Proteins and Amino Acids
Many people ask 'what are benefits of protein?' and it's a very good question - proteins are vital for good health and vitality, and by eating foods that are good protein sources, you could dramatically change your life for the better!
It could be said that proteins maketh the man - essential for the growth and repair of body tissue, protein benefits are so wide-reaching that these nutrients are often referred to as the 'building blocks of life' - and without getting a good balance of proteins in your diet, you can't achieve a healthy balance and a strong body. Consisting of compounds known as amino acids, when we consume foods that are naturally high protein sources, our bodies break them down into these amino acids, which are then combined to create a variety of different molecules.
The combining of amino acids (using peptide bonds) creates over 50,000 different types of proteins, all of which have a specific function and use for the body. If we were to remove all of the water from our systems, over 50% of what is left is made up of proteins – and our body will renew 98% of its proteins every year. When our body metabolises protein, it creates ammonia as a by product – this is poisonous to humans, so the liver turns it into urea, which is then excreted.
Non-essential and essential amino acids
Amino acids come in two forms; non-essential amino acids can be produced internally by the body itself, while essential amino acids can only be sourced externally, or in other words, through eating foods that are also natural protein sources as part of our diet. There are 8 different essential amino acids that adults need to include in their diets in order to maintain a strong body and a healthy balance. For children, who are in a state of perpetual growth, there are a further 7 essential amino acids that they need to consume in order to develop strong and healthy bodies and get all of the many potential benefits of protein.
What happens if I don't get enough proteins?
The 8 essential amino acids that an adult needs to intake through their diet in order to get the full benefits of protein are as follows, with a brief explanation of what they’re used for:
Tryptophan – helps with the production of serotonin, promoting health sleeping patterns; combats depression, stabilises mood, alleviates stress, assists weight control and aids in the control of hyperactivity in children.
Lysine – essential for bone growth and development (especially in children), maintains the body’s nitrogen balance, assists in absorption of calcium, helps to produce enzymes, hormones and antibodies and aids the recovery of surgical procedures and sporting injuries.
Methionine – a great antioxidant, which aids digestion, muscle strength and helps to prevent brittle hair and fat build up in the liver and arteries.
Valine – maintains the body’s nitrogen balance and helps with tissue repair and muscle metabolism.
Leucine – helps to repair damage to the skin, bones and muscles, and therefore a great aid to recovery after undergoing surgery.
Isoleucine – delivers energy to the muscles.
Threonine – another amino acid that hinders the build up of fats in the liver; it also helps your body to sustain the correct balance of protein.
Phenylalanine – synthesises the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinepthrine, which help us to stay alert; phenylalanine improves mood, memory and learning capacity, helps to alleviate pain and also acts as an appetite suppressant.
If you don't get enough of these essential dietary elements, you can feel listless, lethargic, suffer problems with your metabolism and growth, and weaken your muscular and nervous systems. A deficiency in these amino acids will also make your body find it harder to provide energy, repair damage and regulate blood sugar levels – and this is just the beginning. When you start looking into the range of benefits that protein and amino acids offer us, it really does start to make you think that you need to get some good protein sources in your diet, doesn't it?!
On top of everything that we've already mentioned, without all of the essential amino acids that we need, our bodies aren’t able to make proper use of the vitamins and minerals that we consume. An absence of these essential nutrients can diminish our health on many levels, and it only takes one missing essential amino acid for the rest of them to be rendered less effective, so it's important to ensure their inclusion in your healthy diet plan. So in effect, the answer to the question 'what are the benefits of proteins?', is that they are some of the biggest players in the state of your overall health and well being - so get some protein rich foods in your diet now!
What are the best protein sources to get all my essential amino acids?
By identifying, buying and eating good protein sources, you'll be able to feed you body with all of the amino acids it needs to get enjoy their optimum benefits. Proteins can come from either animals or plants; animal proteins contain all of the 8 essential amino acids that we need to include in our adult diets, and are known as ‘complete’ or ‘first class’ proteins. Plant proteins are also a good source of these essential amino acids, but there is not one individual plant that can give us all of the amino acids that we need on its own. Due to this, plant proteins are known as ‘incomplete’ or ‘second class’ proteins.
Although some of the best protein sources are meat, poultry, fish and dairy products, in order to maintain a healthier diet you should try to source a large proportion of your essential amino acids through plant proteins, as they are also a good way of getting fibre, vitamins and minerals into your body - and without the high levels of saturated fats that are often found in animal proteins. By using the ‘mutual supplementation’ method, you can use various incomplete proteins together in order to create a ‘complementary’ protein. An example of this is adding beans to either wheat, corn, brown rice, nuts or seeds.
Good protein sources include:
- Soy beans and other types of bean
- Eggs and other dairy products
How much protein do I need?
The latest figures indicate that a proportion of between 10 and 15% of your daily diet should be made up of proteins. Benefits are always best delivered by trying to maintain this level every day where possible. Weight wise, this means that a man needs to eat around 55g of protein and a woman about 45g, every day – if you’re a high-level sportsperson, your body will require protein in larger amounts.
So now you know some of the many benefits of protein, you understand the value of including some good protein sources in your shopping trolley the next time you pop to the supermarket!