Protein: The Forgotten Nutrient

No question about it, we all like to feel good and look good, and we know the foods we eat (along with exercise) help with this process including foods with proteins.  Did you know that protein plays an important and necessary role in repairing and building every tissue and cell in the body including the skin, hair and nails?  You could say the nutrients you get from protein and foods with protein are almost as essential to the body as water.

What is protein?
Protein is a nutrient you hear little about, and often gets mentioned in the context of weightlifting or weight loss programs like the Atkins Diet, but it's much much more.  Proteins are made up of amino acids.  There are about 20 different amino acids that join together in different combinations to make all types of protein. Our bodies can only naturally produce about half of these amino acids and so it's left up to the foods we eat to provide the rest, which are essential to help our bodies function and to our overall health.

How much protein is enough?
Most healthy adults easily include enough protein as part of a balanced, healthful diet with a variety of foods from all the MyPyramid food groups. However, like all other nutrients, protein contributes to calorie intake, so if you eat more protein than your body needs, your overall calorie intake could be greater than your calorie needs and contribute to weight gain.  In general, depending on body size, age, and special needs, it's recommended that 10-35% of your daily calories come from protein. A healthy adult should consume about 50 grams of protein per day.  As you age your protein needs may increase.

What food sources contain protein?
I was really happy to learn that protein comes from a variety of animal and plant sources. In my family, my husband absolutely has to have a meat as a part of every dinner meal, but my son on the other hand is a vegetarian and only eats fish so it's nice to know there are plant based protein food options I can include in his meal as well.  Some examples of animal and plant protein foods are:

Animal proteins: Beef, chicken, ham, fish and eggs are considered animal proteins.  Some of these proteins provide essential B-vitamins such as folate, zinc, and iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.  Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, provide calcium and supply protein in the form of casein (prevents the break down of muscle) and whey (helps build muscle).

Plant proteins:  Nuts, whole grains, legumes (dried beans and peas), and soybeans and soy protein-based foods, like soy milk and soy-based meat alternatives like tofu, are low in saturated fat and cholesterol-free, which may play a role in reducing risk of heart disease.

To learn more about protein and the role it plays in your total diet, go to:
The Power of Protein
Protein - A Nutrient for All Ages
A Peek at Protein and Weight Management

What are the main sources of protein in your diet?  Do you keep track of how much you eat?

By: Win Jenkins-Ford   Date: 6/7/10