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Protein is a quintessential nutrient that every cell in the human body requires for growth, maintenance and repair. They make the antibodies we need to fight disease, enzymes that we need to digest, hormones we need to grow. Proteins are part of every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies. Proteins are exceedingly diverse structures built of amino acids linked by bonds. The body is constantly building protein from amino acids, some of which are recycled from the body tissue that is being rebuilt. The protein in the foods we eat is digested into amino acids that are later used to replace these proteins in our bodies. There are 20 different amino acids out of which 11 can be made in the body but 9 referred to as essential amino acids must come from diet.  Dietary sources of protein are :

  • Meats, poultry, and fish
  • Legumes and pulses (dry beans and peas)
  • Soya bean and its products like, tofu
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Milk and milk products
  • Grains
As the amino acids are not stored, those that are not used are returned to the liver, where the nitrogen is removed and passed on to the kidneys to be excreted as urea. The remaining protein molecules are stored as fat or may be converted to glucose for energy.

Protein deficiency may result in poor growth and mental impairment in children characterized by oedema, anemia, muscle wasting, decreased immunity and metabolic abnormalities.
Types of protein
Proteins are made up of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks. There are 20 different amino acids that join together to make all types of protein. Some of these amino acids can't be made by our bodies, so these are known as essential amino acids. It's essential that our diet provide these.

In the diet, protein sources are labeled according to how many of the essential amino acids they provide:
  • A complete protein source is one that provides all of the essential amino acids. You may also hear these sources called high quality proteins. Animal-based foods; for example, meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, and cheese are considered complete protein sources.
  • An incomplete protein source is one that is low in one or more of the essential amino acids. Complementary proteins are two or more incomplete protein sources that together provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids.
For example, rice contains low amounts of certain essential amino acids; however, these same essential amino acids are found in greater amounts in dry beans. Similarly, dry beans contain lower amounts of other essential amino acids that can be found in larger amounts in rice. Together, these two foods can provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids the body needs. This process is a commonly used techinique in Indian household to improve quality of protein consumed by vegetarians. Some commonly used cereal pulse mixtures are ; dal rice, khichidi, idli, dosa, dhokala, dalia, adding gram flour (besan) or soyabean flour to wheat flour, etc.
How much protein does one need?

It is recommended that 2035% of your daily energy come from protein. The amount of carbohydrate to be taken in depends on the age, sex, height, weight, and activity level and physiologic conditions of an individual. For more details refer to the Food Pyramid. Most people eat more protein than they need without harmful effects However, protein contributes to calorie intake, so if you eat more protein than you need, your overall calorie intake could be greater than your calorie needs and contribute to weight gain.

Besides that, animal sources of protein can be sources of saturated fat which has been linked to elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease.

To help you make lower-fat protein choices
  • Choose meats that are leaner cuts and trim away any fat you can see. For chicken and turkey, remove the skin to reduce fat.
  • Certain varieties of fish like the white pomphret are low in fat and high in protein
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt.
  • Choose egg whites or pasteurized egg white products.
People with certain kidney diseases, a lower-protein diet may be recommended to help prevent impairment in kidney function.
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