Proteins and Amino Acids...
What's all the fuss about those?
Proteins are compounds made up of chains of amino acids. Different amino acids will make up different types of proteins. Proteins are important because they help develop muscle in our bodies. Also, some important hormones in our bodies are protein in nature.
Proteins can also give us energy, but that is not their main function. Carbohydrates and fats are the most important sources of energy for our bodies, in that order. Contrary to what some people may believe, vitamins and minerals are not direct sources of energy.
Amino acids are natural chemical compounds. Some individual amino acids are like links on a chain. If we link many of them together to form a chain, this “chain” of amino acids is called a “protein”.
Just as each link on a chain is necessary in order to give shape and strength to the chain, each type of amino acid will give proteins different characteristics and functions in our body.
When we obtain proteins from certain foods such as soy, meats or dairy products, for example, our body breaks them down and uses the amino acids it needs in order to manufacture other types of proteins which are needed to make hormones and muscle tissue.
Essential Amino Acids.
We cannot produce these important amino acids in our body. For this reason, they are known as “essential amino acids”.
These can usually be obtained from animal products, such as meat, eggs, and dairy products, but the adequate combination of various plant and animal foods can also incorporate these essential amino acids into our diet.
One way we can obtain the essential amino acids is to combine different types of plant foods in order to balance the different amino acids present in each. For example, if we combine wild rice (a whole grain) with lentils, beans or soy (legumes) in our meals, we can obtain a more balanced amount of amino acids than if we ate each one separately.
“Complete” and “Incomplete” Proteins.
Most animal products such as meats, eggs and dairy products usually contain all the essential amino acids and therefore provide the so-called “complete” proteins.
However, plant foods, when combined adequately, can also help balance the amount of essential amino acids.
If in the same meal we combine a grain, such as maize (corn) or wild rice, with a legume, such as soybeans, lentils, or beans, we combine the essential amino acids from the grain to those from the legume.
This combination can help “balance” the amount of essential amino acids and “complete” proteins which are necessary for our body’s health and well being.