A foodie's quest to turn up the heat through strength and conditioning with whole food and a hungry mind.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Protein: Builder, Producer, and Regulator

Hector with his protein power!
Hector, my outdoor box turtle, has finally risen from hibernation!  It's been a pretty mild winter, it is Texas after all, but this is the first we've seen him in a while.  His first meal consisted of 3 plump June Beetles for a whopping dose of protein to give him the strength to bust out of his hibernation hole.

Protein helps fuel and build us as we grow, then maintains our bodies throughout adulthood.  Many of us only think of protein as something for the big, bodybuilder types, but it's something we all need.  A few of the benefits provided by the macronutrient protein are:

1)IT BUILDS, MAINTAINS AND REPAIRS CELLS:- As you grow your body needs protein to construct every single cell including your bones, muscles, skin ,vital organs and your blood vessels.

2) IT IS USED TO PRODUCE IMPORTANT CHEMICALS:- Antibodies are built using protein and are a key part of your immune system which helps your body fight disease. Enzymes are also constructed from protein and act as a catalyst for many important reactions in your body including digestion.

3) IT REGULATES IMPORTANT BODILY PROCESSES:- Your body’s cells cannot move fluid directly, instead they produce proteins which attract water. These proteins can then be sent out to areas where fluid needs to be absorbed allowing a fluid balance to be maintained throughout the body.

4) IT HELPS YOUR BLOOD CLOT:- When your skin gets cut and starts to bleed, your body responds by producing fibrin, a stringy protein that forms clots. Once the fibrin has clotted, your body then produces another protein, collagen, which forms scar tissue and permanently heals the cut.

5) IT CAN ASSIST WITH WEIGHT LOSS:- First, it has a greater thermic effect than carbohydrates. This means that by eating protein you burn more calories during digestion and boost your metabolism. Secondly, studies suggest that protein can suppress your appetite by helping you feel satiated longer.

Protein is made up of 23 amino acids, 8 of which that are essential.  The 8 essential amino acids are "essential" because our bodies cannot produce them alone, and must source them from food.  The essential amino acids are:

- Isoleucine
- Leucine
- Lysine
- Methionine
- Phenylalanine
- Threonine
- Tryptophan
- Valine
The other 15 that our body can produce on it own are:
- Alanine
- Arginine
- Asparagine
- Aspartic Acid
- Cysteine
- Glutamic Acid
- Glutamine
- Glycine
- Histidine
- Ornithine
- Proline
- Selenocysteine
- Serine
- Taurine
- Tyrosine

A few complete proteins
Some incomplete proteins

As you might guess, a complete protein would include all essential and non-essential amino acids.  Incomplete proteins may have a few, but not all of the essential amino acids needed by our bodies.  Animal products (seafood, poultry, beef, dairy, etc.) are the most abundant source of complete proteins, but there are many vegetable sources (quinoa, buckwheat, soybeans, etc.) that are complete as well.  Now don't go off and shun all incomplete proteins, these proteins can be paired together to form a complete protein.

As a general guideline, follow these four principles to obtain a complete protein by pairing incomplete protein foods:

1. Combine legumes with grains - a classice example is rice and beans

2. Combine nuts or seeds with legumes or grains
3. Combine animal products with any vegetable product
4. Add a small amount of meat to a meal of vegetables

It helps to know that these incomplete sources do not have to be consumed in the same meal to reap the benefits of a complete protein, just consume different sources over the course of the day.

A helpful basis to begin combining foods for a complete protein
Try experimenting with different combos to come up with your own complete protein meal.  The idea is to keep it fun and learn a few things along the way.  Now go "complete" your hunger for protein and be sure to check for a new post soon!!

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