What do chicken’s, eggs, and fish, have in common? They’re all answers to the “what is protein” question.
If you’re like 99.9% of the folks I talk to about nutrition, then you couldn’t care less about the scientific definition of protein or about how many amino acids protein contains and what each one does for you. You just want a basic definition and understanding to get you on the right track.
Protein is one of the 3 macro-nutrients. The other 2 are carbohydrates and fats. It’s found in virtually every cell of your body. Your body uses protein to do practically everything. All your muscles and organs are maintained and repaired by protein. Antibodies that fight infection and disease cannot be produced without protein. Your skin, hair and finger nails all need protein to stay strong and healthy.
Protein is essential for life. Without it, you’d shrivel up and die.
How’s that for cold hard truth?
A Little Bit of Science Here
I do have to get a little sciency here to give you a clear picture. Proteins are made up of amino acids. Our human bodies can only use 20 of the 50, or so, amino’s that scientists have discovered. Eleven of those amino’s are non-essential, meaning your body can produce them on it’s own and it’s “not essential” that you eat foods that contain them.
The remaining 9 amino’s are essential, meaning your body does not produce them and it’s “essential” you eat foods that contain them.
Two Types of Protein
Every source of protein will not have all 20 amino acids. Some do, and those sources are categorized as “complete” proteins. The ones that are short a few amino’s are categorized as “incomplete” proteins.
Of course you need all 20 amino’s to keep your body functioning properly. But have no fear, the most commonly consumed foods are complete. Foods like chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, and beef are all complete sources. Basically, if it’s and animal source then it’s complete.
Plant based foods like beans, soy, some grains, and some veggies are your incomplete sources and need to be combined with each other to complete the amino profile.
You don’t need to be concerned about all those specifics like which one’s to combine, and if you have to eat the combinations at the same time for the protein to be effective. I probably didn’t need to write that last sentence, but I just wanted to be clear.
The fact is, you’ll get complete proteins at some point throughout your week. So rest easy.
To Summarize This Whole What Is Protein Thing
- It’s primarily a food made from an animal
- We must have it for strength, skin elasticity, a healthy immune system, healthy organs, metabolism. Quite literally, almost every single function of your body requires this stuff.
- It’s delicious!