10 Things You Didn’t Know About Protein

Of the three macronutrients the human body needs to survive, you could make a pretty strong case for protein being the trendiest these days. After all, you don’t see products like “fat powder” and “carb shakes” flying off the shelves, but replace that first word with “protein” and people go nuts. (I feel like I’m missing a pun opportunity here–please feel free to jump in.)

The reason behind protein’s popularity as a supplement seems to be its ability to build muscle–as well as the body’s disinclination to store it as extra weight. While it’s known for bulking up muscles, protein actually does a whole lot more than just pump…you up.

Let’s revisit A Love Letter to Food’s “10 Things You Didn’t Know About” series to uncover some fascinating facts about this critical component of human nutrition.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Protein

1. It’s not hard to get enough. The recommended intake of protein for adults is 50 grams per day. Surprisingly, you can get this much in two 3-ounce servings of chicken or two cups of soybeans. And yet, as of 2013, 50% of Americans reported wanting to increase protein in their diets. But you totally don’t need to do so because…

2. Protein deficiency is rare. (At least in the U.S.) Most Americans get too much, rather than too little protein–and that’s not really a good thing. A high-protein diet has been linked to kidney problems and heart disease. I was once at a conference with about 600 medical and nutrition professionals when the speaker asked the audience to raise their hands if they had ever seen a patient with a diet-related protein deficiency. One person raised her hand.

3. Several grains, vegetables, and even fruits provide protein. While most of us think of meat and other animal products as the protein powerhouses, other foods also serve as sources. Grains like quinoa, whole wheat pasta, and couscous pack a notable punch, and don’t discount fruits and veggies, either, as they can also contribute protein to your diet.

4. The difference between essential and non-essential amino acids: All on its own, the human body is able to synthesize some amino acids (the building blocks of protein), but not others. Those that the body can create are called non-essential, while those that must be supplied by food are deemed “essential.”

5. High quality versus low quality protein: This terminology doesn’t refer to whether you bought your steak at Whole Foods or the carniceria where it *might* have been cat meat. Also known as “complete protein,” high quality protein provides all nine essential amino acids, while low-quality, or “incomplete protein,” does not.

6. After water, protein is the most prevalent substance in the body. Yep. Since many enzymes and hormones are proteins, and protein is essential to the integrity of cells, you have a whole lot of it in your body.

7. Protein helps you feel fuller longer. I was recently in the grocery store when an ad came through on the speakers. “Product X is packed with protein, keeping you fuller longer.”

*record scratch*

Wait, what? For a moment, I was tempted to call up the producers of this ad and tell them off. “It’s not protein that makes you feel full, it’s fiber and fat!” Then I went home and did some research. Oops. Yes, protein does promote satiety. (For the record, so do fiber and fat.)

8. Protein promotes wound healing. When you’ve suffered a wound, your body needs all the help it can get to repair it. Extra protein in the diet rebuilds the tissue damage caused by wounds.

9. One gram of protein contains four calories. All proteins, regardless of their quality or what food that supplies them, provide four calories. So if you look on the Nutrition Facts label, you can determine how many calories come from protein in a serving of that food. (For example, 10 grams of protein means 40 calories.)

10. Protein digestion begins in the…: It’s a bit of a trick question to ask where protein digestion begins. Of course the teeth get things started by mechanically breaking down food (including its proteins), but the real digestive party happens in the stomach. Hydrochloric acid swirling through your gut uncoils the structure of proteins, preparing them for the rest of their transit through the digestive tract.

So…what questions do you have about protein? Ask me in the comments!

2 thoughts on “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Protein

  1. Seriously, fruits have protein Who knew?
    I thought I knew quite a bit about protein, but I learned several useful factoids from this blog post. Thanks!

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