The Power of Protein

Protein is vital to your health and crucial to all your body's physiological functions. Consider it the fuel you need to keep all parts of your engine running optimally and on time. Protein can be found in a wide array of foods. Learn how to choose wisely.

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Protein has enjoyed a recent surge in popularity thanks to low-carb diet fads and weight loss and fitness trends - but it's always been indispensible to your health. Protein can be found in a wide range of foods, like lean meats, eggs and legumes. While most aren't labeled "superfoods," they certainly act as such, helping to rebuild and restore the body, from building bone and muscle tissue to making sure your cells are in top condition. It doesn't matter if you're trying to bulk up or slim down – protein is a vital part of your daily diet.

What Is Protein?

Proteins are found in your skin, bones, muscles and all your organ tissue. It is also found in the hemoglobin that carries the oxygen in your blood, hormones, and the enzymes that play a part in the body's crucial chemical reactions. Though protein malnutrition is generally not a problem in developed nations like the United States, eating too little can result in growth failure, loss of muscle mass, a suppressed immune system, and weakness of the heart and respiratory systems. There are at least 10,000 proteins at work in your body. And they constantly need to be refueled.

Proteins: Complete and Incomplete

There are differences in the types of proteins you eat, some are "complete;" others are "incomplete," and you need them both. Proteins are made of 20 or so building blocks called amino acids. Complete proteins contain the 9 essential amino acids your body needs to build new proteins. Essential amino acids are ones the body can't produce on its own. Animal sources of protein tend to be complete. Other protein sources lack one or more of the essential amino acids; these are called incomplete proteins. These include fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts.

Because the body doesn't store amino acids, like it does with fat or carbohydrates, it needs a fresh supply of them every day to make new proteins. Complete and incomplete proteins play an equally important role in this process. The best way to get all the protein you need is to pick from wide and varied sources.