What words do you associate with protein? Meat, eggs, cheese, muscles and growth. You have to eat these foods to get enough protein to grow big and strong. The protein in meat is more usable than the protein in plants. If you do body-building exercise you need more protein. Are these right or wrong? Many myths abound about protein, how much you need and the best food sources.

What is protein for?

The word protein itself is derived from a Greek word protos, meaning ‘first’, since protein is the basic material of all living cells which making up more than 70% of the dry weight. They are essentials to produce new tissues for growth, tissue repair, regulate and maintain body functions.  They are also used to make enzymes used for digestion and protection, antibodies to improve immunity, neurotransmitters and essential hormones used for body regulation, and help transport substances around the body. In addition, proteins may be used as a source of energy when carbohydrates and fats are not available.

Amino acids – Building blocks of the body

The digestive system breaks down protein into its building blocks – amino acids. There are 500 known amino acids. 20 of them are pieced together in varying combinations to make different kinds of protein in our body, which form the material for our cells and organs in much the same way that letters make words that combine to form sentences and paragraphs.

Of the 20 necessary for life, 9 amino acids are considered essential since they cannot be produced by the body and must be eaten. The remaining 11 can be made, although some are semi-essential under certain conditions.

Each of the essential 9 deserves its own optimal daily amount, although these have yet to be set. The balance of these 9 amino acids in the protein of any given food determines its quality or usability. So how much protein do you need, and what is the best-quality protein?

How much protein do you need?

Estimates for protein requirement vary depending on who you speak to. The World Health Organization builds in a safety margin and recommends around 10 to 20 percent of daily calories come from protein. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the amount of protein foods a person should eat depends on age, sex, and level of physical activity.

A safe level of protein ranges from 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, up to 2 grams of protein per kilogram for very active athletes. Most people truly need to be eating about 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Beyond the basics of preventing deficiency and ensuring a baseline of protein synthesis, we may need even more protein in our diets for optimal functioning, including good immune function, metabolism, satiety, weight management and performance. In other words, we need a small amount of protein to survive, but we need a lot more to thrive.

Why is it important to get enough protein?

Protein deficiency can contribute to weakness, mood changes and more. A lack of protein in your diet can cause side effects/symptoms, including muscle weakness or muscle wasting, loss of concentration, anxiety, joint discomfort, and trouble sleeping.

Protein is constantly broken down and used for energy, so you need to replenish your body’s supply on a daily basis by consuming foods that supply protein.

Our bodies need amino acids to produce important molecules in our body; like enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and antibodies. Without an adequate protein intake, our bodies can’t function well at all.

What is protein for

Animal or Vegetable?

Proteins can come from animal or plant foods, and if it is animal or plant based will mean the protein can have some differences.

Plant based proteins are usually deficient in at least one or two essential amino acid, but animal based proteins are much more similar to our proteins and contain all essential amino acids. Therefore, animal foods are called complete proteins, and plant foods are called incomplete proteins. Plant based protein can have other nutrients like fiber and antioxidants. Animal based proteins can be higher in fat and lower in fiber.

Can you only eat plant proteins?

The best foods to eat for protein are not necessarily those that are highest in protein. Yes, you can only eat plant proteins and still be able to get all essential amino acids and be within the daily target percent calories from protein.  In order to do this, you need to eat a variety of plant foods that provide protein like: grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and soy.

In fact, a lamb chop provides 30 percent of total calories as protein and 70 percent as saturated fat. Half the calories in soya beans come from protein, so it is actually a better source of protein than lamb, but its real advantage is that the rest of the calories come from desirable complex carbohydrates. It also contains no saturated fat. This makes food made from soya ideal, especially for vegetarians.

Why you should limit animal protein intake

The traditional view is that meat is good for you, being high in protein and iron. However, a growing concern that modern farming methods have gone too far. Meat consumption is going down as more and more people are becoming vegetarian and vegan. Leaving moral considerations aside, there are a number of safety issues that give cause for genuine concern: they include the use of antibiotics, growth hormones and pesticide dips.

Hormones – a growing problem

Most meat today, whether chicken, beef, pork or lamb, has received hormone treatment of one kind or another. Milk too, is a rich source of hormones, particularly estrogen. These hormones are used to force growth rates and increase milk yields. These are the chemicals that are at the center of the concern about ‘estrogen dominance’, an increasingly common syndrome found in men and women with hormone-related disease. So far, breast cancer, fibroids, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, prostate and testicular cancer have all been linked to excessive estrogen levels.

Antibiotics – is your meat bugged?

Antibiotics are in widespread use in both humans and animals. Unlike human medicine, antibiotics are routinely added to animal feed to prevent infection and enhance growth to higher profits faster.

The World Health Organization has called for a reduction in the use of antibiotics in agriculture because of the risk to human health; antibiotic residues are frequently found in samples of meat, fish and eggs. It’s potentially a huge problem that common strains of bacteria causing food poisoning are becoming resistant to antibiotics.

Too much meat could be bad for your health and bones

Consumption of large quantities of processed meats such as hot dogs, sausages, and deli meats, have been linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetescardiovascular disease, and cancer (particularly stomach and colon cancer). You’ll have a harder time maintaining weight loss if you eat these proteins often, and you may be damaging your body.Overall, a meat-eater is likely to suffer from degenerative diseases ten years earlier than a vegetarian.

Excess protein diet is a contributor to osteoporosis. Protein-rich foods will produce acid when metabolized by your body. However we cannot tolerate substantial changes in the acid pH of blood, so our body will neutralize or buffer this effect through two main alkaline agents: sodium and calcium. When body reserves of sodium are used up, calcium is taken from the bone.

General guidelines for your protein intake:

  • Eat two servings of beans, lentils, quinoa, seeds, soya or other vegetable protein every day.

  • Reduce our intake of dairy products and other animal protein, choosing lean meat, free-range egg or fish and eating no more than 4 servings a week.

  • Eat organic whenever possible, to avoid possible contamination with hormones and antibiotics.

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