The term “protein” refers to two different things. The first is the protein molecules in your body and the second is dietary protein. Next to water, protein is the most plentiful substance in your body.
What is protein?
Proteins are the basic building blocks for all living tissues. They provide a cell’s structure and behavior. They carry out just about all biochemical processes. A protein molecule is made up of amino acids linked together in a certain order and shape. How this is done is determined by your DNA. The shape of a protein is very important because it defines the protein’s function. For example, some proteins fit like “a key in a lock” to receptor sites on cells and they turn biochemical processes on and off. If proteins don’t take their intended shapes there can be serious consequences. Over 100,000 proteins have been identified in the body.
There are two basic types of proteins:
*Functional proteins, which include enzymes, antibodies, hormones, and hydrochloric acid.
*Structural proteins, which include organs, blood, muscles, bones, connective tissues, skin, hair, and nails.
Amino acids are divided into two groups:
1. Essential Amino Acids: The body can’t make these amino acids on its own, so they need to be supplied through your diet on a daily basis. There are 8 of them and they are isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Sometimes histidine is included as a 9th essential amino acid.
2. Non-Essential Amino Acids: The body can make these amino acids BUT all 8 essential amino acids need to be present first. These are alanine, asparagine, aspartate, cysteine, glutamate, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine. Two more amino acids, arginine and histidine, are essential during infancy and childhood. If even one essential amino acid is missing it will create a detrimental effect on all non-essential amino acid formation.
Think of it like this: The 10 amino acids are like the 26 letters of the alphabet. Letters can be arranged in endless combinations to create thousands of different words. Amino acids create thousands of different proteins. What happens if just 1 letter is missing?
The ability to digest food is critical to protein metabolism. Digestion breaks down dietary protein into individual amino acids and these amino acids are then used to build, create or grow EVERYTHING in the body. You need a strong, healthy digestive system to use dietary protein efficiently. Protein, especially animal proteins, need a good soaking by the acid and enzymes in your stomach. If your stomach acid levels are low, or your digestive system isn’t working right, proteins won’t be used effectively and that’s when you get an upset stomach. Plant proteins are easier to digest. In particular, eating smaller portions of animal protein, increasing plant protein, chewing your food well (to a mush), avoiding drinks with or immediately after meals, combining animal protein with non-starch vegetables, and the use of digestive enzymes really help with protein metabolism. These guidelines become even more important as our digestive juices naturally decrease with age.
We’ll finish talking about dietary protein tomorrow.
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