Unlike the micronutrients that I have been highlighting in this series, macronutrients like protein are required by the body in greater amounts from food for optimal health. Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. Some of these amino acids can be made by the body but some are essential in that we need to obtain them from food.
Why we need protein:
Proteins are constantly being made and broken down in the body. Loss of protein mass is linked to impaired immunity, liver and muscle function. Protein is needed for maintaining muscle mass, energy, hormones and key enzymes. It is a part of every cell and is important for healthy hair, strong nails and supple skin.
Plant-based vs. animal-based protein:
Most plant-based foods that are a good source of protein like legumes, nuts and seeds, happen to be “incomplete” sources which means they lack all essential amino acids we need to produce a complete protein. We must actively seek out essential amino acids from food in order to replace their daily turnover. Animal foods on the other hand like meat, fish and eggs, are considered higher biological value. These foods provide the most bioavailable form of protein which means our body is able to digest and absorb it most readily. The key is to provide your body with a wide variety of amino acids on a regular basis.
How much we need:
A healthy adult should aim for 0.8 grams per 1 kilogram of body weight. This recommendation is much lower than many realize and it’s been estimated that Americans as a whole eat more protein than what they need. You can easily meet your daily requirement by including a variety of protein-continaining foods in your diet on a daily basis. Read more about protein and the different macronutrients here.