What is protein?
Protein is the macronutrient that forms the building blocks of the body!
Protein is composed of amino acids - they are literally the building blocks of protein as proteins are the building blocks of our muscles. Imagine amino acids as lego bricks. They can fit together in different ways and the shapes they form determines the protein they form and its function. Your body needs 20 amino acids to be able to function optimally. Of the the 20, 9 are essential meaning that we have to get them from our diet.
So apart from building muscles why else do we need proteins?
There are lots of different roles of protein in the body:
1) Hormonal Protein. An example of a hormonal protein is insulin, which is secreted by the pancreas to regulate the levels of blood sugar in your body.
2) Enzymatic Protein. An example is digestive enzymes that break down food into simpler forms that your body can easily absorb.
3) Structural Protein. They include collagen, keratin and elastin. Collagen forms the connective framework of your muscles, bones, tendons, skin and cartilage. Keratin is the main structural component in hair, nails, teeth and skin.
4) Defensive Protein. Antibodies, or immunoglobulin, are a core part of your immune system. Antibodies are formed in the white blood cells and attack bacteria, viruses and other harmful microorganisms, rendering them inactive.
5) Storage Protein. Storage proteins mainly store mineral ions such as potassium in your body. Iron, for example, is an ion required for the formation of hemoglobin, the main structural component of red blood cells.
6) Transport Protein. Transport proteins carry vital materials to the cells. Hemoglobin, for example, carries oxygen to body tissues from the lungs.
7) Receptor Protein. Located on the outer part of the cells, receptor proteins control the substances that enter and leave the cells, including water and nutrients. Some receptors also activate enzymes, and others stimulate endocrine glands to regulate blood sugar levels.
8) Contractile Protein. Contractile proteins regulate the strength and speed of heart and muscle contractions. These proteins are actin and myosin.
So where do we get protein from?
We need to include protein into our diet in order to gain our essential amino acids. Most proteins come from animal based products but you can also gain all your essential amino acids from a plant based diet:
Animal products include:
Plant based products which contain all 9 essential amino acids include:
Other plant based products which include most but not all of the essential amino acids
Certain vegetables - Asparagus, broccoli, sweetcorn, green peas, potatoes, avocado
So even if you’re following a plant-based diet, you can still ensure proper intake of all essential amino acids as long as you eat a variety of plant proteins each day.
How much protein should we be eating?
The Births Nutritional Foundation suggests eating 0.75g of protein for every Kg of body weight. This should equate to approximately 56g for a man and 45g for a woman. In general we tend t eat more protein than is recommended. Great you may be saying but over intake of protein can lead to some health problems such as kidney stones, dehydration, joint pain from gout, constipation and bad breath!
I would aim to eat protein 2-3 times a day. The easiest way to judge how much you should be eating is to make sure that protein takes up about a 6th of our plate. This is what the Eat Well Plate suggests.
How does eating protein help with weight loss?
It helps to keep us fuller for longer - It slows digestion keeping us feeling fuller for longer so making us less likely to reach for snacks or seconds!
It requires more energy to digest than carbs or fats - The thermic effect of food is how many calories we burn while digesting it. The thermic effect of protein is higher than carbs and fats so we are actually burning calories while we are eating it!
It fuels fat burning - having adequate protein in our diet allows us to fuel fat burning while preserving lean muscle mass
It helps to maintain lean body mass - this means we have more muscle to burn our calories we ingest!
All in all protein is extremely important for many bodily functions. It may well help you to shed those extra few pounds too! But keep your plate balanced - makes sure you are eating healthy carbs and fats and course your 7-10 a day of fruit and veg!