The word protein…
…is derived from the Greek word meaning “first” or “primary”.
This means it is our most important macronutrient. If we were to get enough protein and not enough fats or carbohydrates our health would suffer, but we would survive.
If we ONLY ate carbs and fat, we would soon perish, as the body absolutely needs protein.
Luckily natural foods don’t come like this and protein sources can be found readily in not only animal products but throughout the plant kingdom, too, especially in nuts and seeds.
What are proteins and what do they do?
Proteins are large (in the world of molecules), complex molecules that play many critical roles in the body. They do most of the work in cells and are required for the structure, function, and regulation of your body’s tissues and organs.
Protein molecules are collections of hundreds or thousands of smaller units called amino acids. There are 20 different types of amino acids that can be combined (attached to one another in long chains) to make a protein. The sequence of amino acids determines each protein’s unique 3-dimensional structure and its specific function.
Here is a list of amazing functions of PROTEINS in the body.
Immunity – Proteins make the structure of antibodies, which help protect the body by binding to specific foreign nasties, such as viruses and bacteria.
Enzymes – Proteins are the basic structure of enzymes. Enzymes are catalysts, meaning they start and facilitate thousands of chemical reactions that take place in each and every cell each during every second of your life and many continue to operate even after you die. They also assist with the formation of new molecules by “reading” the genetic information stored in DNA.
Hormones/Neurotransmitters – Simply put, these are just messengers taking information from different organs/glands/tissues/cells to others all around the body. Many, but not all, are protein structures. Good mental health and hormonal health is tied to adequate protein consumption.
Transporter proteins – There are thousands of proteins that are specifically designed to carry atoms and small molecules within cells and throughout the body.
Structure – Proteins are what create your structure. Your muscles, your bones, and all the other connective tissues in your body are specific sequences of amino acids creating specialized shapes and sizes for specific functions. They provide structure and support for the tiniest cells up to the larger scale, where they create movement.
Energy – Protein can be a major source of energy, so if you consume more protein than you need for structural maintenance and the other aforementioned functions, your body will use it for energy. Further, protein has the largest Thermic effect of food (TEF), which is the amount of energy needed beyond one’s basal metabolic rate due to the energy cost of processing food for use.
These functions may seem rather scientific and complex but they are the building blocks of your body! It is amazing what proteins can do. Do you choose to fuel your body with this essential macronutrient, or face the consequences of low protein consumption?
Now that we understand the importance of proteins, in the following article, I’ll highlight how to calculate YOUR ideal protein intake for optimal function and wellness.
-Dr. Jerome Craig