The word protein literally means of first importance and they are very important in our diet but maybe not for the reason we think. Let’s start with what proteins are. They are chains of amino acids that twist up into very specific shapes to do their jobs. Amino acids differ chemically from fat and carbohydrates in that they contain nitrogen. They also contain side groups which are made of many different atoms. These side groups are what make the Amino Acids different. There are basically twenty amino acids (some others occur in special circumstances but are not found in protein). These amino acids are combined to make proteins rather like letters are combined to make words. An important fact is the structure of a specific amino acid is the same regardless of the type of protein it is in. For example the leucine from, steak, chicken, tuna, plants, or milk is exactly the same. Sort of like the letter A is the same no matter what word it is in. As humans we need a constant supply of all 20 amino acids although about half of them our bodies can make from other things if need be. The others must come from our diet; these are called essential amino acids.
There are over thirty thousand different proteins in the human body that serve a variety of functions.
- Build the structure of our bodies. Our bones, skin, hair, and muscles all contain large amounts of protein.
- Control chemical reactions. Almost all of the reactions in the body are in some way controlled by a protein.
- Communication- Most of our hormones are proteins.
- Immunity- Our antibodies are proteins
- Transport- Proteins carry stuff around the body. Hemoglobin is a protein and it carries oxygen.
- Controls fluid balance in the body
- Keeps the acid-base balance of the body in the correct.
- Last and, if you are healthy, least they can be burned for energy or converted into glucose for energy for the brain. This process should be a last resort. Proteins are made for structure and function in the body. Carbohydrates and fat are made for energy.
Enough of the science nerd stuff I know you really want to know how much and what kind of protein you should eat. I’ll start that discussion tomorrow.