March is National Nutrition Month! Learn more about protein from our registered dietitians

Mar 10, 2020

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What is Protein?

Protein is a macronutrient, which means we need an adequate amount in our diets to maintain health. Protein plays many important roles in the body which include but are not limited to; muscle formation, enzymes, hormones, fluid and electrolyte balance, and antibodies.

Protein Formation

Proteins are made up of amino acids. A single protein can be made up of 20 different amino acids. There are two types of amino acids, essential and non-essential. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and therefore must be consumed in the diet. There are 9 essential amino acids. Non-essential amino acids can be made by the body from protein that is consumed from foods.

Protein Quality

High-quality protein, complete protein, and complementary proteins are common phrases that can sometimes be confusing. Here is what they mean:

  1. High-quality protein- an easily digestible protein that contains all 9 essential amino acids. The body can use most, if not all, of the protein in the food.
  2. Complete protein- either food that has all 9 amino acids, or two or more foods paired together to contain all 9 essential amino acids.
  3. Complementary proteins- most plant protein sources do not contain all 9 essential amino acids, so they must be paired with other plant sources to make a complete protein. Hence the name complementary because the proteins complement each other to make a complete protein.

Protein Powders

Protein powders are typically made from collagen, whey, egg, casein, and sometimes beef. Plant protein powders are becoming more popular which can be made from peas, hemp, soy, algae, and brown rice.

Protein powders may be a good choice for individuals with increased protein needs such as older adults, athletes, people with certain illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, COPD, heart failure, or anyone with hypermetabolism.

Protein Sources

Meat, poultry, and fish are all high-quality sources of complete proteins, but there are so many other foods that contain protein:

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