What is protein? What does it do for us? Can you get enough eating plant based foods?
Foods basically contain three main macronutrients, carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Whenever you eat a food that contains protein (regardless of whether it is animal or plant based) the body will digest that food and break down the protein into something called amino acids. Think of amino acids as the building blocks of protein. The cells in your intestine can’t absorb whole proteins, only single amino acids or very small chains of two or three amino acids – called peptides. The amino acids and peptides are then absorbed into the bloodstream and safely delivered at different parts around your body where they are required.
Protein-rich foods are often rated in terms of how “complete” their amino acid profile is, in relation to needs for essential amino acids. There are Nine “essential amino acids” must be originally be supplied by your diet, because your body does not have the ability to make (synthesize) them. Animal proteins are often considered complete proteins because they contain those 9 essential amino acids. However, vegetables are also perfectly good sources of protein and good amino acid profiles can be obtained from appropriate combinations, such as rice and beans (grain + legume) or hummus (legume + seeds). One of my goto plant based proteins are hemp seeds. Only 3 tbsp. of hemp = 10g protein!
Our cells, organs, muscles, connective tissue, and even our bones could not hold together without the help of protein. Proteins are equally important to our metabolism because all enzymes in our body that help trigger chemical reactions are proteins. Many of our most important regulatory hormones, like insulin, are also proteins. Whether they are structural proteins, immunoproteins, hormonal proteins, transport proteins, or enzymes, proteins are of utmost importance to our health.
Protein Deficiency Signs
A sluggish metabolism
Trouble losing weight
Trouble building muscle mass
Low energy levels and fatigue
Ridges on nails
Poor concentration and trouble learning
Moodiness and mood swings
Slow wound healing
Edema or fluid retention
At a minimum, the average person needs to consume 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For a person who weighs 150 pounds, that would be about 55 grams of protein per day. Of course the “right” amount of protein depends on many factors, including activity levels, age, muscle mass, and current state of health.
Many populations living around the world that still eat “traditional diets” high in plant foods tend to suffer from far less chronic diseases overall than those eating modern Western diets do.