Why do we need protein in our diet?

Written by erin beck
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Why do we need protein in our diet?
Soybeans are the only common plant food that contain complete protein. (Laszlo Selly/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Proteins are part of every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies. It is an essential nutrient that consists of chains of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of muscles, blood, skin, hair, nails and internal organs. Most reasonable diets provide enough protein.

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Function

Protein is integral for growth and development during childhood, adolescence and pregnancy. Proteins help replace and form new cells, carry oxygen and nutrients in the blood and cells, maintain water and acid balance and help make antibodies, according to the U.S. Feminist Women's Health Center. One gram of protein provides 4 calories to the body.

Health

Too little protein can cause growth failure, loss of muscle mass, decreased immunity, weakening of the heart and respiratory system and even death, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Cutting back on highly processed carbohydrates and getting more protein may reduce your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, or other form of cardiovascular disease. It may also help you lose weight because you feel full longer.

Types

Protein is found in animal and plant sources. While both types of protein have the same effects on health, animal sources contain saturated fat and cholesterol. Saturated fat is the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. However, animal proteins tend to be "complete," or contain all the amino acids needed to build new proteins.

Tips

Eat a variety of foods to get adequate protein, Harvard School of Public Health recommends. You don't have to choose only complete proteins to get all the amino acids. Vegetarians can get enough protein if they choose varied plant sources. Choose lean cuts of meat and trim away fat. Remove the skin from chicken and turkey. Substitute beans for meat in chili, tacos and soup. Choose reduced-fat dairy products.

Amount

The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day. On average, men should get 56g of protein a day. Women should get 46g per day. Protein should make up 10 to 35 per cent of total calories.

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