Without protein, the human body would not be able to survive.
Protein performs four very important functions.
The body uses protein for:
- Growth and repair of new and damaged tissues.
Skin, muscles, hair, finger nails, and blood clots are all
made of protein.
- Regulating all body functions through the
actions of enzymes, hormones, and other functional molecules.
- Transporting other nutrients and oxygen
throughout the body.
- Supplying energy when adequate amounts are
not supplied by carbohydrates and fat. Providing immune
system defenses; antibodies are made of proteins.
Protein is an organic macromolecule comprised of compounds
called amino acids. Amino acids are often referred to as the
building blocks of protein. They consist of an amino group
(H2N-), a carboxyl group (-COOH),
a hydrogen (-H), and what is called a “side group”
(usually denoted chemically as “R”) attached to
a central carbon atom. There are 22 different amino acids;
they differ by the type of “R” group attached.
Thirteen of the 22 amino acids can be manufactured by the
body. The remaining nine amino acids – often called
essential amino acids – must by supplied by the diet.
People in developing countries may suffer from diet-related
diseases and other health problems because of the shortage
of protein foods.
Protein foods that supply all nine of the essential amino
acids are called complete proteins. Foods that supply only
some of the nine essential amino acids are called incomplete
proteins. Two incomplete protein foods can be eaten together
to form a complete protein source. Most generally, animal
proteins are complete protein sources and plant proteins are
incomplete protein sources. However, animal proteins also
provide more fat and calories than plant proteins. It is a
wise dietary practice to consume combinations of plant proteins
to fulfill some of the body’s need for complete proteins.
Some examples of combining incomplete proteins to form complete
- Legumes (dried beans, lentils, split peas)
- Pinto beans and corn tortillas
- Peanut butter sandwich (peanuts are a legume).
The amino acids are joined together by peptide bonds to form
polypeptides. A protein consists of one or more of the polypeptide
chains. Enzymes are globular proteins that catalyze chemical
reactions within the body. For enzymes and all proteins, shape
determines function – and the shape is determined by
the sequence of the different amino acids.
Denaturation is the disruption of the bonds and the three-dimensional
shape of a protein. This is often accomplished by changes
in pH or temperature. To see denaturation in process, cook
an egg white. The visible differences (moving from translucent
to opaque, from watery to rubbery) are due to protein denaturation
caused by heat.
It is recommended for adults that 10-35% of calories come
from protein; for teenagers and children over the age of four,
it is recommended that 10-30% of calories come from protein.
Additional protein is needed by women during times of pregnancy
and lactation. People should consult the Dietary Reference
Intake charts for their gender and age group for specific