Grow Foods: A 101 on Dietary Proteins
In preschool, most of us were first familiarized that food sources of protein are GROW FOODS. But beyond a list of food items, many of us may have little idea about these complex molecules. So what are proteins and how are they important to life?
Proteins are the building blocks of all living things. In fact, all living organisms are made up of the same set of 20 amino acids — the basic unit for protein. Proteins are important not only for structure, but also for maintaining function and regulating metabolism.
Here are the answers to some very practical and frequently asked questions about protein:
What are amino acids?
Amino acids are monomers or single units that make up proteins. Some amino acids are referred to as non-essential as our bodies are able to produce them.
On the other hand, essential amino acids are those that we need to supply from our diet. There is what we call the amino acid pool wherein a deficiency in one amino acid stifles protein metabolism in the body. So our goal should be to supply the body with complete essential amino acids everyday.
How do protein sources vary according to nutritional value?
Different foods would contain different amounts of essential amino acids. Generally, animal products have all the essential amino acids and are known as complete proteins. Plant foods that contain all the essential amino acids include soy and soy products, quinoa, and amaranth seeds.
Plant proteins include beans, lentils, nuts, whole grains and root crops. These usually lack at least one of the essential amino acids and are considered as incomplete proteins. This means that people who are following a strictly vegetarian diet would need to consider protein complementation in their daily food intake.
What are the healthiest food sources of protein?
Sources of protein don’t contain just protein. They would contain other nutrients such as carbs, fats, vitamins, and minerals too. And if your protein source is highly processed, they would contain multiple additives such as preservatives, flavor & color enhancers, sweeteners and sodium.
Focus on including lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, reduced fat dairy, tofu, nuts & seeds, and legumes & beans into your diet. However, keep in mind that how you prepare the protein source also counts. When prepared in a manner that imparts additional fat such as in frying, or in creamy or buttery dishes, then you may be overwhelming yourself with extra calories.
How much protein should one be consuming on a daily basis?
Adults should typically consume 10–15% of total calories from protein. Those who may be exempted from this rule of thumb are those with extraordinary physiological conditions or physical activity that would require them to eat more or less protein per day.
Protein needs also change throughout life. Infants would need less protein as their kidneys are still developing, while children and teenagers may have greater protein needs per kg body weight compared to adults.
How do proteins make up our bodies?
Excluding water and fat, our bodies are made up almost entirely of protein. Our muscles, bones, organs, skin and nails, even the blood that runs through our body are made up of protein.
Aside from these structural roles, protein makes up metabolic factors such as enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and nutrient transporters. Proteins also govern immunity, pH balance, and fluid balance within the body.
What happens when you don’t consume enough protein?
Protein deficiency may occur to people experiencing poverty, or to those with special requirements — older people and people following strict vegetarian or vegan diets.
A body with unmet protein needs may manifest wasting or shrinkage of muscle tissue, edema or fluid build up in the extremities, anemia or poor oxygenation of the blood, and stunting or the slow growth and development in children.
Are high protein diets good for you?
Any protein you consume in excess of what your body needs is either stored as fat or excreted as waste. This means that diets that are very high in protein stress the kidneys and liver. These also cause excessive loss of calcium and increase your risk of osteoporosis.
High protein diets are often seen in people who are trying to put on more muscle mass. However, high protein diets do not lead to increased muscle mass. Muscle stimulation through exercise, coupled with proper fueling for recovery and performance, leads to muscle growth.
Bonus question: Do root crops like potatoes contain a beneficial amount of protein?
A medium-size 5.3 oz potato with skin-on provides 3 grams of plant-based protein. In fact, this amount exceeds that of all other commonly consumed vegetables, except dry beans.
Potatoes are not just a good source of energy. They also provide body-regulating nutrients such as vitamin C, potassium, iron, and vitamin B6.
Protein makes up the structure of every living, moving, and breathing human that we encounter everyday. And because of this, we need to ensure that we are supplying our bodies with adequate amounts of protein depending on our needs.
Too little and we might cause deficiencies that hinder key metabolic processes from occurring. Too much and we might end up damaging our liver and kidneys. So it would be advantageous to find balance and maintain a healthy and functional body for many years to come.