Proteins are a very important macronutrient for our body. Unlike carbohydrates and fats, our body needs to ingest proteins often, as we cannot store them in case we are unable to eat them.We cannot store them in case we overeat one day.
In fact, our body’s storehouse of protein is mostly our own muscle. If we do not ingest protein, when our body needs this type of material, it will destroy some of our muscle fibers. That is best avoided, and it is for that reason that many diets take into account which foods are richest in protein.
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What exactly are proteins?
Proteins are the basic components for our body and the body of any organism to develop a structure. Therefore, the primary function of proteins is to form tissues, although they also have many other functions and are the basis of many compounds in our body, such as hormones or enzymes.
From a chemical point of view, proteins are macromolecules made up of smaller pieces known as amino acids. There are 22 of them, and the chain linkage of amino acids combined in multiple ways gives rise to the different proteins.
Essential amino acids and their importance to our body
Of the 22 amino acids that exist, eight of them are known as essential amino acids.. They receive this name because they are of vital importance for our body, since it cannot synthesize them fast enough considering the metabolic demands of our body.
These amino acids have to be ingested often to avoid deficiencies in our body, and is that to build human protein this raw material is needed. Below is a list of the 8 essential amino acids:
When a food contains all 8 essential amino acids it is said to be a source of high biological value protein.. This, for practical purposes, means that if we eat the food in question our body will have all the material necessary to form human protein.
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Foods rich in animal protein
All foods that come from an animal source are good sources of protein. Animal bodies, like us, also need to build their own protein. What happens is that some of them are able to synthesize some amino acids that are essential for us on their own. This is the reason why herbivorous animals can create their own body proteins.
Egg protein is considered to be the best quality protein because it contains all 8 essential amino acids in a very good proportion. Albumin is the protein found in this food, and it is very well disposed to be absorbed by the intestine.
We normally consume chicken eggs, but it doesn’t matter if they are goose, quail or ostrich eggs; all eggs have proteins of high biological value.
2. Milk, yogurt and other dairy products
Dairy products contain a protein called casein, which, like egg albumin, contains all the essential amino acids.. For this reason, whenever you eat a food that can be classified as dairy, you will be ingesting protein of high biological value.
Milk products are very varied and are very present in our gastronomy, so it will not be difficult for you to eat any of them. Some examples of them are milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, kefir and curd.
Obviously meat is a great source of protein. Sometimes people interpret “meat” to mean red meat. In this section we want to make it clear that we are referring to any type of meat, including poultry, since for practical purposes it is always a good source of protein.
Meat can be, therefore, from any animal: pork, beef, chicken, horse, rabbit, ox, partridge, turkey, goat, sheep, ….
Another thing is that there are meats with more fat content and others leaner. In this case yes that it is necessary to make an observation, and it is that if the meat is leaner there will be more proportion of protein and less of fat. For example, pork or beef is more fatty than goat or rabbit meat.
4. Fish, crustaceans or mollusks
Any fish, crustacean or mollusk that we eat is a good source of protein.. These living beings that live in the sea provide us with a total protein quality comparable to that of meat. Thus, whether we eat hake, shrimps or mussels, we will be ingesting protein that our body will know how to take advantage of.
Regarding the protein density we could say the same as we have commented in the case of meat; those fish that are leaner will have more protein concentration. In this way, the white fish will be more proteic than the blue fish, which has more fat…
Foods rich in vegetable protein
There are few foods of vegetable origin that provide us with the 8 essential amino acids in perfect proportions to make up human protein.. It is not easy to guarantee a sufficient protein intake by eating only vegetables without considering what type of amino acids they contain. Fortunately, knowing well the different sources of vegetable protein we can be vegetarians or vegans without problems.
Examples of foods of vegetable origin that provide us with protein of high biological value:
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Combination of plant foods.
There are many foods of plant origin that provide many amino acids, but still lack some essential amino acid or have it in very low proportions..
Just missing one of the eight can cause us a serious aggravation, because our body does not have all the necessary pieces to create protein for the body itself.
The good news is that we can combine plant foods to get all eight, something that is essential to know.
For example, grains, seeds and nuts all have a good repertoire of amino acids, but they lack enough lysine. Lysine can appear in these foods but in very low amounts, so our body will not be able to create protein.
On the other hand, legumes have a good supply of lysine and the other essential amino acids. Or rather, all of them except methionine.
Can you think what we can do?
- Cereals + legumes
- Pulses + nuts
- Legumes + seeds
- *Tofu + cereals
- *Tempeh + cereals
- *Seitan + pulses
Following the previous cases we ensure that our menus will be full of protein of high biological value**. For example, if we take a plate of rice (cereal) with lentils (legume) we will not have any protein deficit.
*For those who do not know tofu, tempeh and seitan: they are products made from soy (in the case of tofu and tempeh) and wheat (in the case of seitan). This means that they contain the amino acids belonging to their group (legumes in the case of soy and cereals in the case of wheat).
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Alberts, B. (1992). Biología molecular de la célula. : Ediciones Omega S.A.
Melina, V., Craig, W. y Levin, S (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. J Acad Nutr Diet 116 (12), 1970-1980.
Young, V.R. (1994). Adult amino acid requirements: the case for a major revision in current recommendations. J. Nutr., 124 (8), 1517–1523.