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What is protein?

Protein is a substance that is found throughout the body, from the cells to the muscles. It can provide the body with energy, but most importantly, it is vital for repairs within the body and construction of new cells. Find out more about protein in this article.

Structure

In short, protein is made from a chain of amino acids all linked together. An amino acid is made of a combination of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen which form different structures and combine together to form different proteins. The body needs all of the 22 types of amino acids to function properly. There are essential and non-essential amino acids - the non-essential type is so called because the body can actually produce these itself. There are 14 of these, leaving 8 amino acids which are known as essential and must be taken in through our food. Complete proteins are found in food which contain all 8 amino acids. If one or more is lacking, the proteins are known as incomplete.

Function

Protein is absolutely vital for the body to remain strong and healthy, and is involved throughout the body in countless processes. Protein is the major part of new cells and necessary for cell repair, and on a larger scale, it is the main element in muscles, organs and tissues. As well as this, it is needed for bodily functions such as digestion and it is also a vital part of the production of antibodies. Protein also keeps our hair, nails, skin and bones strong and healthy.

Requirement

The human body requires different amounts of protein at different stages of life. Protein is most important during the major periods of growth. This includes childhood from infancy to adulthood, and also pregnancy. Adults still need protein as part of their diet as the body has to make regular essential repairs.

Sources

The best types of food with proteins are animal products such as meat, fish, dairy products (for example cheese, milk and yoghurts) and eggs. Vegetarians and vegans can sometimes suffer from a lack of protein in their diets as they obviously eat fewer or none of the foods mentioned above. Soy is also a good source of protein and has the benefit of being
vegetable-based. Aside from that, protein supplements are available as well. Sources of incomplete protein can be combined to ensure that all the relevant amino acids are present in a meal, for example baked beans on toast.

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