The word “protein” brings to mind different images, from a slab of juicy steak or a three-egg omelet to a shake taken after a strenuous workout, but what is it really?
Protein, from its many sources, satisfies our palette and stomachs. So essential to our bodies is this nutrient that it has even been theorized to be a crucial factor in the development of the human brain.
Proteins are basically composed of 22 amino acids held together by peptide bonds. Most of the amino acids are deemed “non-essential” as they can be produced within our bodies. The rest, however, are called “essential,” because they can only be obtained from external sources.
Such sources of essential amino acids include “complete proteins” such as eggs, fish, meat and dairy. These foods contain high-quality and abundant amino acids.
Less rich sources are legumes, fruits, vegetables and nuts, which are thought of as “incomplete proteins.” These foods lack one or more of the essential amino acids.
The consumption of protein in first-world countries is believed to be more than what is required for daily nourishment. Mass production of livestock and dairy products have allowed for easy access and consumption.
Although athletes who bulk up on proteins may be able to attain phenomenal performances, medical science indicates that over-consumption can lead to liver and kidney damage as the organs are over-exerted in the processing effort.
Moreover, an over abundance of protein can be stored as fat. It can also increase uric acid levels and even weaken bones.
At the other end of the spectrum, a lack or protein tends to render humans weak and emaciated. The reason: proteins are needed to deliver enzymes, hormones and immunoglobulins needed for healthy tissue and minerals such as phosphorus as well as iron needed for vitality.
Our Paleolithic ancestors managed to maintain balance in their diet, getting sufficient amounts of protein to survive and thrive. Modeling their eating behaviors may very well be the best way gain the amino acids necessary for health in this modern age, too.
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