25 September 2020 (updated)

All About Proteins: The Building Blocks of Life

Proteins are the building blocks of all human cells and fulfill important functions in our bodies. Learn more about this essential nutrient!

Proteins: The Building Blocks of Life

Proteins are the nutrients that are most often found in cells and are the only nitrogen source that humans can use. They are composed of amino acids, but their chemical composition can vary quite a bit from one to another. Some proteins consist of fewer than 100 amino acids, and other proteins contain several thousand amino acids including essential amino acids. Proteins perform important tasks in the body. They're responsible for:

  • The development of body tissue, such as muscles, organs, or connective tissues. This usually happens during growth, pregnancy, or cell renewal processes.
  • The production of endogenous proteins, such as carrier proteins, enzymes, hormones. Endogenous proteins basically ensure that the body cells are doing what they were designed to do.
  • Immune system antibodies, which protect the body from disease and infection.

Protein Storage

Our body can use proteins, as a source of energy in the case of insufficient energy supply from carbohydrates or fats. Organisms only have limited storage capacities for protein, so we need a continuous supply of them.

If too few proteins are supplied through food over a long period of time, an organism is forced to break down muscles and produce the above-mentioned essential substances from the protein, like amino acids, that have become available.

Proteins Help You Feel Full

Of all the dietary nutrients, protein gets a great reputation for helping us feel fueled and full. There hasn't been enough research to determine exactly why they create this effect, But scientists suspect that the concentration of amino acids (basic building blocks of proteins) stimulates the satiation areas in the brain.

Furthermore, blood sugar levels remain lower after a protein-rich meal (e.g., fish or steak with salad) than after a carbohydrate-rich meal (e.g., pasta with tomato sauce). This process reduces cravings and makes you feel fuller longer.

The animal and plant proteins are also creating essential amino acids that help build muscle and in turn, boost metabolism. So another reason people love protein is because of the way it stimulates metabolism much more than other nutrients. Our body has to provide energy for the digestion and metabolism of protein. This sometimes produces heat, known as "food-induced thermogenesis".

How Much Protein Do We Need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for healthy adults is 0.8 g protein per kilogram of body weight per day. For a woman weighing 65 kg (143 pounds), this means a protein consumption of 52 g. Children, especially babies, need significantly more protein per kilogram of body weight. A maximum of 15 percent of the total calorie consumption should come from protein. About two-thirds of the protein should be vegetable-based and one third from animal sources.

Protein Sources From Food

It's usually not very difficult to get enough protein in your diet since it's so abundant in many different types of foods. Vegetable protein sources include legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils as well as nuts, cereals, and potatoes. Protein-rich foods from animals are fish, meat, eggs, and dairy products such as cheese and yogurt.

A vegan diet usually contains much less protein than a mixed diet. This is why children and teenagers as well as nursing mothers and pregnant women who wish to pursue a vegan diet need to make sure they're getting enough protein since they need extra protein in general. With an adequate supply of protein, a dynamic balance between the development and degradation of protein occurs in adults. You might also need more protein during times of large blood loss or infections.

Do Protein Supplements Make Sense?

Have you ever bought protein-enriched food? What about high-protein dairy products, shakes, or protein bars, which can sometimes fill several grocery aisles? Do you think such foods make sense outside of competitive sports? Debate with family and friends on FamilyApp.

To learn more about the other two essential nutrients, be sure to check out our articles on carbohydrates and fats.

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