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Nutrition and Diet (cont.)

Proteins

Protein is one nutrient that fad diets have never dared to recommend omitting from your diet. A deficiency of this nutrient can result in death. As with the other essential nutrients, we need a set amount of protein for optimal health, and going above that can cause problems.

Protein has numerous functions in the body:

  • Regulates and maintains body functions: blood clotting, fluid balance, and enzyme and hormone production
  • Supports growth and maintenance: hair, skin, nails, and cells
  • Builds antibodies necessary for your immune system
  • Provides energy

Protein deficiencies are referred to as protein-energy malnutrition (PEM). The two PEM diseases are

  • kwashiorkor, which occurs when a diet has a marginal amount of calories and an insufficient amount of protein; and
  • marasmus, which occurs when a diet has an insufficient amount of calories and protein.

Amino acids are the building blocks for protein. A strand of amino acids that make up a protein may contain up to 20 different amino acids. They are made up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. There are essential and nonessential amino acids. You have to consume the essential ones, while the nonessential ones can be made by other amino acids when there is a sufficient amount in your diet. A source of protein that contains all of the essential amino acids is considered a complete protein. Animal proteins (meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs) fall into this category. The incomplete proteins (vegetables, grains, and nuts) can become complete when they are combined. Examples of this are

  • beans and rice,
  • peanut butter and bread, and
  • cereal and milk.

The following are Dietary Reference Intakes for protein consumption:

  • Adults and children should get 10%-35% of their calories from protein.
  • Using new data, the report reaffirms previously established recommended levels of protein intake, which is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight for adults; however, recommended levels are increased during pregnancy.

Your body does not store protein the way that it stores carbohydrates and fats. This means that your diet is the critical source for this essential nutrient. More is not better, so there is no need to go above the recommendations. In fact, research has shown that very high protein diets can lead to increased calcium loss and weakened bones. Be sure to add a protein source to each meal to curb your hunger and keep you healthy.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/6/2014

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