Protein Packs A Punch
Time and time again, protein is praised as teacher’s pet, while other food groups like fats and carbohydrates are sent to sit in the corner. So why does protein get more brownie points than brownies, and how much steak is too much steak?
It’s What We’re Made Of
Each and every living cell in the body contains protein. Protein is made up of various amino acids bound together like a collection of blocks of different colours and shapes. These amino acid building blocks are required by the body to build muscles, tendons, ligaments, organs, glands and the blood. Protein helps to build the entire body’s tissues, effectively.
Aside from being an expert builder, protein makes for a pretty good “maintenance man” to boot: It is used for synthesizing enzymes and hormones, maintaining fluid balance, maintaining energy levels, and is a key component of a healthy, functioning immune system.
Sourcing Complete and Incomplete Protein
When protein is consumed, the body must first digest and break it down into the individual amino acids which are then used by the body to build all the different proteins required for tissue rebuilding and repair.
In total, the body needs 22 different amino acids, 8 of which are considered essential amino acids because they cannot be made by the body itself and must be obtained through a healthy, balanced diet. In addition to the these essential amino acids 5 other amino acids are semi-essential in children, because their ability to develop these amino acids is not yet fully developed.
Complete proteins contain adequate amounts of all 8 essential amino acids. Example sources of complete protein include:
• Fish and other seafood
• Dairy products (cheese, yoghurt, milk etc)
Semi-complete proteins include several of these essential amino acids, but not all of them. Some examples sources of semi-complete proteins include: amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, hempseed, soybeans, and spirulina. These can be good alternatives for vegetarians and vegans but do not contain adequate levels of each essential amino acid so are best combined with incomplete protein sources.
Incomplete protein can be found in:
• Legumes (lentils, beans and peas)
Adequate amounts of protein can keep you alert throughout the day..
..instead of having the classic 3 o’clock crash
Complete and incomplete proteins can be combined to get the complete set of essential amino acids, which are especially important for vegetarians and vegans who do not get a lot of complete proteins in their diet normally.
Getting Enough of the Good Stuff
Getting the right amount of protein for your personal requirements is important. If you are not getting enough proteins through your diet, the body will begin to break down body tissues such as muscle to make amino acids available for other vital processes. This is why bodybuilders guzzle protein shakes, to prevent losing precious bicep bulk! In the long term, a lack of protein intake can lead to muscle and body tissue degradation and eventual illness.
Another key function of protein is to keep energy levels stable throughout the day. Protein provides a gradual, sustained release of energy, which prevents highs and lows and keeps you packing punches for longer. Consuming adequate amounts of protein with each meal can keep you awake and alert throughout the day instead of having the classic 3 o’clock crash.
However, like everything taken in excess, too much protein can cause problems. Excess protein has been shown to increase calcium excretion via the kidneys, which can contribute to kidney stones. Dehydration may also occur because more water is needed to excrete the additional protein waste from a higher metabolism of protein. Long term effects of excess protein consumption – especially in the absence of adequate quality fats and healthy carbohydrates (see our previous articles on fats and carbohydrates) – can cause the body fluids to become too acidic, disturbing the pH balance of the blood and can become very dangerous.
So it is important to make sure your diet is balanced with adequate amounts of quality dietary fats, healthy carbohydrates and protein. Health professionals, such as Naturopaths or Nutritionists, can help work out a dietary balance that is best for you individually. They can advise around how much protein you need for your lifestyle and body type, and how to get it.