Proteins: What are they and why do we need them?
What is the similarity between your favourite chicken wings, the stuff holding your bones together and your body’s immune system? The answer lies in the fact that they are fundamentally the same. They are all different types of protein. But what are proteins and why are they so important? Read on to know about the benefits of proteins in our diet and some best sources of protein!
What are Proteins?
Proteins are one of the four macromolecular groups, the other three being lipids, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids. Proteins are large, complex molecules performing many critical body functions. They do most of the cellular work and are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs.
Proteins comprise of smaller units called amino acids, which are attached to one another in long chains. These not only act as building blocks for new proteins in the body but also act as intermediary to the metabolic processes in the body. They provide energy of 4Kcal/gram.
Why are proteins important?
Some of the most critical biological functions of proteins are as follows:
They are the basic workforce of our immune system!
Millions of harmful microorganisms, toxins, as well as dangerous chemical compounds are always present in our surroundings. These harmful substances find their way into our bodies through the food we eat and the air we breathe! Antibodies or immunoglobulins are the soldiers in your body which fight with any potential threats entering your body keeping you healthy and safe. Can you guess what these antibodies are composed of?
That’s right, proteins! Apart from immunoglobulins, there are other proteins in our bodies which are of utmost importance in our immune system.
They are the language of communication for cells!
Ever wondered how the individual cells in our body communicate and coordinate with each other to accomplish complex feats such as walking, digestion and even consciousness?
Cells use a diverse array of proteins to accomplish what academicians call cellular signalling. There are certain protein receptors or switches on the outer surface of the cell which activate when it encounters certain signals. Moreover, cellular signalling manages the execution of all physiological processes, at the molecular level. Everything from human vision, muscular contraction, digestion and even cognition are due to the proteins taking part in cell signalling.
They can speed up chemical reactions over a million times!
Did you know the time it would take to assemble a single strand of DNA would be comparable to the age of planet Earth if it wasn’t for a class of proteins, called enzymes?
Carbonic anhydrase, one of the fastest enzymes in the human body responsible for respiration, can process around 400,000 to 600,000 substrate molecules in a second. Enzymes are biochemical catalysts which immensely speed up the rate of a biochemical reaction. The chemical processes which take part in our biological systems are inherently very complex and multifaceted. Therefore, it is safe to say that life would be impossible without the protein class named enzymes.
They form the structural basis of your body!
Proteins such as collagen form the basic scaffolding of your body which supports and protects all your vital organs. They also constitute the cytoskeleton forming the structural and functional scaffold of all your cells. Even the hardest bones of your body have a protein matrix supporting the tough outer calcium layer.
They are the courier service for food and nutrients!
Proteins present on the surface of cells enable selective inflow and outflow of molecules. Cells are capable of maintaining their internal composition due to them. Additionally, the proteins present inside the cell play an important role in maintaining the appropriate distribution of nutrients and energy throughout the cell. Thus, any minor disruption in the functionality of these proteins can result in a variety of diseases!
Needless to say, proteins are the reason for your critical life functions.
How to include proteins in diet?
Proteins from animal sources are known as complete proteins as they contain all the essential amino acids whereas plant sources of protein are known as incomplete proteins. Some best sources of protein are as follows:
- Plant Sources: Soy products, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts, almonds, quinoa, kale, zucchini, mushrooms, beans and chia seeds.
- Animal Sources: Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products.
However, there are a few plant foods that are complete proteins: quinoa, buckwheat, hemp seeds, chia seeds and moringa!
Thus, the importance of proteins in our diet is immense. It supports several critical body functions without which life would not be possible. What are your favorite protein foods? Let us know in the comments box below!
The National Institute of Nutrition recommends that a balanced diet should provide around 10 to 15 % of total calories from proteins. So for a 2,000 Calories diet, 200 – 300 calories should come from proteins. The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) is 60 grams/day for men and 55 grams/day for women.