an important component in your blood that carries oxygen to where it is needed in your body. Some proteins create cardiac muscle and skeletal muscle.
What Are Good Sources of Protein?
Protein is found in animal products. Any type of meat, poultry or fish is an excellent source of protein. Protein can also be found in eggs and dairy products. Animal sources of protein contain complete proteins, meaning that they include all of the amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own. Proteins can also be found in plant sources, such as legumes, tofu, grains, nuts, seeds and some vegetables, however, they are considered incomplete proteins. Since plant foods have only some of the essential amino acids important for health, they must be combined in order to produce a complementary protein, meaning that together they make up a complete protein.
How Much Protein Is Recommended?
Those who live in the United States tend to eat more protein than what is recommended. The Centers for Disease Control recommend that 10 percent to 35 percent of your calories come from protein. For healthy adult men and women, the recommended daily allowance for protein is 56 g and 46 g per day, respectively. To put things into perspective, 3 oz. of meat has about 21 g of protein, 1 cup of milk has about 8 g of protein and 1 cup of yogurt has about 11 g of protein. Make sure that you watch the amount of saturated fat that accompanies your protein-rich foods. For example, choose a lean cut of beef instead of beef ribs.