What Are Proteins?

Like me, most of you must have spent the better half of your life listening “Dear, you should eat this, it’s full of proteins”, “You feel tired all the time, you need some proteins”, “To grow, you need to eat those protein filled pulses I brought for you”, “Take Proteins or Go Home”

One might ask what these mystic beings are and how do they cast their spells inside our bodies.

In scientific terms proteins are the structural and functional elements of our cells that are composed of amino acids, which are held together by tight covalent bonds, giving them a three dimensional configuration.

For a layman, protein is the paramount ingredient inside your food and your body without which your mere presence would be at risk. Scary, right?

So let us now dig deep and explore the world of proteins through the Sherlockian lens.

Amino Acids

Different organ systems make up a human. These systems comprise of different organs which are made of tissues that develop from cells whose basic structural and functional units are proteins, composed of different amino acids. Woah!

There are 20 different amino acids that play a role in building proteins and these are categorized in to 3 types on the basis of their synthesis and quantity.

  • Essential Amino Acids:

These amino acids aren’t synthesized inside our body and one must obtain them from external dietary resources. So the next you go to the grocery store make sure that the product you pick has these important little fellows inside them.

  • Non Essential Amino Acids:

These amino acids are synthesized inside our body hence they need not be taken from external resources. So the next time your mom says “Eat this vegetable, it has alanine”, you can tell her with great pride that “I don’t want it, mom, my body has it covered”.

  • Conditionally Essential Amino Acids:

What? Where did these come from? You might have not known about this category because they are small in number (pun Intended). These are produced in our bodies but in smaller quantities. In some ‘conditions’ there number may fall below the optimum value, making it ‘essential’ for the person to consume them from outside.

Role Of Proteins

“Proteins are essentially required to be consumed from dietary sources because they are necessary for growth and development, especially in children, teenagers and pregnant women. They are also required for repairing and forming new cells in the body,” says US National Library of Medicine.

They are also required for growth and development of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood along with the development of a variety of enzymes, hormones, and vitamins, according to USDA.

How Much Protein Do We Earthlings Need?

Well, it depends. According to American Hearts Foundation, a growing child or pregnant woman requires more protein compared to an adult because their required daily allowance (RDA) is large owing to their consumption needs for healthy metabolism.

It is advised to take 10% to 35% of daily calories through protein-containing food, which makes about 46 grams of protein for adult women and 56 grams for adult men.

Moving on, it is a well-established fact that the protein requirement differs with age. According to a study conducted by NZ Nutrition Foundation, the protein requirement varies greatly with age.

A child and an adult should never consume the same amount of proteins as it may disturb the homeostatic conditions of his body.

It should be noted here that the 9-18 age group of girls and boys require 35 to 45 grams and 40 to 65 grams of proteins daily. So yeah, gender discrimination prevails even in the molecular world.

Sources Of Protein

We can find these elixirs of life embedded inside both animals and plants.

  • Animal Sources:
    • Meat
    • Chicken
    • Fish
    • Milk
    • Egg
  • Plant Sources:
    • Soy Proteins
    • Grain
    • Pulses

And we all know that whenever the matter of proteins gets brought up inside the home, it’s always either pulses or eggs, never chicken or fish.

Protein Deficiency

When a person doesn’t eat the food in the amount mentioned above, he might suffer from protein deficiency.

Global estimates have shown that it is not a major threat in developed countries but it becomes one if people consume or produce limited amount of resources.

According to US National Library of Medicine, 50 percent of the old-aged people in nursing homes in the US do not consume enough protein in diets.

Among individuals who do not consume sufficient amount of proteins, severe conditions such as protein energy malnutrition (PEM) may arise. According to the Journal Of Family Medicine And Primary Care, it is measured in three major forms:

  • Underweight (low weight for age)
  • Stunting (low height for age)
  • Wasting (low weight for height)

UNICEF has defined three major forms of PEM

  • Marasmus: This form of malnutrition is characterized by wasting of fats along with muscles and if untreated, it may lead to death. The sufferer’s body tries to adequately conserve energy by reducing physical activity, growth and shutting down the body’s response to infection.
  • Kwashiorkor: It mostly inflicts children and is characterized by swelling or edema, changes in pigmentation, diarrhea, stunted growth and development, thin or grey hair, infections due to weakened immune system, irritability, large protruding bellies and dermatitis.
  • Marasmic-Kwashiorkor: It is characterized by the symptoms of both Marasmus and Kwashiorkor and results in acute malnutrition. The suffering child appears extremely thin with swollen arms and legs.

Protein And Weight Loss

Yes, you heard it right. Proteins can play a major role in weight loss especially if you are following a diet plan.

How does it do that? According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, if you eat up adequate amounts of protein per day as compared to other fatty alternatives, then you are more likely to lose fat and achieve weight loss by:

  • Increased satiety feeling and prevention from binge eating
  • Increased calorie burning by the process of thermogenesis
  • Maintenance of fat-free mass

Before you start stuffing your mouth with whichever protein supplement you may find, keep in mind that it isn’t that simple. As according to Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, two problems may arise while losing weight:

  • Excessive muscle mass loss
  • Slower metabolism after losing weight

High protein diet plans that ask you to omit major food groups are deleterious for health, as they may lead to high serum creatinine levels and osteoporosis.

However, according to Journal Obesity, protein intake in moderate amount can increase fullness and help in better weight management and loss.

Whey Proteins

The readers who have a knack for bodybuilding and powerlifting must be aware of whey proteins. As for the nerds and geeks, don’t worry, we shall unfold the mystery.

Remember the essential amino acids? Whey proteins contain all of them. It is in fact the liquid left behind in the milk during cheese production. Easy digestion of this form of protein leads to its swift absorption inside the body compared to the other forms of protein.

According to the Journal of Nutrition, whey protein supplements help in reducing body weight and fat mass, including smaller waist circumference and low secretions of the hunger hormone, ghrelin.

Similarly, evidence from the Journal Nutrition & Metabolism point outs that the individuals who used whey protein supplements reduced a significant amount of weight.

Suffice it to say, proteins are a major part of both our diet and our physiology. Euphemism and exaggeration aren’t necessary to emphasize their importance.

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