Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What's Eating You? Day 3: Protein: The Building Block

Protein is a macronutrient that is made of of amino acids. An amino acid is a molecule that serves as the building block of proteins. Each amino acid is comprised of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen atoms. There are 20 amino acids that the human body uses. Nine of them are considered essential amino acids because the body cannot produce them, and must therefore be included in the diet. The remaining eleven amino acids are considered nonessential because they are produced by the human body.

There is critical role played by protein in virtually every major bodily system. It provides structure to muscle and tissues, it regulates cell functions, it helps to maintain fluid and acid-base balance, it assists with circulation, and it is a backup source of energy in the absence of carbohydrates. Protein enables proper functioning of the nervous system and the immune system.

Protein is found in a variety of foods. These foods are classified as complete and incomplete proteins. Complete proteins supply the body with all of the essential amino acids in very high amounts. Incomplete proteins must be combined with other protein-containing foods to meet daily dietary needs. Generally speaking, complete proteins are animal-based foods like meat and dairy while incomplete proteins are plant-based like fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans/legumes.

Of the total calories consumed daily, 12-20% should be protein. For example, if 2,000 calories are consumed, 240-400 calories should contain protein. Because complete proteins contain animal fat which could elevate cholesterol levels in the body, it is wise to look to plant-based proteins. Here are some examples of foods which are high in protein: navy beans, lentils, black beans, brown rice, quinoa, spinach, sunflower seeds, and broccoli.

Be good to yourself! More next time...

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