Protein is one of three macronutrients (carbohydrates and fats being the other two) that we need to consume in larger quantities so our body can carry out its vital functions.
The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming 10%-35% of daily calories from protein, 45%-65% from carbohydrates, and 25%-35% from fats. There are many charts available that will help you hit your macronutrient target count in grams or calories, but regardless of which method you choose, ensuring you comply is key. Proteins are an important building block of bones, muscles, skin, cartilage, and blood and they also make enzymes (which aid in digestion), key hormones, and other vital chemicals. What are some of protein’s lesser known benefits and what sources of protein should you prioritize to stay fit and healthy?
Protein as the Source of Amino Acids
Your body breaks down protein into health-boosting amino acids that are key to a host of functions. Consuming different types of protein is important because there is a wide array of amino acids, each of which bestows different benefits.
Lysine, for instance, found in spirulina, eggs, soybeans, meat and cheese, supports the immune system, boosts muscle turnover, aids in collagen creation, helps produce antibodies, lowers high blood pressure, and more.
Other key amino acids include histidine (which plays a role in kidney function), threonine (used in the formation of tooth enamel and a vital aid in liver function), and methionine (important for muscle reparation). Not all amino acids can only be found in meat so if you consume a plant-based diet, researching into optimal protein sources is important.
Unexpected Roles Played by Protein
Most people are aware of the major functions protein is required for, but there are many more that are less frequently discussed in the media or even in health literature. One study published in the journal Cell Metabolism found that eating protein can stimulate the production of a hormone that staves off hunger. The hormone, called peptide YY, reduces food intake by one third in both normal-weight and obese people.
In 2018, a University of Utah study showed that a protein called Arc is pivotal for cognition and memory. Additional research by the International Osteoporosis Foundation shows that increasing protein intake benefits adult bone health.
Acing Your Protein Consumption
It is important to select quality protein and to consume this macronutrient in recommended amounts. One study by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital showed that substituting just one to two servings of animal proteins with plant proteins on a daily basis could reduce harmful cholesterol markers by around 5%. The health benefits can be even greater if people combine plant sources of protein with foods such as oats and barley since they lower cholesterol as well.
If you do opt to go plant-based, choose organic produce if possible as these contain higher levels of antioxidants and lower levels of heavy metals like cadmium. Also, go for organic meat if you are an omnivore, as this meat has considerably higher levels of Omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are key for everything from battling inflammation right through to keeping your skin in good condition.
If you already knew how important protein is to muscle building and repair, you may be surprised to learn how many important roles this macronutrient actually plays. From helping to keep skin beautiful (via collagen synthesis) right through to fostering bone health, it is an important nutrient for young and old alike. To boost cardiovascular benefits, try to consume more plant-based protein sources alongside other cholesterol-fighting foods.
Written by Sally Collins
About the Author
Sally Collins is a professional freelance writer with many years of experience across many different areas. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family and travelling as much as possible.
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