What Is Protein And Why Is It So Important?
The body needs certain macronutrients for it to function properly. There are three main macronutrients, all of which are needed to help sustain life and provide energy for the body: fats, carbohydrates, and protein. So what is protein, exactly? And why is protein so important?
Protein is made up of a chain of amino acids, which are chemical compounds comprised of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, or sulfur. Amino acids are considered to be the building blocks of proteins, and protein is needed for the building and maintenance of muscle mass. Thus, amino acids are vital to getting all the protein the body needs.
Every cell in the human body contains protein. In food, protein is typically found in meats or other animal products; however, it can also be found in some plant-based foods, including nuts and legumes. When these foods are consumed, the protein is broken down into those much-needed amino acids.
What does protein do for the body?
Protein is a part of many processes in the body. It is mainly needed to help maintain or build muscle mass, which is a vital component of metabolism. When the body is getting enough protein, it can help to increase how efficiently the metabolism works by ensuring that calories and fat are burning at an optimal rate.
When the metabolism is working as it should because there is an adequate amount of muscle mass, it plays a role in the body’s stress response following trauma or illness. Since protein is broken down into amino acids, it also helps to repair both muscles and bones. Aside from muscles and metabolism, protein can also lend a hand in the production of essential hormones and enzymes that contribute to overall health.
One such hormone is ghrelin, also referred to as the hunger hormone. Ghrelin tells the body to increase food intake, and when a person is getting adequate protein, levels of ghrelin become lowered. This can aid in the management of weight and food cravings. Protein also helps to get important molecules where they need to go throughout the body – for example, transporting oxygen to the body’s cells through the protein hemoglobin.
Image by Nigel Msipa on Unsplash: Protein is vital for building and maintaining muscle mass.
Why is protein so important?
Protein plays a role in overall health. Its importance lies in both what it can do for the body and what it can prevent from happening to the body. For example, studies have shown that protein can help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Since high blood pressure increases the risk for heart attacks, strokes, and chronic kidney disease, lowering it can be of great health benefit.
Aging is a huge cause of lower muscle mass. Protein intake can help by reducing the muscle deterioration that comes along with getting older. Protein intake also has the ability to reduce the duration and severity of injury because it can help to speed up healing. Studies have also found that adequate protein consumption can be good for bone health.
Another major benefit of eating protein is that it can help with brain health. The amino acids that make up neurotransmitters are made through the digestion of protein, and these neurotransmitters are required for cognitive health.
What happens if you start eating more protein?
Depending on your starting level of protein intake, eating more can be good or bad for the body. On the negative side, eating too much protein can be detrimental to one’s health. Studies have shown that too much protein can lead to many health issues such as weight gain, bad breath, gastrointestinal issues, and dehydration. Even more serious health concerns, such as cancer, have been experienced following a diet that’s too high in protein.
Studies have also shown that high-protein diets, specifically in those that are consuming red meat as their main source of protein, can lead to an increased risk of developing colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer.
On the positive side, if you are a person who does not get an adequate amount of protein and you begin to eat more, you may experience an increase in energy levels, weight loss, a better appetite, and an increased metabolic rate. When metabolism is boosted, it can lead to a healthier weight and more energy.
What happens if you don’t get enough protein?
The typical amount of protein people should be getting in their diet varies, but the recommended amount is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If a person does not get that amount in their diet, they run the risk of becoming deficient. A protein deficiency can lead to various health problems such as edema; decreased skin, hair, and nail health; loss of muscle mass; and an increased risk for bone fractures.
A protein deficiency can also wreak havoc on the immune system. This can lead to more severe infections and impaired immune function. Studies have shown that even if the protein intake is low for a short period of time, it can still suppress the immune response, which could lead to a heightened susceptibility to contracting dangerous diseases.
Image by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash: Although animal products have the most protein, many plant-based foods such as nuts can be adequate sources of the macronutrient.
Every person is different when it comes to their protein needs, so calculating how much you need it vital to your overall health. You will have to take into account your age, weight, activity level, and the amount of muscle mass you have. Athletes and older adults require the most protein in their diets, so depending on where your starting point is, your protein needs will vary.
Protein, like every other nutrient, is needed for the body to run optimally. Eating too much can lead to adverse health effects, as can eating too little. It’s all about finding that protein sweet spot to help keep you strong and healthy.
Featured image by Sam Moqadam on Unsplash
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