Protein in a Healthy Diet

Submitted by Dave Draeger, CDM, CFPP,

Director of Dietary and Dining Services

Protein has taken its fair share of flack in the past due to being associated with coronary artery disease and hyperlipidemia.  Recently, protein has emerged as an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  Protein is crucial to good health.  Producers have improved best practices to ensure leaner sources of protein.

Protein comes from the Greek word proteos, meaning “primary” or “first”.  Proteins are made up of 20 amino acids that form thousands of different proteins in the body.  Proteins are a macro-nutrient, meaning you need large amounts of it to stay healthy.  The body does not store protein so it is essential to consume adequate amounts to create, maintain and fuel our cells and body.

Protein is an important component of every cell in the body and is crucial to good health.  Proteins perform important functions in the body which are essential for daily living and include:

  1. Growing and maintaining tissues in the body – the body’s proteins are in constant state of turnover
  2. Biochemical reactions occurring within and outside of your cells that perform bodily functions
  3. Acting as a chemical messenger that aids communication and hormone regulation
  4. Providing structure, stiffness, strength, elasticity and rigidity in cells
  5. Managing and regulating proper PH in bodily fluids by balancing the concentration of acids and bases in the body
  6. Balancing bodily fluids between your blood and surrounding tissues
  7. Bolstering immune health by forming antibodies to fight disease causing bacteria and viruses
  8. Transporting and storing nutrients into and out of cells
  9. Providing energy to the body (4 calories per gram)

Proteins are derived from animal or plant foods.  Proteins can be complete or incomplete.  Complete proteins contain 20+ types of amino acids required to make new protein in the body.  Animal proteins tend to be good sources of complete proteins.  Incomplete proteins lack one or more of the essential 9 amino acids which our body cannot make.  Plant based proteins are generally incomplete and require a greater variety to meet our body’s needs.

Basic protein requirements are .8 grams per kilogram of body weight.  To determine the correct amount of kilograms, divide pounds of body weight by 2.2.  One can also use calories derived from protein intake.  Acceptable parameters would be 10% to 35% of calories each day.  Protein intake may vary among individuals depending upon age, condition, lifestyle, pre-existing conditions or diseases.  Some individuals may require up to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight.  One should consult their physician if questioning an increase in protein.

Protein has many roles in your body and is one of the most important nutrients for your health.  Consuming the appropriate amount and type will help maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Next month, we will discuss further needs, types, programs, and diets to accommodate our protein needs.