Happy Martin Luther King Day! Hopefully, you have the day off of work and can start learning about the nutrients. So, let’s get right to it and dig into proteins.
To start, nutrients are divided up into two major categories – Macronutrients and Micronutrients. Micronutrients, consisting of vitamins and minerals, are necessary in relatively small quantities. The macronutrients are called “macro” because we need them in relatively large quantities. The macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates and fats. Today, we’re going to take a look at protein.
Our bodies are made up of approximately 17% protein, by weight. While protein can be used for energy in cases of starvation (which is why anorexia patients look like they have no muscle), its main purpose is for building substances in our bodies. Proteins regulate and maintain the body structure. When most people think of protein, they think of muscle tissues. This is true, but proteins are a part of every cell in your body. Proteins make up your hair, fingernails, skin, organs, hormones, blood clotting factors – they’re even in the walls of cell membranes. In other words, they’re everywhere in your bodies, not just your muscles.
Proteins are made up of “amino acids” strung together in endless combinations into, mostly, very long strands. There are 20 amino acids. Of these 20 amino acids, our bodies have the capability of making 11 of them. 9 amino acids are called “essential” because our bodies cannot make them. They must be eaten from food.
Proteins are divided up into “complete” and “incomplete” proteins. Proteins are complete if they contain all of the 9 essential amino acids. Complete proteins include animal proteins, such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs. Incomplete proteins are missing one or more of the 9 essential amino acids. Proteins from plants generally are missing some essential amino acids. Depending on what you read, “complete” proteins are also called “high-quality proteins” while “incomplete” proteins are called “lower-quality proteins.” However, a high-quality protein isn’t necessarily better than a lower-quality protein. They’re just different.
While this discussion may seem overly technical, knowing this information is important, especially if you are some version of a vegetarian. Since animal proteins contain all the essential amino acids, a person doesn’t have to worry about obtaining all the amino acids through their foods. All this type of person has to worry about is how much protein to eat. However, a vegetarian has to pay particular attention to what they’re eating to make sure that they eat enough of the 9 essential amino acids.
Plant protein sources are considered “complementary” when they are eaten together in order to make up the 9 essential amino acids. Each food may not have all the essential amino acids, but when eaten together, they do. An example is rice and beans. Separately, rice is an incomplete protein. So, are beans. However, rice and beans together do contain all of the 9 essential amino acids. If a person eats only rice and never a complementary food like beans, that person can develop a severe protein deficiency even if they eat all the rice on the planet.
Since there are an increasing number of vegetarians out there, I want to list some more complementary foods. These include:
- Hummus and whole-wheat flatbread
- Whole-wheat bread and cashew butter
- Roasted soybeans with almonds
- Green beans and sunflower seeds
- Beans in vegetable soup
Hopefully, I haven’t lost some of you today! Counting calories is fine and dandy, but I want you to know why the foods exist in MyPlate. They’re not arbitrary. There’s been a lot of research into what our bodies need. Also, I want you all to exercise and build some muscle. Protein is essential in building everything in your body, so getting enough protein is necessary to help you reach your weight loss goals. On Wednesday, we’ll talk more about how much protein we need to eat and how this fits into MyPlate.
Until next time, remember that… there are no excuses when it comes to your health!
If You Want To Know More:
The 20 amino acids are listed below. The 9 essential amino acids are bolded.
- Aspartic acid
- Glutamic acid