When I was growing up, my mother constantly reminded me how important it was for me to finish my egg and milk in breakfast, or my bowl of pulse and rice in lunch, or my chicken fingers in dinner. Can you guess why? It was because they all had one vital nutrient in common – Protein. My mum knew how valuable it was.
Why is protein so important for us? Why do we need to eat so much protein? We need to eat protein as much as we can since our body needs a lot of it. But the question again is why? What does protein do? Protein helps in growth, repair and strengthening of our body tissues and cells. Well that’s pretty much everything our body is made up of! Do you know that apart from water, protein molecules are most abundantly found in our body? All our muscles and organs, even hair and skin are mostly made up of protein.
When we eat food that is rich in protein, our digestive system breaks it into simpler units known as amino acids. There are 20 types amino acids in all. From those, our body can make 13 amino acids on its own, but the remaining ones we have to get from food. These are called essential amino acids as it is essential for us to get them from our food. Combination of different amino acids results in various type of proteins that are in turn used at different places in our body. Some build up bones, muscles, blood cells or body organs.
In the above image consider the beads of white, red and blue as three different amino acids. Notice how their various combinations and orientation results in different protein molecules.
Have you noticed how athletes gobble up protein bars? Anyone who does a lot of physical exercise needs more protein than usual to build and protect muscles.
You have to eat a combination of protein rich foods to get all types of protein your body needs. If you think you can pull our face and say no to milk and only eat chicken, think again! It’s not going to work. You must eat a wide variety of food including seafood, meat, egg and all milk products to get different proteins your body needs. If you are a vegetarian, then you should eat whole grains, pulses, legumes, soy, fruits, nuts and seeds.
Any idea how much protein your body needs on a daily basis? It simple. It’s about 1 gram of protein each day for every kilogram you weigh. So if you are 26 kg, you need about 26 gm protein in a day. Here’s how much protein some common protein rich food has:
1 egg – 8 gms
1 glass whole milk – 8 gms
50 gms about 1 serving of chicken – 15 gms
1 cheese slice – 4 gms
1 medium banana – 1.29 gms
1 cup of soybeans has whopping 28 gms of protein!
If you don’t eat enough protein your body needs, hair fall and muscle loss are amongst other things that will happen to you.
Did you know who coined the term protein?
A Swedish chemist and a scientist named Jöns Jakob Berzelius created the term protein.