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What Are Proteins?

Protein provides the structure for pretty much every part of our body from cells, muscle, cartilage and ligaments to bones, organs, hair, nails and skin. Protein also performs specific activities in different forms in our body such as enzymes, hormones, antibodies, hemoglobin (blood) and growth and maintenance proteins. Protein can also be used as an energy source when the body is low on carbohydrates, but this is not the bodys first choice. Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are two types of proteins that we need: non-essential and essential. Non-essential proteins can be synthesized in our bodies while essential proteins can only be supplied by the food we eat. Vegetarians However, if you are vegetarian or just dont eat that much meat, it is still possible to get the protein you need. Pairing up two foods that are sources of protein, but may be incomplete in one or more amino acids, are called complementary proteins. There are three categories of complementary proteins: grains, legumes and nuts/seeds. Grains Barley Bulgur Cornmeal Oats Buckwheat Rye Rice Wheat Nuts/Seeds Sesame Sunflower Walnut Cashews Almonds Other Seeds Legumes Beans Lentils Dried Peas Peanuts Chickpeas Soy Products

How Much Do I Need?

Protein needs vary for different life stages but for adult men it is 58g while for adult women it is 46g. People in industrialized societies dont have a problem getting the protein they need from their diet; in fact they usually get too much! Protein sources are classified as complete or incomplete based on the amino acids they contain. Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids you need while incomplete might be missing a few of them. Animal proteins are the best source of complete protein; you can meet your protein needs by eating 6oz of meat from beef, chicken, turkey, tuna, or pork.

By pairing up foods from the different columns you can make a complete protein. An example would be having a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread, beans and rice, or a whole wheat bun with sesame seeds. Do I Need a Supplement? There are a lot of protein powders and pills out there geared for people to get more protein with the idea of building more muscle. While protein is important in building muscle there is only so much protein our bodies need. When that need is met then the excess protein is sent to our kidneys to be excreted in urine. Unless you are not getting the protein you need from your diet there is no need to use supplements as not only is it more expensive than eating a chicken breast for lunch but it is just being excreted.

For more information:

Center for Disease Control- Good overall information on proteins USDAs MyPlate- Information on protein content in foods and list of food choices The Vegetian Resource Group- Information for vegetarians on protein