Everyone knows that vitamins are essential for health maintenance. Carbohydrates (sugars and starches) and Fats are important too, and also taste good. Few recognize the importance of protein.
They are involved in virtually all cell functions. Each protein within the body has a specific function. Some proteins are involved in structural support, while others are involved in bodily movement, or in defense against germs. Proteins vary in structure as well as function. They are constructed from a set of 20 amino acids and have distinct three-dimensional shapes.
Muscle builders know that protein is necessary to help them exercise to new potentials. Proteins are the building blocks of muscle growth. As you age, muscles become less lean, weaken, and contribute to energy reduction. Eating protein is very important. Unlike vitamins, proteins are best eaten from many resources. You need protein in your diet to help your body repair cells and make new ones. Protein is also important for growth and development during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy.
Proteins are generally found in animal foods, for example meat, fish, and eggs. Dairy milk provides about 8 grams od protein per 8-ounce serving. Those people trying to manage cardiovascular disease and those people who lean toward vegan diets should be aware that non-cholesterol sources may not have the amino acid compounds that your body needs.
Part of the digestive process breaks protein into amino acids. There are 20 known amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body, and must be supplied by food. They do not need to be eaten at one meal. The balance over the whole day is more important. The nine essential amino acids are:
Nonessential amino acids are made by the body from essential amino acids or in the normal breakdown of proteins. They include:
Conditional amino acids are usually not essential, except in times of illness and stress. They include:
All of these amino acids are necessary. Tyrosine is considered a not essential, conditional amino acid nut, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, Tyrosine may act as a precursor to neurotransmitters that help reduce depression and anxiety. Studies have also associated Tyrosine with helping Thyroid functions by stimulating essential thyroid hormones. So this conditional, non-essential amino acid is very significant.
Proteins are present in every cell and tissue, each one with a highly specialized function necessary for normal development and function with no one role more important than the others. You obtain most of the protein your body uses through your diet, although your body can metabolize some proteins automatically.
So how much protein do you need? The University of Maryland Medical System offers an excellent online protein calculator, based on age, height, gender, and activity. A 60 year old woman, 5 feet tall, with a sedentary lifestyle requires 57 grams per day. Light activity increases it to 62 grams. A 30 year old 6 foot male requires 91 grams per day (sedentary) or 98 grams (light activity). Activity increases minimum protein requirement.
For those dieters watching their carbohydrates, some theories indicate that dietary fiber and protein counteract the carb level. Research also indicates that when trying to lose weight, protein has a significant role in the protein/carb ratio factor.
What sugars and carbohydrates are to plants, proteins are to animals. Proteins are required for all the voluntary and autonomic movement that animals require to survive.
Considering high protein food sources, most are animal and these offer easy absorption during digestion. Soy and Tofu sources have recently been questioned regarding efficient metabolism and required amino acid relationships. Further research is required.
Of course, those with cardiovascular and cholesterol management issues may feel stuck between a rock and a hard corner. Statins (Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor) are helpful but can actually promote muscle waste in some people. People with muscular dystrophy can’t take statins. Weighing the importance of protein and general health maintenance, find and eat protein responsibly and stick to essential servings. Monitor your LDL levels at least three times per year.
Generally poultry is a very good protein source. When eaten skinless, the meat is low in saturated fat and high in the better monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. A 4-ounce portion provides about 200 grams of protein. Low- or non-fat milk provides about 32 grams of protein per quart with little cholesterol.
Protein shakes and protein bars that use whey protein isolates as a source as a source are beneficial meal replacements and convenient ways to access protein. Don’t rely on them as a sole source as excessive whey protein may result in digestive disorders. Also, when taking certain prescription drugs (such as antibiotics) there may be some negative interactions. As a support and as fuel before or after exercise, a protein shake or bar may be helpful.
Balance is the key to most diets and lifestyles. Get your vitamins and get your proteins. You just may end up feeling better. Meeting your minimum protein requirements is essential for what makes us human and active.