Protein is an essential nutrient and is one of the most important substances in our bodies, found in every single cell. The body uses protein for many things, like building and repairing cells, muscle and bones, transporting nutrients, forming enzymes, balancing pH and boosting immunity.
A protein is a molecule made up of a chain of amino acids. Amino acids can join together in different ways to make thousands of different proteins. When protein from food is digested, it is broken down into the individual amino acids which can then be reused by the body to make new proteins to form enzymes, hormones and antibodies, replace old cells, build new tissues, and transport nutrients all over the body.
Scientists have found many different amino acids in protein, but 22 of them are very important to our health. Of the 22, there are nine called ‘essential amino acids’ that the body cannot create itself, so we need to get these from our diets. They are called essential amino acids because it’s essential we get them from the foods we eat.
Amino acids are found in animal products such as meats, fish, diary and eggs. The main protein sources in a plant-based diet are legumes, soy products, seeds and nuts, whole grains, mushrooms and some vegetables.
Foods that contain all of the nine essential amino acids are considered ‘complete proteins.’ Animal proteins like red meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy are all complete proteins, however they are also high in ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, saturated fat and calories.
Plant-based proteins don’t usually contain all nine essential amino acids. This doesn’t mean you need to eat animal products to get all the protein your body requires. Vegetarians are able to get enough essential amino acids by eating a variety of plant proteins throughout the day, and nearly all vegetables contribute to our daily protein needs. Whole grains and legumes consumed together (for example beans and corn, or lentils and rice) add up to complete proteins.
After exercise, proteins are important because they go to work fixing damaged tissues and building new ones. However, our bodies can’t store excess protein, so when the body tries to get rid of it, strain is put on the kidneys and liver.
Haleo sources of protein: