What is protein?
Amino acids are small chemical units made up from carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen (and sometimes sulphur). A string of amino acids connected together makes up a protein. There are 21 different amino acids that we use in our body; it is estimated that there are between 30 to 50 thousand different proteins in the human body! Proteins are involved in a range of processes in the body, from acting as enzymes to break down our food, to involvement in sending signals in our brain known as neurotransmission.
Where does protein come from?
Foods containing high levels of protein include dairy, meat, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, pulses such as lentils and some grains including quinoa.
How much do we need?
We require energy intake in the form of protein to allow our body to function on a daily basis. All cells in our body contain proteins. But we are not unique; all plant and animal cells contain proteins too. As a result, everything we eat will contain protein; some sources are richer than others.
We require 0.75 grams per kilogram of body weight dietary protein intake per day to survive; this can be reached on a meat-free diet and even on a vegan diet. To calculate your own protein requirements, just take your body weight in kilos and multiple by 0.75. For example, if you weight 60 kilos you will require 45g (60 x 0.75) of protein per day. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a huge amount of protein to meet your requirements. 0.75g/ kilogram body weight is a minimum requirement. In reality you can eat much more.
There are 21 important amino acids in the human body, 9 of which we cannot make ourselves; these are known as the ‘essential amino acids’. These 9 must come from the diet. As different proteins contain different amino acids, it is important to eat a range of foods to make sure we get all 9.