The Building Blocks of Life

Are you getting enough protein?  As a vegetarian I get asked that question almost every day.  It seems as if protein is this magical food that when you eat it your life is just better, maybe that is why our society seems to be adding protein to every single meal.  However according to the DRI established by the USDA only 10-35% of our calories should come from protein.  Protein is the basic building block for growth, when you consume protein it goes through a digestion process where it is broken down into amino acids.  These amino acids are then reassembled into muscle, nerves, hormones, enzymes, and neurochemicals.  Proteins can also be converted into glucose to use for energy, but it is not as efficient as carbohydrates and fats.

So are you getting enough protein?  It is recommend we eat at least 1-2 gm per Kilogram of body weight (Kilogram = pounds divided by 2.2). For example, a 150 lb person weighs 68 kg. This means they should consume at least 68-136 gm of protein per day.  It is important that you do eat enough protein in your diet because protein is involved in:

  • Growth (especially important for children, teens, and pregnant women)
  • Tissue repair
  • Immune function
  • Making essential hormones and enzymes
  • Energy source
  • Preserving lean muscle mass

Where do you get protein?  Protein comes from meats, poultry, fish, meat substitutes, cheese, milk, nuts, legumes, and can be found in smaller amounts in starchy foods and vegetables. Protein that comes from an animal source however contains all the essential amino acids (essential amino acids are ones that we need to get from our diet), while most plant protein sources needed to be combined properly to get all the essential amino acids.

Overall, protein is a very important part of our diet, but it is not the only part (or even the largest part).  A healthy balanced diet is a combination of carbohydrates, fats, and protein.

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