The Purpose of Protein

We will begin our discussion of the macronutrients with protein.

What do proteins do in the body? Why are they so important?

Protein provides the structural basis for our body: building and repairing our muscles, ligaments, tendons, organs, glands, nails, hair, blood, hormones, neurotransmitters, cell receptor sites, antibodies, and enzymes.  

As you read and learn about what protein does in your body, please consider this question – are you eating enough protein?

Let’s take a closer look at the functions of protein:

Building and repairing muscles, ligaments, and tendons – this is obviously an extremely important function.  Building and repairing is a continuous process.  One example is exercise.  Exercise breaks down muscle and then the body builds newer, bigger, and stronger muscle in its place via the repair process.  Protein is essential for a strong body.  If you have had a recent injury or are recovering from an injury protein is even more important.

Organs and glands – these are at the basic operating systems of your body.  The heart and lungs for breathing and circulation; the stomach, small intestines, large intestines, and pancreas for digestion; the liver for hundreds of functions including keeping the blood clean; the endocrine glands for producing the hormones that regulate and monitor how your body functions.  Protein keeps these systems up and running!

Nails and hair – for beautiful glowing hair and robust nails protein is an important ingredient.
Hormones – regulating and controlling all the key processes of your body.  This includes blood sugar control, stress response, metabolism, and the menstrual cycle to name a few.  Along with neurotransmitters the hormones determine how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally at any given moment.

Neurotransmitters – neurotransmitters are very important as they keep us mentally sharp and decisive.  Quite simply – neurotransmitters give us the ability to be happy, alert, remember, and focus.  There are two types of neurotransmitters.  Excitatory neurotransmitters energize, excite, stimulate, focus, learn, and remember.  Inhibitory neurotransmitters keep us happy, relaxed, and peaceful.  As with most areas of life, it is all about balance.  

Antibodies – a critical part of our immune system to keep us healthy.

Enzymes – the catalyst to all the chemical reactions in our bodies.  

Where does protein come from?

Proteins come from both animal (meat, fish, poultry, milk, cheese, eggs) and plant sources (whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds).  When we eat protein we are actually consuming amino acids.  Different proteins have different amino acid compositions.  

Among the amino acids there are nine that are considered “essential.”  Anytime you hear the word “essential” in nutrition it means we need to eat that specific nutrient because our body does not manufacture it.  Other “essentials” are some fatty acids, Vitamin C, and minerals.

Since our body is constantly building and repairing itself, it requires a constant supply of protein.  Therefore I recommend protein be consumed with each meal. 

What proteins should I eat?

  • MEATS:  Beef, bison, lamb, veal, lean pork
  • POULTRY:  Chicken, turkey, duck
  • SEAFOOD:  Any fish or shellfish, fresh or frozen
  • OTHER PROTEINS:  Legumes (beans and peas)
  • NUTS & SEEDS:  Nuts and seeds such as: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, raw or dehydrated.  Natural nut butters where oil rises to the top - avoid commercial brands (containing hydrogenated oils and sugar).
  • DAIRY: Eggs, Butter, Cheese, Cottage cheese, Yogurt without added sugar
  • GRAINS:
·         Sprouted grain bread
·         Whole grain breads/crackers
·         Whole grains - brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, millet, wild rice
·         Whole grain cereals, pastas - i.e. oatmeal, health store cereals

Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. His office is in Mequon, WI. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at bernie@brwellness.com, call (262) 389-9907 or go to www.brwellness.com.