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Protein and Amino Acids - The Building Blocks

Did you know that protein is a major component of not only your muscles, but also your skin, hair, eyes, and internal organs? Its true. Protein is a constituent part of many of the tissues in your body and accounts for up to 20% of your body weight. We need protein for both growth and maintenance of body tissue.

Amino Acids

What are Protein molecules composed of? One way to answer the question is to say that protein molecules are composed of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. However, protein can also be broken down into amino acids.

There are twenty standard amino acids and, of these, nine are considered to be essential. That is, they must be obtained from external food sources. The essential amino acids are as follows: The remaining eleven amino acids are called non-essential as they can be produced internally by the body. The non-essential amino acids are: Although amino acids are available in all foods, they are, of course, more abundant in protein-rich foods. Complete sources of protein are those foods that contain both essential and non-esssential amino acids. Complete protein may be obtained from animal sources, including beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, as well as animal by-products such as milk, eggs, and cheese.

There are also many vegetables that have adequate amounts of the essential amino acids though they may be low when compared to animal sources. Vegetables are typically lower in protein than animal based products. They are sometimes referred to as low quality protein.

Do Vegetarians and Vegans Receive Enough Protein?

Just because a person is a vegetarian or a vegan doesnít mean that their diet is necessarily lacking in protein. Itís quite possible to meet the minimum daily protein requirements through such dietary lifestyles. In fact, many plant sources contain adequate amounts of protein. A few sources of vegetarian and vegan protein are nuts, beans, and whole grain. Achieving a well-balanced vegetarian or vegan diet can ensure that you receive all the protein your body needs.

Protein Requirements

A number of institutions such as the World Health Organization have conducted independent studies to determine the amount of protein people need. They all conclude that the average daily protein requirement should be between 10% to 15% of our daily calorie intake.

Can you consume too much protein?

There is evidence that indicates that individuals who consume excessive amounts of protein may excrete excess calcium in their urine. This can increase the risk of osteoporosis. Excessive protein consumption can also result in impaired kidney function. Finally, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found evidence to suggest that eating less protein can possibly protect us against certain cancers that are not directly associated with obesity.

Make Healthy Choices

The bottom line is to get a good mix of proteins in your diet. If your protein intake is derived largely from animal sources, read the labels and choose lean cut meat. The key, of course, is to make healthy food choices. Eating a wide variety of foods will ensure you that you are receiving all the amino acids and protein that you need.

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