Protein is one of three macronutrients, which are nutrients the body needs in larger amounts. The other macronutrients are fat and carbohydrates. There are 20 amino acids. The specific order of amino acids determines the structure and function of each protein.

There are nine essential amino acids that the human body does not synthesize, so they must come from the diet. Proteins may be either complete or incomplete. Complete proteins are proteins that contain all essential amino acids. Animal products are complete proteins.

Incomplete proteins are proteins that do not contain all essential amino acids. Most plant foods are incomplete proteins, including beans, nuts, and grains.

People can combine incomplete protein sources to create a meal that provides all essential amino acids. Examples include rice and beans, or peanut butter on whole wheat bread.

What does protein do in the body?

Protein is present in every body cell, and an adequate protein intake is important for keeping the muscles, bones, and tissues healthy.

Protein plays a role in many bodily processes, including:

  • blood clotting
  • fluid balance
  • immune system responses
  • vision
  • hormones
  • enzymes

Protein is important for growth and development, especially during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy.

Sources of protein

Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, also contain protein. Whole grains and vegetables contain some protein, but generally less than other sources.

Animal products tend to contain higher amounts of protein than plant foods, so people following a vegetarian diet or a vegan diet may need to plan their meals to ensure they meet their protein needs.

Protein and weight loss

When increasing protein intake, it is important to make sure that the diet still contains adequate amounts of fiber, such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

Protein shakes vs. natural food sources

Protein shakes and protein powders contain high amounts of protein. They may also contain added sugars, flavorings, vitamins, and minerals.

Protein in protein shakes or powders can come from:

  • plants, such as peas or soybeans
  • milk, such as casein or whey protein
  • eggs

Building and repairing muscle requires protein. Many athletes and bodybuilders use protein products to boost muscle growth.

A wide range of protein supplements is currently available, many claiming to encourage weight loss and increase muscle mass and strength.

For most people, a varied and healthful diet will provide enough protein. For the best health benefits, people can get their protein from a variety of sources. These include fish, meat, soy, beans, tofu, nuts, and seeds.

Here are some suggestions for adding more protein to diet:

  • Add beans and peas to soups, side dishes, or salads. These also make great main dishes.
  • Include one high protein food with each meal.
  • Replace a source of carbohydrate with a source of protein, such as swapping out a piece of toast for an egg in the morning.
  • Before adding protein bars to the diet, check the labels, as they can be high in sugar.

To limit fat intake while increasing protein intake, choose lean meat, poultry, and dairy products, or trim the fat before eating. Try using cooking methods that do not add extra fat, such as grilling.

Avoid processed meats .These can have negative health effects. Choose nutrient-rich foods instead of processed foods when possible.


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