The Importance of Protein


Meat, fish, eggs & chicken

Protein is something we all know that we need, but do we really know just how important protein is?  What is protein’s function in our bodies? How much protein do we need?  What are the best sources of protein?  Can vegetarians get enough protein from plants?  What happens if we don’t get enough protein?  Let’s look at some answers, starting with the basic question: what is protein?

What exactly is protein?

  • Large molecules made up of one or more chains of amino acids
  • A nutrient that is absolutely necessary for our body’s growth and maintenance  – it forms a main part of the structure for all cells in our body, including organs, hair, skin and muscles

What is the function of protein? There are so many functions that affect almost every aspect of our body, such as:

  • Helps to form blood cells
  • Plays a role in proper functioning of antibodies to resist infection
  • Building blocks of body tissue – for maintenance and repair
  • Forms part of our bone structure
  • A major component in neurotransmitters which enable our nerves cells to send and receive messages
  • Replicates DNA
  • Regulates enzymes and hormones
  • Is a catalyst for metabolic reactions within our cells
  • Transports molecules from one location to another in the body

How much protein does our body require? 

That depends on age, health status and activity level.  The requirement for a sedentary adult is 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight.  Some groups of people require more, such as athletes, pregnant or breast-feeding women, children, infants, adolescents.

Too much protein can lead to bone loss, kidney disease, high cholesterol and heart problems.

Not enough protein in the diet can lead to stunted physical growth, wasting of muscle, anemia and poor brain development.

The 2 kinds of protein: complete protein and incomplete protein

Complete protein: (sometimes referred to as high quality protein)

  • Protein sources that contain all the amino acids required to build new proteins
  • Meat, eggs and fish are complete proteins.

Incomplete protein: (sometimes referred to as low quality protein)

  • Protein sources that are missing one or more essential amino acids (the body cannot produce them)
  • Many fruits, grains, nuts and vegetables are incomplete proteins. Legumes are more complete than whole grains and cereals
  • Two protein sources can be combined to form complete protein (referred to as complementary proteins) such as beans and rice.

Animal protein VS vegetable protein: There are pros and cons to each…

Animal protein:

  • Has the same overall effect on the body as vegetable protein (does the same job)
  • Red meat contains saturated fat
  • Does not contain fiber
  • The overall best sources are poultry and fish, according to Harvard School of Public Health

Vegetable protein:

  • Has the same overall effect on the body as animal protein (does the same job)
  • Does not contain saturated fat
  • Contains fiber
  • Not all vegetable protein sources contain complete protein

Can vegetarians get enough protein from plant sources?  

Absolutely! Vegetarian sources of protein include legumes, seeds, nuts, grains and vegetables. Keep in mind that it is important to eat a variety of vegetable protein foods in order to get enough protein.

What’s the best source of protein?

There isn’t ‘one best’ source.  From my research I conclude that a well balanced diet with a variety of protein sources is the best way to ensure you are getting enough of all the amino acids your body needs for protein.

Protein and a nutritionally balanced diet are very important.

Are you looking for some help to sort out nutritional information? Do you need some support around balanced meals, protein, fiber, and carbohydrates?   I’d love to help! Let’s talk and get you moving in the right direction! Contact me.


Informational Resources:

Harvard School of Public Health – Protein, Amino Acids – vegetarian protein


Copyright © 2013 Cathy Ormon – All Rights Reserved