Protein is an essential element of good human nutrition because the human body needs it to function. But there are misconceptions and misunderstandings about protein and its benefits. You don’t have to be a weight lifter to need protein.
Every part of the human body has protein–bone, muscle, skin and virtually every organ and body part. All proteins are made from twenty or so amino acids. Amino acids can be considered the building blocks of the human body.
What many people don’t realize is that our bodies don’t store amino acids, so our bodies have to manufacture them either completely from scratch or by taking existing proteins and modifying them. Our bodies modify them from the foods we eat. Protein from meat and fish are particularly easy for the body to modify. Nine of the amino acids come from food. Not all proteins from food contain all the amino acids that your body needs. Your body does have to manufacture some of them.
Most people think that they get their protein only from meat, poultry, eggs or fish. Did you know that the following foods also contain significant protein including all tree nuts like walnuts, pistachios and almonds, seeds like sunflower and pumpkin, milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products, vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, grains like oats and quinoa, and beans and legumes like lentils and peanuts? (Yes, peanuts, unlike walnuts and almonds, are not really nuts, they are legumes!)
Doctors tell us that our body needs about seven grams of protein per day for every twenty pounds of body weight. That means that a 120-pound person needs about 42 grams of protein per day. Or a 180-pound person needs about 63 grams of protein per day.
While most people in the US do consume enough protein, millions of people in the world, especially children do not. Protein nutrition deficiency can cause significant health problems from stunted growth and lower muscle mass to decreased immune deficiency and heart and respiratory problems. And while most Americans consume more than enough protein, many get their protein at a cost to their health.
What many people don’t realize is that when you eat protein, you don’t just eat the protein. The protein-rich foods that we eat also contain fat, sodium, fiber, sugar, and other substances. Some of those substances are good for you and some—not so much. For example, when you eat a 4-ounce sirloin steak, you are consuming about 34 grams of protein. But you are also consuming about 5 grams of very unhealthy saturated animal fat. If you change that 4-ounce steak to a 4-ounce grilled wild salmon steak, then you are consuming about 31 grams of protein and only about 1 gram of bad saturated fat. In addition, the salmon is loaded with omega-3 fish oil which is extremely good for heart health.
So the next time you eat, think about your protein nutrition. Make sure you are getting at least 30-40% of your daily supply of protein at each of your three meals. And try to get it from sources other than just red meat.