The Role of Protein
Protein plays an important part in the change of life as hormones are actually made of proteins. Nearly all the physical processes in our bodies use proteins; from digestion, to blood clotting, from fighting bacteria to muscle use, from healthy nerve transmission to maintaining a healthy immune & circulation system.
The word protein comes from the Greek word “protos”, meaning first element. Proteins are essential elements for growth and repair and the healthy functioning and structure of all living cells. Proteins help to control blood sugar levels; they are crucial for the digestion of foods; they fight infection; allow muscle contraction, etc. Proteins are very essential for life.
What is Protein?
Basically proteins are made up of chains of smaller substances known as amino acids. Our bodies need at least 20 different types of proteins or amino acids to function properly.
Amino Acids, in turn, are made up of combinations of the following substances: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and occasionally sulfur.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and these are needed by all the cells in the body. Amino Acids give cells the food they need to grow, repair themselves and stay healthy.
After water, proteins are the second most abundant substance in the human body, making up 80% of the body’s dry mass. Protein substances make up: muscles, tendons, glands, organs, nails, hair and are found in nearly all the cells in our body.
Blood can't clot without protein. Hormones play an important role in all the physical changes in our lives such as with menopause and are all made of protein. Estrogen and progesterone are types of protein.
Why Proteins are so Important
We need proteins to heal when we have injured ourselves, are recovering from illnesses or operations or the shock of accidents.
Cells are the basic building block for the body’s organs, tissues, muscles and bones. Stated simply, protein is the food for cells to function properly.
Cells need food to grow, to repair themselves and to function in the different ways that they do. In short, cells need food to survive and the food that they need is protein.
The Role of Proteins
- Proteins are essential for healthy cell growth, repair and replacement.
- Make up skin, hair, muscles, nails, bones, teeth and cell walls.
- Proteins provide energy.
- Protein is responsible for the conversion of food into energy in the body in the form of enzymes. Enzymes are made of protein.
- Excess protein may also be converted to fat and stored.
- Hormones that activate digestion, growth, reproduction and
- Metabolism are all made of proteins.
- Nerve transmission.
Proteins and our Diet
Essential and Non-Essential Proteins
There are 20 different types of protein that our body needs to maintain health.
These can be divided into two groups:
8 essential proteins and
12 non-essential proteins
Essential proteins are needed for health but cannot be made in the body, making it essential to include them in one’s diet. There are 8 proteins that we need to take in through the food we eat to maintain a healthy balance of proteins.
Certain foods give us all 8 proteins that we need and these are called complete proteins.
Examples of food sources that contain complete proteins are:
- Animal foods such as meat
- Soybeans are the only plant protein considered to be a complete protein.
Plant proteins can be combined to provide all of the essential amino acids and form a complete protein. Examples of combined, complete plant proteins are rice and beans, wheat cereal, and corn and beans.
Some food sources contain some of the proteins we need but not all of them and these include:
There are at least 12 proteins which are classified as non-essential in that the body can make them itself.
Proteins are broken down during digestion which are then absorbed and used to make new proteins in the body. Generally the body uses carbohydrate and fat for energy but when there is excess dietary protein or inadequate dietary fat and carbohydrate, protein is used. Excess protein may also be converted to fat and stored.
Fatty acids are the building blocks of fat molecules. Fatty acids come from animal and vegetable fats and oils and are produced when fats are broken down in the digestive process. Most fatty acids cannot be produced within the body and so the source to come from food or supplements.
Fatty acids help move oxygen through the bloodstream to all parts of the body and help the cell membranes to function properly.
Essential fatty acids can also help the immune system to react properly. While we tend to think of all forms of “fats” as bad or unhealthy, it is important to realise that certain fats, namely fatty acids, are essential for optimum health.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other seafood including algae and some plants, and nut oils. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, Omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation.
Fatty acids can also help keep skin healthy, help prevent early ageing, and may promote weight loss by helping the body process cholesterol. More importantly, they help rid the arteries of cholesterol build up. Another purpose of fatty acids is to assist the adrenal and thyroid glands, which may also help regulate weight.
Omega 3 or the Fish Fat
Omega-3 is considered to be one of the healthiest forms of fat and is needed to maintain good health. The Omega fatty acids are all polyunsaturated fats, which includes Omega 3 & 6.
Since the body cannot produce Fatty Acids, they must be ingested in the form of food or supplements.
Essential fatty acids are required to maintain the health in the blood. They are also needed for proper clotting and to regulate blood pressure. Another important function is controlling inflammation in cases of infection or injury.
Particularly good are polyunsaturated fats from fish, known as Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Examples of Omega-3 Rich Foods
- Soft polyunsaturated spreads
- Dark green leafy vegetables such as dark cabbage
- Some nuts & seeds
Omega 6 Rich Foods
Meat, eggs, cereals, whole grain bread, baked foods, fried foods, margarine, mayonnaise and all cooking foods. Although the body needs both omega 3's and omega 6's to thrive, most people on a typical Western diet consume far more omega-6-rich foods (cereals, whole-grain bread, baked goods, fried foods, margarine and others).
It is important to have a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 in the diet. The typical American diet tends to contain 14 - 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.
The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, tends to have a healthier balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Many studies have shown that people who follow this diet are less likely to develop heart disease.
Examples of Omega 6 Rich Foods
- Whole grains
- Baked goods
- Fried Foods